Everything You Need to Know About the Pescatarian Diet

updated May 8, 2019
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Three years ago, I became a pescatarian — or someone who doesn’t eat meat, other than fish — and I’ve (almost) never looked back. One of the things that’s surprised me along the way is that adopting a pescatarian diet actually turned out to be easier and more accessible than I initially thought.

Let’s start with the basics: With a pescatarian diet, you can eat as many vegetables, grains, fruits, legumes, beans, cheese, eggs, yogurt, and fish as you want. Instead, you’re cutting out red meat, poultry, lamb, and pork. As someone who naturally gravitated towards a mostly vegetarian diet prior to going pescatarian, I’ll admit that the transition was probably simpler for me. That said, any lifestyle change takes adjustment and going pescatarian is no different. But having as much information and preparation as possible can help immensely.

So whether you’re thinking about going fully pescatarian, or you just want to experiment with swapping red meat for fish more often, I’ve put together a few tips on how you can make that transition as smooth as possible.

1. Take things slowly — especially at the beginning.

If you’re going from eating meat eight or nine times a week to zero, the switch can be tough. My most important piece of advice is to go slowly and give yourself a lot of grace. Also, know it’s not the end of the world if you veer off track. Accidentally eating chicken stock or grabbing a slice of bacon from your friend’s plate doesn’t totally eradicate all of the effort you’ve put in.

2. Know that it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing game.

Purists may want to avert their eyes here, but a few months ago I had some meatballs. My meat cravings come back every now and then, and I know I can allow myself a taste and not feel bad about it. Diets are an incredibly personal thing, and there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to them. (Still, I’m choosing to share the tips that worked for me personally, in hopes that they’ll be useful to someone else as well.)

3. Embrace easy preparations.

The fact that I never have to prepare chicken or a hunk of beef again was a huge bonus for me when I stopped eating them. Fish cooks faster than meat and, in my experience, often requires less seasoning than meat because it’s already so flavorful.

Meals can be easy, too! Fish can get a bad rap for being finicky to prepare — but it doesn’t have to be. It can be as easy as wrapping fish in parchment paper with some lemon and seasonings and sticking it in the oven. I also love pan-searing scallops and pairing them with some greens.

4. Mix old favorites with new ones.

If you’re on the pickier side, dietitian and nutritionist Marisa Moore suggests that you start out by mixing milder fish into more familiar dishes like tacos. “Just having a big piece of fish in front of you can be really intimidating,” she says. Combining it with something familiar will help.

5. Save money by shopping strategically.

Adding seafood to your grocery list can be tricky if you’ve got a tight budget, but there are plenty of ways to save. “I find that a lot of people feel like they have to have fresh fish and that’s a limitation,” says Moore. She suggests buying a bunch of fish when it’s in season (and on sale) and freezing it so you always have a fresh fillet on hand. Canned goods like salmon, tuna, and sardines are cheap and can stay on your shelves for months.

6. Seek variety. (Just like any other diet!)

Fish doesn’t have to be a big part of your diet. Moore says that eating it just twice a week will give you the healthy fats and omega-3s you need. Personally, I like eating fish when I want a treat like when I’m going out to dinner with a friend or have time to cook myself a really nice dinner at home.

You can eat fish every day as long as you’re eating a variety — you don’t just want to, say, eat salmon seven days a week. Versatility is very important for getting the right nutrients. For that reason, you also want to get your proteins from sources other than fish like eggs, chickpeas, or tofu.

Vegan Sweet Potato Curry with Chickpeas (Image credit: Shelly Westerhausen)

7. Do what’s right for you.

Some cut meat out of their diet for their health, while others (like myself) do it for environmental reasons. All are great reasons! Just remember that you shouldn’t make a significant dietary change solely because you’re feeling pressured. Moore emphasizes that everyone needs to do what’s best for their body in all aspects — physically, mentally, and emotionally.