Pescatarian vs. Vegetarian

Posted on June 29th

Of the many ways you can choose to eat, some provide more health benefits than others. While it might be fun once in a while to scarf down junk food or feast on a thick steak, doing so every day could have serious, negative long-term health consequences.

Eating a whole-food, plant-based diet has been found to be one of the best ways you can take your health into your own hands and prevent or delay the development of common chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

There are a variety of ways to enjoy a plant-based diet, from veganism, which strictly eliminates all animal products, to the Mediterranean diet, which features some meat but relies mainly on whole foods and a lot of plants. Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of options lies both the vegetarian and the pescatarian diets.

What Is a Vegetarian Diet?

A vegetarian diet is one that does not contain meat, poultry or fish, explains Janet Shannon, a registered dietitian with Providence Mission Hospital-Mission Viejo and Laguna Beach in Southern California.

Some vegetarian recipes may include some animal products, such as eggs, milk or honey, but not the meat of animals. There are different types of vegetarians, with the most common classifications revolving around what’s included in the diet:

— Lacto vegetarians. These individuals eat dairy products, such as milk, cheese, butter, yogurt and cottage cheese.

— Ovo vegetarians. These individuals eat eggs.

— Lacto-ovo vegetarians. These individuals eat both eggs and dairy products.

A balanced vegetarian diet will feature a lot of plants and whole grains, but also may include:

— Dairy.

— Beans.

— Legumes.

— Eggs.

— Honey.

What Is a Pescatarian Diet?

The pescatarian diet’s meals are much like those in the vegetarian diet in that they eschew meat and poultry, but pescatarians do eat some fish. Pescatarian recipes contains:

— Fruits and vegetables.

— Milk and other dairy products.

— Eggs.

— Grains.

— Beans and legumes.

— Nuts and seeds.

People following a pescatarian diet plan, Shannon notes, “avoid meat, poultry and products made from meat and poultry such as gelatin, broths and lard.”

The pescatarian diet is also sometimes called a pesco-vegetarian or partial vegetarian diet, says Cathy Leman, a registered dietitian, speaker and writer based in Chicago.

Many people think of the pescatarian diet as being a slightly more flexible version of the vegetarian diet.

Comparison of Vegetarian and Pescatarian Diets

Health Benefits

Because both diets are considered plant-based, followers will achieve many of the benefits associated with plant-based diets. This approach to eating — when done right — has been associated with plenty of health benefits including:

— Better control of blood pressure.

— Better control of blood glucose.

— Less inflammation throughout the body.

— Reduced cholesterol levels.

These factors can translate into:

— Improved heart health.

— Reduced risk of developing diabetes.

— Reduced risk of certain types of cancer.

“Compared with meat-eaters, vegetarians tend to eat less saturated fat and cholesterol and more vitamins like C and E,” Leman says. Pescatarians also tend to eat less saturated fat and cholesterol and both groups tend to consume more of several vitamins, minerals and other compounds that can support good health. These include:

— Fiber. Consuming enough fiber is a key component of staying healthy; dietary fiber supports regular bowel movements, keeps blood glucose levels stable and helps support a diverse gut microbiome, which is important to keeping your immune system healthy. “The majority of immune cells within the body are found in gut tissues called GALT, which stands for gut-associated lymphoid tissue,” explains DJ Blatner, author of “The Flexitarian Diet” and a wellness expert with NOW, a supplement company based in Bloomingdale, Illinois.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that people take in 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories they consume; if you’re eating 2,000 calories per day (which is the amount most nutrition labels are based on) you’d need 28 grams of fiber each day.

— Potassium. “Benefits of potassium include appropriate functioning of your nerves, regulation of fluid balance and maintaining a regular heartbeat,” says Maggie O’Meara, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Torrance Memorial Medical Center in Torrance, California. “This mineral is also essential for proper muscle contraction and decreasing risk of severe muscle weakness or cramps.” Higher consumption of potassium-rich foods, especially those from fruits and vegetables, has been shown to lower blood pressure and the risk of heart disease or strokes.

Adults should consume 4,700 milligrams of potassium daily, but O’Meara notes that “less than 2% of Americans are meeting the U.S. recommendations for this mineral.” Good sources include baked potatoes with the skin on — clocking in at about 925 milligrams for a medium potato — and avocados — half an avocado contains 487 milligrams.

— Magnesium. Magnesium is critical to the proper electrical functioning of the heart. Men age 18 and older should consume 400 to 420 milligrams per day while women are advised to get 310 to 320 milligrams daily. Nuts and seeds such as pumpkin seeds and almonds contain lots of magnesium. One ounce of pumpkin seeds contains nearly 170 milligrams of magnesium, while an ounce of dry-roasted almonds contains 80 milligrams of this important nutrient.

— Phytochemicals. These plant compounds, which include carotenoids (a class of pigments found in plants), flavonoids (which include compounds found in vegetables, chocolate and tea) resveratrol (found in wine, grapes and berries) and a variety of other substances have been found to have favorable effects on health through their anti-inflammatory properties.

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