When it comes to eating styles, the pescetarian approach falls just after vegetarian. A pescetarian is someone who doesn’t eat land animals or birds, but who does consume seafood.
Pescetarians want the benefits that come with eating some animal-based protein, as well as the many nutrients that seafood offers that simply cannot be found in other types of food, but on the other hand, do not want the unhealthy facets of consuming farmed animals.
Outside of a handful of regions—New England, the Chesapeake, the Bayou, and the Pacific Northwest—for many years, Americans neglected seafood as a primary protein source. But according to the annual “Fisheries of the United States Report released by NOAA [in 2016], Americans increased their seafood consumption to 15.5 pounds of fish and shellfish per person in 2015, up nearly a pound from the previous year, making it the biggest leap in seafood consumption in 20 years.”
Tuna, shrimp and salmon are favorites among Americans. So, although we still have a ways to go as far as implementing the variety that the sea offers into our diet, this tells us that we’re headed in the right direction.
Seafood offers a number of benefits, including some nutrients that are particularly dense, like omega-3 fatty acid (known to reduce blood triglycerides, blood pressure, and reduce swelling), which salmon, mackerel, sardines, and oysters offer, and lean protein in which tuna, salmon and sole are on par with all the other meat sources.
Not to mention, seafood does include sea vegetables, in which iodine is particularly high. Veggies like Kelp, Arame, Hiziki, Kombu, and Wakame have very high amounts of iodine, a nutrient extremely beneficial to the thyroid (for hormonal function), which we can often lack in the common America diet.
But like being a vegan diet, a seafood-only diet doesn’t automatically make someone healthier. In the same ways that other foods can be turned into junk—by processing, frying, or adding too much sugar, salt, or preservatives—seafood can lose its healthy benefits.
In America, a lot of our seafood is sourced from other countries that may not adhere to the strict food safety guidelines that we do. So this may, in many ways, cancel out the benefits that would naturally come with certain seafood.
For instance, salmon is perhaps the most popular fish in this country, but two-thirds of it is imported from places like China, Norway and Chile. The worst part is: “less than 2% of imported fish are directly inspected by the US Food and Drug Administration. What’s more, the US’s lax labeling laws mean that by the time salmon hits American dinner tables, it’s often hard to tell where it came from,” says journalist, Paul Greenberg in his book, American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood.
And then there’s farm-raised seafood and genetically modified seafood. You’d think that it’d be simpler to just go fishing, right? Well, we do. In fact, America has some of the best quality, wild-caught seafood. But we export it, and instead, much of the seafood we buy in stores is farm-raised and from some other country.
So why’s that a problem?
Additionally, farm-raised seafood may contain antibiotics, and unhealthy levels of saturated fat and additional calories. Plus, when it comes to the natural omega-3s, farm-raised is lacking. Farm-raised is also more likely to be genetically modified.
Needless to say, shop wild-caught, but knowing when your seafood is in season (see chart below) can help you avoid buying—whether mistakenly or purposely—mislabeled seafood products.
East Coast and Gulf Region United States Seafood Availability Chart
Time reported on the alarming trend of mislabeled seafood: “Oceana studies have found that 30% of shrimp products are misrepresented (usually as “wild” when they’re really farmed), 87% of fish labeled “snapper” are something else entirely and 38% of Maryland crab cakes contain imported crab.”
Large grocers are actually more likely to adhere to the US guidelines and provide you with the food it says its selling, versus small fish markets and suppliers, who are more likely to mislabel products.
Trader Joe’s and Wholefoods, for instance, were among grocers who denounced the sell of genetically modified salmon. Other large grocers are slow to get on-board.
What’s good about a seafood-only diet?
Variety. Ever heard that saying, “there’s plenty of fish in the sea”? Well, it’s true!
Outside of the many health benefits, there’s simply so much seafood to choose from, and it all come with its own unique taste, texture and flavor! From crawfish to crab, from salmon to oysters, seafood is something you can never get tired of.
Overall healthy. Although pescetarian doesn’t automatically equal healthy, it can. Pescetarians generally consume less total fat, less cholesterol and not as much saturated fat than those who eat meat as a primary source of protein.
Good for cholesterol. Like most foods high in cholesterol, seafood was once villainized and thought of as bad for you because of this. But much like eggs, the type of cholesterol is key. Seafood can actually help raise HDL (your “healthy” cholesterol) levels.
Not much. Outside of concerns about farming and sourcing, some might argue that seafood is high in mercury, but that isn’t a concern for all seafood.
Mercury is a heavy metal that’s highly toxic to humans. Some fish contain very high levels of mercury, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, and some tuna. But considering the variety of seafood, this is something that can easily be avoided.
Like most foods, eating seafood in season is often overlooked and ignored, but it’s important because it’ll not only keep variety in your options, but it can also help your pockets. The seafood that’s most easily obtained because it’s in season will likely be cheaper.
Even if you’re not getting rid of all other meat for seafood, it’s still something you should think about including more of in your diet.
It’s super high in protein, very low in fat and cholesterol, it’s a great source of vitamins and minerals, like zinc, iodine, potassium, phosphorus, and B vitamins, and a go-to food for omega-3s.
So, whether you’re trying to reach certain fitness goals or if you’re just looking for something new as your main course tonight, stop at your seafood section in the grocery store and try something new.