The Difference between Pescatarians, Vegetarians, and Vegans


In today’s society, there are so many different diets, or lifestyles, for individuals to follow if they choose to do so. Many people choose to follow these diets for health reasons, environmental reasons, religious reasons, or just because they feel like trying something new. A few of these diets include pescetarianism, vegetarianism, and veganism. Now, it is likely that most of us have a general idea about what all of these diets are, but there may be some things to clear up to help individuals better understand what it exactly means to be a pescatarian, vegetarian, or vegan.


What is pescetarianism?


Simply put, pescatarians avoid all meat besides seafood. To explain a bit more, “a pescatarian diet contains fruits, vegetables, milk and other dairy products, eggs, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Pescatarians [...] ‘avoid meat, poultry and products made from meat and poultry such as gelatin, broths and lard.’”[1] Pescetarianism is considered a plant-based diet because of how plant-focused it is, and there are multiple benefits to following a plant-based diet that will be discussed later in this article regarding all three of these diets. Pescetarianism, specifically, is a plant-based diet that also has the benefit of being higher in omega-3 fatty acids due to the intake of fish. “Omega-3s are essential compounds that the body can’t make on its own – you have to ingest them as part of your diet or in supplement form. They are critical to maintaining cardiovascular health.”[1] Since consuming omega-3s are so essential to your health, this is definitely one way in which a pescatarian diet can be more beneficial than a diet that is more meat-heavy because of the amount of omega-3s in fish versus other meats. You can buy meats that are enriched with more omega-3s, but it may be easier and less expensive to buy some fish. For example, salmon, sardines and mackerel are a few of the fish with the most omega-3s, and you can buy cans of each of these at most grocery stores ranging from about one to three dollars per can.


Even though there are great benefits to following a pescatarian diet, it, like all other diets, comes with its own possible risks. The main risk of following a pescatarian diet is consuming too much mercury or other heavy metals. Fish and other seafood build up mercury in themselves, and bigger fish that consume smaller fish contain even more mercury in their flesh due to their own consumption.[1] According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, methylmercury (found in fish/shellfish) poisoning can cause:

● Loss of peripheral vision

● “Pins and needles” feeling in hands/feet/around the mouth

● Lack of coordination of movements

● Impairment of speech/hearing/walking

● Muscle weakness[2]

There are also more risks to those may be pescatarian who are pregnant due to the exposure of methylmercury to infants in the womb having negative effects on their developing brains and nervous system. Exposure to methylmercury can impact unborn infants’ “cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, fine motor skills, and visual spatial skills.”[2] It is smart for pregnant individuals to avoid a pescatarian diet until after giving birth due to the health of the baby.


For those not pregnant, if you are worried about how much methylmercury you may be consuming on a pescatarian diet, consuming small fish is recommended due to the lower amounts of mercury in their bodies.


What is vegetarianism?


Even though vegetarianism is a plant-based diet like pescetarianism, there are still some pretty big differences between the two. A person on a vegetarian diet would not consume any meat or poultry, including fish and shellfish. However, a vegetarian diet does still include some animal products. There are actually three different vegetarian categories which describe what animal products are included in the different branches of vegetarianism. These three categories include: lacto vegetarians, ovo vegetarians, and lacto-ovo vegetarians. Lacto vegetarianism consists of eating dairy products, such as milk and cheese, ovo vegetarianism consists of eating eggs, and lacto-ovo vegetarianism is a combination of the two former categories.[1] So, even within a vegetarian diet, there is still some room for flexibility regarding which non-meat animal products you could choose to consume along with the wide variety of plants and grains available to choose from to customize your vegetarian diet.


Following a vegetarian diet can definitely be cheaper than following a pescatarian diet since vegetables and other plant products are usually less expensive than fresh fish, and plant products can also be less expensive than canned fish. As is such with any diet, looking for sales and discounts definitely helps to cut down your spending as much as possible while still being able to buy the foods you want. Another way to cut spending would be to buy frozen products or you could also buy some plant products, like vegetables and fruit, in bulk and store them in your freezer to be used whenever you are ready to consume them.


Yes, there are also some risks to following a vegetarian diet. “Because whole groups of foods are excluded, there’s the potential to miss out on certain nutrients, such as vitamin B12, iron and zinc.”[1] Not getting enough of these nutrients can result in deficiencies which can lead to a multitude of health issues including anemia for both vitamin B12 and iron deficiencies and impaired immune function for zinc deficiency. Another risk is a decrease in the amount of protein you could get due to not consuming any meat. Without enough protein, your body won’t absorb the amino acids it needs to carry out different functions. Even though these concerns are appropriate, vegetarians are still able to keep up with all the nutrients needed as long as they are consuming enough plant-based food that have these nutrients. Some vegetarian-friendly foods that are recommended for increasing the intake of protein and the above vitamins and nutrients include: tofu, soybeans, spinach, potatoes, mushrooms, kale, lentils, and broccoli- just to name a few. Another option is just buying vitamins at the store, but that would be more expensive than buying the foods listed above.


What is veganism?


Vegetarianism and veganism are very similar diets in the sense that they both avoid meat, but, again, these diets contain differences that definitely set them apart from each other. One big difference is that veganism does not just refer to someone’s diet, but also to their beliefs and lifestyle. “The Vegan Society of the United Kingdom defines veganism as [...] a philosophy and way of living [that] seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practicable — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.’”[3] Now, of course it is up to the individual when deciding to what extent their veganism with go, and a lot of people just choose to follow a vegan regarding the food they eat. The vegan diet excludes any animal products, including dairy products and eggs. However, there are many who follow the vegan lifestyle who choose to not entertain the idea of using any animal products or products that harm animals at all, such as leather articles of clothing.


Following a vegan diet does have the same health risks as following a vegetarian diet, and the same foods can still be consumed to counteract these health risks.


With all of these diets, as long as you are aware of what you are consuming and what kind of nutrients you’re getting, you will be able to stay healthy and happy while following a diet that works for you.


References:

1. Howley, E. K. (2019, November 25). Pescatarian vs. Vegetarian. U.S. news - US news health. https://health.usnews.com/wellness/compare-diets/articles/pescatarian-vs-vegetarian.

2. Environmental Protection Agency. (2021, March 3). Health Effects of Exposures to Mercury. EPA. https://www.epa.gov/mercury/health-effects-exposures-mercury.

3. Richards, L. (2021, April 8). Plant-based vs. vegan: What is the difference? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/plant-based-vs-vegan#veganism.


 

Contributors:

Author: Lauryn Agron

Editor: Anum Khan

Health scientist: Hira Mughal


@werise4wellness