Some of you may know but since Summer of 2008 I have cut out red and pink meat (for those getting technical) out of my diet. That means I do not consume any beef, pork, lamb, veal, or any meats of that sort. I do however consume poultry (chicken, turkey, duck). This started from an experience during a study aboard program in Costa Rica. I witnessed what PETA would refer to as mild ‘animal cruelty’. From the experience and smell, it had such an effect on me, that it influenced me enough to stop eating meat entirely for the remainder of my program. I believe I had somewhere between 2.5-3 weeks left. Upon returning back to the states, I instantly went to In N Out (LOL). If you’re from California, you know that In N Out is our food haven! Even after not consuming any meat for 2-2.5 weeks, when I got back to California I was craving meat. My body had a horrible reaction to not consuming meat and I knew from that moment that my body couldn’t take it anymore. Some may argue that not having meat for 2.5-3 weeks wouldn’t affect an individuals body that much, but trust me it did. Especially since I was at that time a heavy meat eater, It was in my diet daily and often. So, to completely cut it off and reintroduce it without slowly implementing it in, had an adverse affect on me!
From that day on, I tried to completely drop all meats but its tough! I love my chicken wings! Also, I love a good turkey burger.
However, as I get older, I am so much more conscious of what I put into my body. I definitely eat way more fruits and vegetables and less processed food. I also find myself consuming more fish than chicken too.
So, for the month of April, I am going to commit myself to a pescatarian diet. That doesn’t mean I will eat fish everyday, but I will try to eat as closely to a vegetarian as possible with some fish here and there. I am curious to see how my body will react to such change and report back to how my body had changed because of this.
To make this challenge even tougher, I have decided to eliminate all fried food too! As a food blogger in Chicago, this is going to be tough! French fries are a go to for vegetarians when there isn’t anything on the menu……………………… ugh, salad it is.
Anyway, here are some benefits I have read to being a pescatarian (courtesy of 1 Hour Athlete)
14 Perks of Being Pescatarian
1) Fish & Seafood Are Rich in Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamins & Minerals are super important, but getting enough each day isn’t always that easy. Sure, you have the option of taking a multivitamin every morning, but is taking a small pill made in a laboratory the best way to improve your health? The research says no. When comparing the benefits of synthetic vitamins (i.e. produced in a laboratory) against whole food vitamins (i.e. found naturally in food), the vitamins derived from whole foods reign supreme as synthetic vitamins aren’t recognized and used by the body in the same way that vitamins from whole foods are. There’s also been research showing that for those with a varied diet, including plenty of fruit and vegetables, multivitamins provide no significant benefit. The best choice therefore is to get all of your required intake of vitamins and minerals from whole food sources. You should definitely eat your vegetables, particularly your greens, but did you know that fish and seafood are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals too? Fish is an excellent source of many necessary vitamins including B-complex vitamins, vitamin A and vitamin D. These vitamins are known to be beneficial for the maintenance of the nervous system, healthy vision & as a component of bone development respectively. Fish are also a great source of essential minerals, including but not limited to zinc, iodine, selenium & iron. Zinc contributes to cell growth and the health of the immune system. Iodine supports effective thyroid function whilst selenium is a powerful antioxidant. As vegetarians and vegan’s remove meat and potentially all animal products from their diet, they increase their risk of developing anemia through making an iron & B12 deficiency more likely. Fortunately, fish and seafood is an excellent source of iron & B-vitamins, essentially eliminating the risk of iron deficiency automatically! The iron found in fish is also more easily absorbed by the body compared to iron from other plant based sources. It’s not overly surprising that superfood salmon is so amazing in terms of the extra vitamins and minerals it provides.
2) Fish Are an Excellent Source of Protein
The three macro-nutrients that are found in any and all foods globally are carbohydrates, fat and protein. Carbohydrates, or carbs for short, are simply the preferred source of energy for the body. Eat something starchy such as quinoa or a banana and you’ll have a steady supply of energy, choose something sugary like a chocolate bar or a doughnut and you’ll have a quick spike of energy, followed by a crash maybe 60-90 minutes later, leaving you craving for more. Fat comes in a number of different forms, from monounsaturated to polyunsaturated and saturated fats and even trans fats. Fat is essential to our diet and helps maintain effective brain and hormone function, even saturated fat .One of the healthiest forms of fat is coconut oil,which provides a number of impressive benefits. On the other hand, trans fats are the fats you definitely want to avoid, typically found in fried foods.Finally, we have protein. Protein is the bricks and mortar of any living being. Protein is the component which builds the cells in your body, including your skin, hair, nails, bone, organ tissue and muscle. Fail to eat sufficient protein and you’re likely to suffer from slower healing of wounds, slower growth, reduced muscle tissue and even hair loss. For anyone looking to improve their health, protein is even more beneficial. If you’re looking to slim down, protein is one of the most satiating nutrients (i.e. keeps you fuller for longer) and therefore helps you keep tabs on your hunger. If you’re looking to bulk up and increase your muscle tissue and strength, protein will build your muscles back up stronger once they’ve been broken down through exercise. Even if you’ve had an injury, guess which nutrient will help repair you fastest? You’ve guessed it – protein. If your body is your home, think of protein as your go to DIY handyman for turning your unstable wooden shack in the forest to a full blown stone fortress – complete with your own heated swimming pool of course.
Fortunately, for those wanting more of a fortress as opposed to a wooden shack, one solution lies in the sea. Fish and seafood is one of the best sources of high quality protein. It is also more easily absorbed by the body than red meat and poultry. Thinking back to those who may be slightly more at risk of protein deficiency or insufficient protein for a specific goal, i.e. potentially vegans or vegetarians, adding fish to the diet can be an excellent way to increase protein intake and take advantage of a whole host of related benefits.
Lets look at a couple of seafood sources to see how much protein is contained:
Tilapia – 22g protein / 100g
Raw tuna – 25.2g protein / 100g
Swordfish – 28g protein / 100g
Skate – 21.5g protein / 100g
Atlantic Salmon – 22.5g protein / 100g .
There’s a huge range of seafood options, many of which providing an excellent source of protein, helping create a leaner, stronger and more resilient you. Of course, if you want to up your protein intake further, you’ll need to select the right protein powder for your goals.
3) Helps Maintain Eye Health
As we grow older, often the normal bodily functions we take for granted slowly begin to stop working like they used to. Sometimes it’s flexibility, sometimes it’s the functions of the brain and sometimes it’s our vision. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a chronic eye disease which causes vision loss in individuals over the age of 60. One study with regards to this disease found that those who consumed two types of omega-3 fatty acids which are found in fish (DHA & EPA) at least once a week cut the risk of AMD in half. A further study on those who already had AMD observed that 100% of patients had significant improvements in vision after received a course of omega-3 fatty acids with a daily dosage of EPA & DHA each day for 6 months. Not only do the omega-3s found within fish and seafood prevent and potentially reverse AMD, but they also help to reduce the risk of other visual disorders including cataract, glaucoma and dry eye. DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish is also “important for proper brain and eye development” and that infants with higher blood levels of DHA score better on visual tests. Know someone who’s pregnant? Might be an idea to invite them round for a salmon dinner! So, we know that going pescatarian and consuming more seafood is a great way to fight against blindness in old age and even improve the vision of infants, but did you know that lots of seafood options are a source of Vitamin A? Fish and shellfish, including examples such as eels, tuna and caviar, contain high doses of vitamin A in the form of retinol, boosting night vision.
4) Supports Healthy Joints
Joint pain and discomfort is not fun. Fortunately you can control your own levels of joint pain somewhat through what you eat and how you train. It goes without saying that if you’re experiencing hip and knee pain, jumping into a marathon training plan isn’t your best option first of all. There’s a few ways that eating fish & seafood can contribute to healthy joints, one way is that EPA & DHA, both of which are omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood, can decrease inflammation. An additional way that omega-3s may help is that they can reduce the enzymes that downgrade cartilage and inflammatory cytokines, helping to maintain healthy cartilage around joints. In other words, if your body was a car, omega 3-s can be found under the bonnet, automatically removing any build up of rust to ensure your machine functions without any problems. Perfect for when you’re going to tackle your next marathon! (This is perfect for me, I am running the Chicago marathon!)
5) Prevents Depression
There are several bodies of evidence which links omega-3 consumption to mood disorders. Depression is a mood disorder which is far more serious than simply feeling a bit sad for a couple of days. At its mildest, people may experience a persistent low mood, whilst at it’s most severe those suffering from depression may feel suicidal and that life is not worth living. There is still much to be learnt about depression and currently it’s still a topic that people feel uncomfortable talking about. Those with depression are sometimes stigmatized and encouraged to simply “get over it”. As with any emotions or issues of mood, the experience is caused in a significant way by specific brain activity. Fortunately, with any issues with the brain, nutrition can be an effective way to ensure both the brain and body is working in the way that we would like. One such study which aimed to explore the link between omega-3 fatty acids and depression was The Omega-3 Bipolar Disorder Study conducted by Andrew Stoll MD from Harvard in 1999. The study focused on 30 individuals with bipolar disorder, with half receiving olive oil and the other receiving 9.6 grams of fish oil capsules. Although there was little benefit on the mania-style episodes for participants, the fish oil group performed significantly better in terms of reducing their levels of depression. Further studies have made links between low omega-3 intake from seafood and increased likelihood of depression during pregnancy, suggestion that an increase in seafood in the diet can be an effective preventative measure against depression. Even more studies exist supporting the notion that increasing the volume of seafood in the diet and thereby increasing omega-3 fatty acid intake, is an effective strategy for preventing depression.
6) Improves Lung Health
Ever get that feeling during high intensity exercise where you just need that extra bit of lung capacity? In terms of increasing athletic performance, lungs are pretty vital. For those with poor lung health, such as smokers, even daily activities such as climbing a flight of stairs can leave you gasping for more air. Apart from stopping smoking and being more active, is there anything else we can do to improve our lung health? One study on a total of nearly 3,000 participants assessed the lung health of people with different diets and lifestyles. This was done by using a device called a spirometer, which measures the volume of air that can be blown out of the lungs in one second. The study showed that those who had healthy diets consisting of fruit, vegetables, oily fish and wholegrain products (staples of a pescatarian diet) had much better lung function than other participants. This same study also showed a pescatarian diet to be particularly effective for men who smoked, as the antioxidants from fruit & whole grains, in addition to the omega-3 fatty acids contained in oily fish, work to protect the lungs against the effects of smoking. Naturally, also dropping smoking would yield even better results! Further research also exists stating that those who follow a pescatarian diet are less likely than their peers to develop chronic lung disease.
7) Increases Fertility
Bringing children into the world is a huge responsibility and one that should not be taken lightly. Unfortunately, for many couples trying to create life, it isn’t as easy as forgetting the contraception a couple of times. For those with poor fertility levels, both male and female, it’s always worth looking at nutrition before resorting to potentially costly IVF treatment. One of the main elements of a pescatarian diet is fish and seafood, many of which contains a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids. These super omega-3s, in addition to some of the benefits already discussed, help to regulate your reproductive hormones whilst also increasing blood flow to your reproductive areas. Seafood is also a good source of zinc & selenium, with the zinc content being an effective component to help a man’s testosterone & sperm production – two great consequences of a pescatarian diet if you’re trying to conceive. One things to bear in mind when eating seafood and trying to conceive is to aim to avoid some of the higher mercury options as this is likely to make having a baby somewhat more difficult. Options to avoid when trying to conceive include, swordfish, shark, king mackerel, marlin & tilefish. Best increasing the amount of oysters you eat when trying to conceive, there’s a reason they are an aphrodisiac…
8) Boosts Brainpower
Eating well is very important for your physical health, but it’s also really important for your mental health too. If your brain doesn’t receive the right nutrients that it needs on a daily basis, it doesn’t work at it’s full capacity. Research into how nutrition can have a positive impact on the function of the brain suggests that omega-3 fatty acids, a nutrient which is plentiful in a pescatarian diet, can boost the function of neurotransmitters. A further study, one of many into the subject, conducted at the University of Siena in Italy, found that individuals who had more omega-3 in their diets had both increased mood and cognition. They concluded that a pescatarian diet is associated with improved complex cortical processing and increased attention. In other words, whilst eating a pescatarian diet might not turn you into the next Einstein overnight, it’s much more likely to have you thinking sharper and faster than you would otherwise.
9) Reduces Risk of Alzheimer’s & Dementia
With discussions of brain function and optimizing cognitive ability, the discussion on Alzheimer’s disease & dementia is never far in the background. From perk 8 of being pescatarian, we know omega-3 fatty acids are great for boosting brain power, but what about protecting the brain from degenerative disorders? Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia in which the reduction in memory and intellectual abilities is so severe that it interferes with daily life. In terms of the brain, chemical structures between brain cells are lost and causing them to die. Whilst Alzheimer’s and dementia often occur in individuals over the age of 65, it is not a normal part of the aging process and can happen to people who are aged as early as 50 or even 40. The death of specific brain cells can cause a number of undesirable effects, including, but not limited to: a reduction in day-to-day memory, difficulty in planning or organizing and experiencing problems in visual perception. An individual suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia may also experience varying mood, become frustrated more often or potentially be unusually sad. Naturally, these are all experiences that hopefully will be prevented for the benefit of the individual and their surrounding loved ones. In terms of the research, 90% of what is known about Alzheimer’s has been discovered in the last 15 years. Whilst there is still much to be learnt about Alzheimer’s & dementia, the research is still in it’s relative infancy, meaning there will hopefully be a much better understanding of treatment and prevention in another few years time. From the studies so far, the results are encouraging. One study concluded that a higher intake of fish is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s worth noting that the same analysis did not find a statistically significant link between long-chain omega-3 fatty acid intake and the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease – so if you’re looking for the best benefits, you’re best eating fish rather than dosing yourself up on supplements.
10) Encourages Healthy Skin & Hair
One of the best kept beauty secrets might not be hidden in your local cosmetic store, nor would it be that newest hair product major celebrities are endorsing to supplement the deposit on their next mansion. One of the best ways to upgrade both your skin and your hair might be right in front of you in the supermarkets. The omega-3 content found within fish and seafood is a powerful component for making your skin more radiant and your hair both shinier and stronger. In terms of your skin, there’s a range of evidence supporting omega-3s effectiveness in supporting healthy skin and fighting undesirable skin conditions. A study on Inuit populations, who have a diet rich in fish and seafood, found that they suffer much less from psoriasis than people in the Western world. Further laboratory studies revealed that omega-3 fatty acids reduce skin inflammation and also reduce the effects of psoriasis. If you’re a teenager currently suffering with the hormonal onslaught that comes with puberty, you may be experiencing some acne. But have no fear, research has also shown that a diet high in fish and seafood, due to the omega-3 content, can reduce the appearance of both acne & eczema.
The omega-3 content of fish and seafood can help reduce the dryness that leads to both wrinkles and brittle hair. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements are also reported to nourish hair follicles, resulting in shinier and stronger hair.
11) Simple Low Fat or High Fat Options
With any sensible diet plan, calories and macro-nutrients should be managed. For example, when following a diet of 2,000 calories a day, whether you have either a macro-nutrient ratio of 10% carbs, 60% fat and 30% protein, or potentially 40% carbs, 20% fat and 40% protein, will have a huge effect on both your well-being and athletic performance. With the huge variety of options within seafood, the precise amount of fat and protein you want to consume in your diet becomes much easier, rather than trying to figure out the difference in fat content between chicken, lean beef, turkey and not so lean beef. Before you know it you’ve massively overshot your calorie target for the day and trying to limit yourself the following day to make up for it. With regards to the options available, fish and shellfish are typically either high or low fat, with much of the fat coming in the form of magical omega-3.If you’re watching your calorie intake, you may wish to opt for more of the lower fat options such as; tinned tuna, cod, haddock and pollock, all of which have approximately less than 2 grams of fat per 100g. For a normal healthy diet, you should opt for a variety of both low fat and high fat fish. The beauty with seafood is that the range of options lets you tailor your food choices towards your specific goals, whether that be fat loss through a calorie deficit or increasing your dietary fat through a higher consumption of omega-3 fatty acids.
12) Enhances Circulation
The human body is made up of 100,000 miles of blood vessels. Yes, 100,000. That’s a whole load of distance for your blood to travel around in your body. Like with any traffic system, what does every commuter and traveler despite? You guessed it, traffic and roadworks. In terms of the human body, traffic and roadworks could be in the form of reduced lanes (inflammation & higher cholesterol reducing blood vessel capacity) or even in the form of roadworks (or a blood clot). Inflammation, higher cholesterol and blood clots are all issues which will increase blood pressure, i.e. traffic on the road. However, rather than having a crowd of angry motorists on the road all beeping and shouting at each other, you’ll have an increased risk of heart disease or a heart attack. There is also the issue of thrombosis, which is the local coagulation or clotting of blood in a part of the circulatory system. In other words, this would be represented by a car crash, causing a standstill in traffic and a whole bunch of drama. But don’t worry, there is a way to both ease the angry commuters and clear your vessels for traffic, i.e. blood, to pass through easily. Seafood often contains lots of omega-3 fatty acids, including both EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid respectively). If the body has a source of EPA and DHA available, it is less likely to use other fats which product hormone-like substances called eicosanoids. Eicosanoids make the body more likely to suffer from inflammation and form further blood clots (rather than a single car crash, this would be a lorry crashing in the next motorway along – something you want to avoid!).
13) Protects Against Inflammatory Diseases
We’re onto perk 13 of being pescatarian, and even by now it’s pretty magical. What hasn’t been covered is that a pescatarian diet can actually protect you against uncomfortable inflammatory diseases, i.e. any disease ending in “itis”. This includes, but is not limited to; gingivitis, crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). One analysis studying 17 controlled and randomized clinical trials observed the reduction in pain due to omega-3 supplementation for individuals with RA, joint pain from an inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) or simply painful menstruation. Their results suggested that omega-3 fatty acids, can help relieve joint pain associated with these types of conditions. A further study examined the effects of fish oil supplementation on inflammatory bowel disease / syndrome (IBS). IBS is where an individual experienced inflammation in the small intestine or colon. Those with IBS may suffer from cramping, abdominal pain and diarrhea, potentially with added bleeding. The study consisted of 78 patients who had previously been suffering from Crohn’s disease, a form of IBS. After splitting the patients up, with half receiving nine 500mg capsules of fish oil a day and the other half receiving a placebo, results were analysed after 12 months. The results were as follows, after 1 year of treatment, 74% of those that had received the placebo had suffered the effects of Crohn’s disease again. This is in comparison to only 41% of those who had received fish oil supplementation, this group also had reduced levels of inflammation after laboratory analysis. After analysing the results of the survey, the researchers conducted that fish oil supplementation, or even better, a pescatarian diet, is effective at easing the symptoms and discomfort of those suffering from an inflammatory disease such as IBS .
14) Promotes Heart Health
We’re now at the 14th perk of being pescatarian and already the benefits are looking pretty attractive. As with perk 12 of having improved circulation, a diet rich in seafood and fish can have additional benefits to our heart. Potentially most astonishing finding from research is that the omega-3 fatty acids found from a pescatarian diet decreases an individuals risk of arrhythmias, or abnormal heartbeats – which may lead to sudden death. Going back to our earlier metaphor of the circulatory system like a traffic network, an irregular heartbeat would be similar to all the traffic lights flicking randomly between red, amber and green. Various trials and studies have been conducted into the nature and scope of the health benefits that can be gained from omega-3 supplementation and a pescatarian diet. The American Heart Association has collated a range of the aforementioned studies and found the data supports both following claims with regards to heart health. Omega-3 fatty acids reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Omega-3 fatty acids reduces the risk of death from coronary heart disease.
So next time you’re in a restaurant choosing between the mackerel dish and the other options, follow your heart and go for the seafood and your heart will thank you.