A pescatarian diet is a primarily plant-based diet that excludes meat but includes seafood and sometimes eggs and dairy.

People may choose to follow a pescatarian diet for reasons related to religion, health, or concerns about the environment or animal welfare.

This article explains what foods the pescatarian diet allows, its benefits and downsides, and provides a 3-day sample menu.

pescatarian diet

What is a pescatarian?

A vegetarian is an umbrella term that refers to a diet that excludes meat or other animal products.

Every pescatarian is a vegetarian but not every vegetarian is a pescatarian.

Other types of vegetarians include (1):

  • Flexitarian: A semi-vegetarian who occasionally consumes animal products like meat, poultry, dairy, and seafood.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian: A vegetarian who includes eggs and dairy in their diet.
  • Pollotarian: A vegetarian who includes poultry in their diet.
  • Vegan: A vegetarian who avoids all animal-based products, including honey.

Some pescatarians also consume eggs and dairy while others avoid them (1).

In either case, there are many reasons why people choose to follow a pescatarian diet, including concerns about health, the environment, or animal welfare.

Pescatarian diet food list

Pescatarians can eat any food of plant origin as well as seafood and for some, eggs and dairy.

Here is a pescatarian diet food list:

  • Fruits: apples, avocados, bananas, berries, cantaloupe, grapes, kiwifruit, oranges, pears, peaches, pineapples, pomegranates, watermelon, etc.
  • Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, beetroot, broccoli, carrots, cassava, jicama, kale, mushrooms, onions, peppers, potatoes, spinach, squash, etc.
  • Grains: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, bulger, corn, oats, quinoa, rice, spelt, teff, wheat
  • Legumes: beans, lentils, peanuts, peas
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, chia seeds, coconut, flaxseed, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, sesame seeds, walnuts, etc.
  • Herbs: basil, chives, cilantro, dill, garlic, parsley, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, etc.
  • Oils: canola and olive oil
  • Beverages: coffee, tea, and plant-based beverages, including soy, almond, cashew, rice, and oat milk

While still plant-based, you should limit sugary drinks and refined carbohydrates such as desserts and some breakfast cereals.

It’s possible to meet most or all your protein needs from plants, but most pescatarians rely on fish, and if they consume them, eggs and dairy products, for protein.

Here are examples of seafood, eggs, and dairy:

  • Seafood: bass, clams, cod, crabs, haddock, halibut, herring, lobster, mackerel, mussels, oysters, pollack, salmon, scallops, shrimp, etc.
  • Eggs: all bird and reptile eggs, cream pies and fillings, eggnog, eggrolls, and most desserts and baked goods
  • Dairy: butter, cheese, cottage cheese, milk, sour cream, yogurt, and dairy-based protein powders, including whey and casein

3-day sample pescatarian diet

Here’s a 3-day sample pescatarian diet without eggs and dairy products:

Day 1

  • Breakfast: overnight oats made with almond milk
  • Lunch: chickpea salad
  • Snack: peanut butter and apple slices
  • Dinner: baked salmon, rice, and sauteed sliced carrots

Day 2

  • Breakfast: oatmeal cooked with soy milk and topped with berries
  • Lunch: vegetarian burrito
  • Snack: hummus and sliced veggies
  • Dinner: black bean and corn salad with avocado

Day 3

  • Breakfast: high-fiber cereal and fruit
  • Lunch: white bean salad
  • Snack: chia pudding
  • Dinner: shrimp tacos with pico de gallo and lime crema

Use this pescatarian sample menu to help guide your food choices and serving sizes based on your nutrient needs, ability to access and purchase foods, and any food allergies or intolerances.

Benefits

The pescatarian diet is associated with many benefits related to weight loss, disease risk, dietary flexibility, and the environment.

Remember to limit your consumption of sugary beverages and refined carbohydrates, as eating too much too frequently can cancel out the health benefits of the pescatarian diet.

It may help with weight loss

Predominantly plant-based diets like the pescatarian diet are generally rich in fiber and low in calories.

For these reasons, the pescatarian diet can aid weight loss and support healthy body weight maintenance.

Indeed, one review found that pescatarians were less likely to be obese or have high cholesterol compared with their omnivorous counterparts (2).

What’s more, a review of seven studies showed that plant-based diets like the pescatarian diet significantly reduced body weight by 5% and shrunk waist circumference by 4.3% in people with type 2 diabetes (3).

It may reduce the risk of chronic diseases

Following a pescatarian diet may reduce your risk of various chronic conditions associated with inflammation, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer (4, 5, 6).

This is because the pescatarian diet — like other vegetarian diets — tends to be rich in anti-inflammatory foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

These foods contain fiber and beneficial plant-based compounds called polyphenols, which have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

The pescatarian diet can also be rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids since the diet includes fish — a primary advantage over other types of vegetarian diets.

The two primary omega-3 fatty acids — EPA and DHA — are primarily found in fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and herring.

Increased dietary flexibility

Some vegetarian diets such as the vegan diet are very restrictive, which can be limiting at times.

However, because the pescatarian diet allows fish, it can allow increased dietary flexibility — whether with meals at home, at restaurants, or at special events.

Fish is also rich in protein and creatine, which can be beneficial for bodybuilders and other athletes.

Creatine is a compound that supplies your muscles with extra energy so you can exercise harder and longer.

Creatine can also benefit nonathletes since it plays important role in healthy aging, brain health, and immune health (7).

It may be better for the environment

The sustainability of the current food production system has long been a concern.

This is because the systems require significant resources such as water and energy and they negatively affect the environment through the emission of greenhouse gas and other pollutants (8).

Compared with meat-based diets, plant-based diets, including the pescatarian diet, tend to be more environmentally sustainable and favorable (9).

One study found that the greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters were approximately twice as high as those of pescatarians and other vegetarians (10).

Downsides

There are few downsides to the pescatarian diet but here are ones to keep in mind.

Risk of nutrient deficiencies

There is a risk of nutrient deficiencies any time you restrict or limit your consumption of certain foods.

While pescatarians are much less likely to develop nutrient deficiencies compared with vegans, a pescatarian diet may still fall short in some nutrients if it’s poorly planned.

Potential nutrient deficiencies of a pescatarian diet include (11, 12):

  • vitamin B12
  • zinc
  • iodine
  • vitamin D

A pescatarian who also includes eggs and dairy in their diet is much less likely to develop some of these nutrient deficiencies.

May increase mercury exposure

Seafood is packed with high-quality protein and beneficial nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.

However, certain types of fish tend to be rich in mercury, which can be problematic if you frequently consume them or consume too much.

Mercury is a heavy metal that — depending on the type and amount of exposure — can harm the nervous and immune system as well as the kidneys and liver (13).

The most common cause of mercury poisoning is from consuming too much fish and shellfish that contain high levels of methylmercury.

Fish with the highest mercury levels include:

  • king mackerel
  • marlin
  • orange roughy
  • shark
  • swordfish
  • tilefish
  • bigeye tuna

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, children, older adults, and those with underlying health conditions should be especially cautious to avoid mercury-rich fish (14).

Fish with the lowest mercury levels include:

  • Atlantic mackerel
  • sea bass
  • catfish
  • cod
  • crab
  • flounder
  • haddock
  • herring
  • lobster
  • oyster
  • pollock
  • salmon
  • sardines
  • scallops
  • tilapia

Aim to consume 2–3, 4-ounce servings of these low-mercury fish per week.

The bottom line

A pescatarian diet restricts meats but includes fish.

Some pescatarians also include dairy and eggs in their diets.

A pescatarian diet may aid weight loss, reduce the risk of various chronic diseases, allow increased dietary flexibility, and may be better for the environment.

However, the diet can lead to certain nutrient deficiencies without proper planning and it can increase the risk of mercury poisoning risk, especially if you regularly consume mercury-rich fish.


Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD, LN
Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD, LN

Gavin Van De Walle holds a master's degree in human nutrition and bioenergetics. He is a registered dietitian who aims to arm the public with evidence-based nutrition recommendations so they can make their own educated and informed health decisions.