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What is a Pescatarian?

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  • Written By: Lisa O'Meara
  • Edited By: Kathryn Hulick
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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A pescatarian is a person who chooses not to eat meat from land animals or fowl but does include fish in their diet. This newly coined term originated in 1993 and is formed by blending the word "pesce", which is Italian for fish, with the English word "vegetarian". Although a pescatarian diet is not a vegetarian diet, it is often used as a stepping stone for people adjusting from a meat-eating diet to a vegetarian one. Other people find it a permanent happy medium between the two. Traditional diets in Mediterranean and Asian countries have historically been largely pescatarian.

Like a vegetarian, a pescatarian often includes eggs and dairy in his or her diet and fulfills other nutritional needs by eating a variety of legumes, nuts, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Fish provides high quality protein that the body needs as well as many of the essential amino acids that the body uses to build muscle. Unlike meat from other animals, fish is low in saturated fat and even those types with a higher fat content, such as salmon, contain polyunsaturated omega-3 fats which are thought to provide many health benefits.

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Studies show that omega-3 fats can promote cardiovascular health by lowering triglycerides and blood pressure while simultaneously increasing good HDL cholesterol levels. Omega-3 fats have also been known to aid in the thinning of blood to prevent clotting and to break up plaque in the arteries before it can grow and cause blockage. They are sometimes used to regulate the body's inflammatory cycle which can provide relief to people with arthritis or other conditions caused by inflammation. Due to the many alleged benefits of consuming these fats, it is possible that a person switching to a pescatarian diet from a meat eating diet may see improvement in his or her health as a result.

There are some concerns about health risks to people who consume too much fish based on the possibility of exposure to a variety of toxins including mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other organic pesticides widely thought to exist in the water as a result of pollution. Large amounts of these toxins can be extremely dangerous to small children and pregnant women, causing nervous system disorders and birth defects. It is recommended that both groups eat minimal amounts of fish.

Generally, larger fish will contain more mercury, although all fish have at least trace amounts. It is important that consumers are aware of the suspected mercury levels in the types of fish they are consuming. In a typical pescatarian diet, fish consumption is only one of many sources of nutrition and therefore often will not include quantities that prove dangerous to an average person.

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