What Is a Pescatarian?

illustration depicting reasons to go pescatarian

The Spruce / Maritsa Patrinos

Pescatarian (sometimes spelled "pescetarian" with an e) is a term sometimes used to describe those who abstain from eating all meat and animal flesh with the exception of fish. A pescatarian, or someone who follows a pescatarian way of eating, maintain a vegetarian diet with the addition of fish and other seafood such as shrimp, clams, crabs, and lobster.

In other words, a pescatarian is a person who eats fish, but doesn't eat steak, chicken, pork or any other kind of meat, only fish and seafood. That's not all they eat. Pescatarians also eat mainly vegetarian foods such as tofu, beans, vegetables, fruits, dairy, and grains.

Reasons to Go Pescatarian

Although the word is not commonly used and a pescatarian is not really a vegetarian, often people adopt this kind of diet for two reasons: one, they want to cut out meat but still get healthy protein. The other common reason to go adopt a pescatarian diet is to build up to a completely vegetarian diet. With this method, they may eventually phase out fish and seafood but will do so over time.

Other reasons for adopting a pescatarian way of eating include many of the same issues that motivate people to go vegetarian or vegan: a reduced environmental footprint and animal cruelty concerns. And some people follow a pescatarian diet for religious reasons. Pescatarians often believe that moderate consumption of fish or fish oils, which are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, is necessary for optimum health, although vegetarian alternatives, such as flaxseed oil and hemp foods are available.

While it's true that fish is a good source of protein, this shouldn't be the sole reason for eating a pescatarian diet. There are plenty of meat-free and fish-free sources available to vegetarians and even vegans, including eggs, low-fat dairy, beans, lentils, nuts, and more. It's certainly possible to maintain a protein-rich diet without consuming meat or fish.

Are Pescatarians Considered Vegetarian?

No. A pescatarian is not a vegetarian or even a type of vegetarian. There is much confusion over what a vegetarian is and isn't, but no definition of the term ever includes fish or seafood.

A vegetarian diet excludes all animals, and fish are animals. Therefore, a diet that includes fish, or a person who consumes fish cannot be properly called a vegetarian. A pescatarian is not a vegetarian, and a vegetarian diet does not include fish.

What Are Semi-Vegetarians or Flexitarians? 

A "semi-vegetarian" -or a "flexitarian" is someone who eats a mostly vegetarian diet, occasionally supplemented by meat, though there's no real agreed-upon definition of how often one can eat meat and still call themselves a semi-vegetarian or a flexitarian. Pescatarians are not restricted to "occasional" fish and may eat fish as little or as frequently as they prefer.

These labels are somewhat personal. If you state that you are a pescatarian, semi-vegetarian, or flexitarian, be prepared to explain your diet choices to those that ask. It's likely that friends, family, and even people you just met will be curious about your dietary habits, restrictions, and reasons.