Pescetarianism: the Diet for Vegetarians Who Like Fish

PescetarianismPescetarianism (/pɛskəˈtɛəriənɪzəm/) is the practice of consuming fish as the only source of meat in an otherwise vegetarian diet. Pescetarian is a portmanteau of the Italian word pesce (“fish”) and the English word vegetarian.

Most pescetarians are lacto-ovo vegetarians who eat fish and seafood along with dairy products and eggs. Dr. Andrew Weil, who believes in eating fish and dairy on top of a vegetarian diet, calls pescetarianism “the vegaquarian diet.” There is a whole website devoted to pescetarianism, “The Fishy Vegetarian.”

Around the world, people living near lakes, rivers, coastal areas, and residents of island nations have relied heavily on fish for generations. Today, while some individuals opt for a pescetarian diet out of personal preference, environmental concerns, or ethical reasons, others eat fish and seafood for weight loss and health benefits.

Fish is an excellent source of high quality protein, and aquatic proteins are low in saturated fats while offering a convenient source of Omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, marine fishes are good sources of iodine. Fish actually helps supply a number of vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients that are difficult to obtain from plant foods alone.

Concerns have been raised about some fish varieties containing high levels of toxins such as mercury and PCBs. Mercury naturally builds up in fish and shellfish, with higher levels found in species of fish that are long-lived and high on the food chain like marlin, shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.

However, it is possible to moderate the consumption of mercury-containing fish, or select fish varieties that contain little or no mercury. Focus on eating smaller fish and limit your consumption of high-mercury fish. Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, salmon, pollock, catfish, and canned light tuna. Albacore (“white”) tuna has more mercury than light tuna.

Famous Pescetarians

Jack LaLanne (1914-2011), the legendary health food pioneer and fitness expert, emphasized protein and vegetables at every meal – but he told an interviewer, “I only eat fish–no chicken, no turkey, just fish. I get all my protein from fish and egg whites.”

Contemporary celebrity pescetarians include Ben Stiller, Andy Serkis, David Duchovny, and Ted Danson. Last month, recording artist Janelle Monáe admitted that she was recovering from mercury poisoning after eating too much fish.

Religious Pescetarianism

Pescetarianism (provided the fish is ruled kosher) conforms to Jewish dietary laws, as kosher fish is “pareve”—neither “milk” nor “meat.” There is an ancient Jewish custom to eat fish on Fridays because God created fish on the fifth day. Jesus and the disciples ate fish—a lot of fish, even for breakfast. (See John, Chapter 21.) Fish has been a staple in Christian diets for a very long time. In fact, fasting from meat on Fridays can be traced all the way back to the earliest Christian communities who continued many Jewish fasting traditions. Likewise, Catholic church tradition says you should not eat meat on Fridays, but you are still allowed to eat fish.

Moreover, it’s a core part of the religious observance of Lent to include fish in meals during this season. Lent is observed for 40 days before Easter in imitation of Jesus Christ’s fast in the wilderness. Ash Wednesday on February 26th marked the start of Lenten season this year. As they do every year for Lent, restaurants from fast food chains to fine dining establishments expand their fish and seafood offerings for a limited time in the spring. Lent traditionally ends on “Holy Saturday,” which this year is April 11. But you can still find many seafood items that last past Easter, until they run out.

For fast-food-loving pescetarians, the spring Lenten season is a great time to take advantage of the greater availability of fish sandwiches everywhere. Arby’s fish sandwiches are back – with three different versions to choose from! Wendy’s fish sandwich is back! Jack-in-the-Box has a Deluxe Fish Sandwich made with TWO fillets! Even Dairy Queen has a fish sandwich. Probably the last place you’d expect to see a fish sandwich is Chick-Fil-A, but select locations are offering them for 40 days. So the franchise near you may not have any, but they do indeed exist. Then of course there is the BK Big Fish and McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish.

Below is an infographic from Dr. Josh Axe, Doctor of Natural Medicine and Clinical Nutritionist, showing the differences between pescetarianism and vegetarianism.


Where is your favorite place to get a fish dinner or fish sandwich? Let us know in the comments!

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