One of the ways to eat healthier is to stop eating red meat and processed meats. One way to achieve this goal without giving up animal protein entirely is to follow a pescatarian diet. A pescatarian diet, simply put, is a diet in which fish is the sole (or primary) form of animal protein eaten besides, possibly, eggs and dairy.
Some people adopt a pescatarian diet as a temporary step on the path to becoming a full-fledged vegetarian. Other people take on a pescatarian diet for any number of reasons and adhere to it indefinitely.
Whether a temporary or permanent decision, the ways to follow a pescatarian diet are the same. It is much like following a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet with the addition of seafood. A pescatarian diet is also quite similar to the standard Mediterranean diet, in which fish and seafood are the predominant protein source. It is important when following a pescatarian diet, as with any diet, to make sure that you eat the right types of food from the best sources and balance your diet every day with sufficient nutrients for optimal health and wellness. It is also important to know what to avoid in order to follow a pescatarian diet healthily, such as mercury in excess.
Starting a Pescatarian Diet
As with any new diet, when starting out on a pescatarian diet, do so gradually. Start incorporating more fish into your diet a little at a time, replacing the meat or poultry in a single meal with fish or seafood once a week, at first, and then building up in frequency as your body adjusts to the change.
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If your digestion seems unaffected or temporarily affected but then restored to normalcy after a time, then proceed to replace the meat or poultry with fish or seafood in more meals per week. Ultimately, the goal should be to eat at least eight ounces of seafood per week, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
All bodies require a certain amount of protein daily. You can get your protein from a variety of sources, including animal and plant-based sources. However, plant-based sources do not contain as much protein as animal-based sources and, therefore, must be eaten in much greater portions to satisfy the same protein needs. Adding fish into an otherwise vegetarian diet helps to boost the amount of protein you get each day without requiring you to eat so much food. By the same token, relying on fish alone as your only protein source is unlikely to provide you with balanced nutrition. Therefore, in addition to fish, be sure to include other protein sources in your daily diet like eggs, dairy, nuts and beans.
Vitamins and Minerals
If you are taking any nutritional supplements to help compensate for nutritional lacks in your diet or other health needs, then be aware of the effects a pescatarian diet may have on your regimen. Specifically, fish are high in zinc and vitamin B12, both of which the body requires daily but can cause problems in excessive quantities. Therefore, before starting on a pescatarian diet, remove any supplemental zinc or B12 from your regimen. Shellfish like oysters, clams and mussels are particularly high in zinc. They also contain large quantities of iron and selenium, other important nutrients for the diet. Many fish are particularly high in calcium as well.
Another mineral prevalent in fish to be aware of is mercury. Mercury can build up in the body and lead to a host of severe health problems. Mercury is particularly detrimental to children and women who are pregnant or nursing. One way to avoid mercury accumulation is to each fish low in mercury caught in low-mercury waters. Large predatory fish like tuna can be particularly high in mercury, both sushi form from bigeye tuna and in canned tuna form. Also tending to be high in mercury are the following fish:
- King mackerel
- Gulf tilefish
- Orange roughy
Fish with lower mercury counts include sardines, tilapia, scallops, shrimp and salmon. Similarly, be aware of the fat and cholesterol content of the fish you eat to avoid countering any benefits from their healthful aspects. For example, squid and shrimp are both high in cholesterol.
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Beyond the specific vitamins and minerals to be aware of in fish, there are the host of other vitamins and minerals required in a daily diet for optimum overall health and nutrition. Even the healthiest fish alone cannot supply the full gamut of needed daily nutrients. Therefore, be sure to eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts in your diet in addition to fish in order to keep your pescatarian diet healthy and balanced.
To be healthy and avoid making you ill, fish should always be fresh and unspoiled. Fish should never smell fishy, whether it is cooked or not, and its meat should not feel clammy. Furthermore, unless sushi-grade raw fish served by a professional, undercooked fish should be avoided as any harmful bacteria, parasites or other infectants it may contain may not have been properly and fully killed off. When eating crustaceans, their shells should be whole and unbroken prior to cooking. Lobsters and crabs should seem active in their tank prior to preparation. Mussels, clams and other mollusks should shut their shells if you tap them with your finger.
How to Stay on a Pescatarian Diet
Now that you have started your pescatarian diet, the next trick is to stick with your diet until you see results and, ideally, long thereafter. Keeping your pescatarian diet interesting and satisfying for your palate is arguably the ultimate determinant of your diet’s success and endurability. To achieve this, try eating a variety of fish cooked in a variety of ways. Variety helps keep meals from becoming boring and provides the body with a greater opportunity to receive a comprehensive range of needed nutrients. Fish can be steamed, pan-fried, baked, broiled, sautéed, grilled and more. It can be served with a variety of vegetables, starches and grains on the side or cooked together.
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