Pescatarianism is a popular choice of diet among the health-conscious. The term pescatarian stems from the Italian word for fish “pesce” and “vegetarian”. As its name suggests, a pescatarian is one who adheres to a vegetarian diet while incorporating fish and other seafood in it. Basically, a pescatarian does not consume meat and follows a plant-based diet filled with whole grains, nuts, legumes and healthy fats, with seafood being their main protein source. We speak to nutritionist and exercise physiologist Dee Dee Mahmood, who shares the how the pescatarian diet can help you live healthier and longer.
1. Keeps your weight in check
People who adhere to a pescatarian diet are less likely to be obese, says Dee Dee. According to a study published in Nutrients journal, a high omega-3 intake decreases the risk for weight gain. Omega-3s in fish boost the sensitivity of leptin, a hormone that regulates metabolism. Leptin helps you to metabolise your foods and maintain energy levels effectively. The large consumption of plant-based foods in a pescatarian diet also means higher fibre intake and healthier cholesterol levels.
2. Reduces risk of cancer
The rich amount of nutrients in fish and seafood lowers the risk of cancer by suppressing inflammation in the body. A study by Loma Linda University in California on over 70,000 people found that pescatarians have a 43 per cent lower risk of contracting colorectal cancer. Also, researchers from Sapienza University in Italy suggests that having a diet that’s high in omega-3s can potentially improve the conditions of cancer patients due to the anti-inflammatory effects.
3. Provides a good source of lean protein
Fish is one of the best dietary sources of animal protein because it contains less saturated fat than red meat. Fish with white flesh like sea bass are prime examples of lean protein. While darker coloured fish like tuna and salmon have more fat, they are healthy fat so feel free to include them in your diet.
4. Boosts brain power
Keep your brain active and healthy with omega-3s. Rich sources of omega-3 will aid circulation of blood flow to the brain, says Dee Dee. Research published in the Cerebral Cortex reported that adults had improved cognitive performance when given 2.2g of omega-3 (approximately the amount you get from one tablespoon of flaxseeds). No matter your age, it pays to start adding omega 3-rich foods such as fish, nuts and seeds into your diet.
5. Speeds up muscle recovery
According to Dee Dee, omega-3 fatty acids can lower inflammation levels to improve conditions related to joint and muscle pains. In fact, a study comparing ibuprofen and omega-3 fatty acids in reducing arthritic pain revealed that omega-3 fatty acids are just as effective as painkillers. For those who experience muscle soreness from physical activities, consuming 100g or one serving of salmon can help, says Dee Dee.
6. Improves heart health
Researchers from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York found that eating a plant-based diet is associated with a 42 per cent lower risk of developing heart failure. Protein from meats and processed meats are high in saturated fat, which can elevate LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and lead to heart disease, says Dee Dee. In that aspect, fish is a better source of protein.
7. Provides a rich source of nutrients
Instead of splurging on dietary supplements, why not get your required intake of vitamins and minerals from wholesome foods? Your greens, fish and seafood – the hallmark of a pescatarian diet – are great sources of nutrients. According to Dee Dee, fish contains many necessary vitamins like vitamin B, A and D that will improve your vision and strengthen your bones. Other essential minerals in fish include selenium, zinc, iodine and iron. These minerals can help to boost immunity and prevent cell damage.