Are you a pescatarian?

A pescatarian or pescetarian is a person who opts to eat fish and other seafoods and vegetables, but not meat. No pork, beef, chicken, or any other meat from animals. Many pescatarians also eat eggs and other dairy products, besides nuts, whole grains, legumes (beans, source of protein). Those two words are a neologism constructed as a portmanteau of the Italian word pesce (fish), derived from the Latin word piscis, and the English term for vegetarian. The origin of the name pescatarian dates back to 1993.

Why do people turn pescatarians?

There are various reasons or circumstances why individuals become pescatarians: health, financial, environmental, socio-civic animal causes, religious, etc. Inefficiency of meat sources or scarcity of meat, besides cost, is another reason. Others prefer to eat only free-range cattle, chicken, and pigs, and most in the United States and most countries are not. The amount of energy and environmental impact necessary to feed a cow, a chicken, or a pig significantly exceeds its nutritional values, so these individuals prefer to eat wild-caught fish instead of farmed carnivorous fish that need food input of other fish. Others use this no-meat diet as a transition to vegetarianism.

Is pain or cruelty to animals a factor?

Yes, many pescatarians and anti-cruelty-to-animal advocates feel for the animals and consider the pain or death inflicted on these animals as cruel and unnecessary, since humans can survive without animal meat. Scientists have found that unlike humans and other animals, “fish do not have neuro-physiological capacity for a conscious awareness of pain…fish do not have neocortex.”

What are the health reasons?

Evidence-based data show that those who regularly eat meat, especially red meat and processed meat, have increased death rate from overall causes, risk for cardiovascular, metabolic (diabetes/thyroid diseases, etc.), Alzheimer’s, and cancer. Fish provide omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy and cancer-preventive, like vegetables, some fruits, nuts, and spices, which are anti-cancer foods. Red meats contain a lot of saturated fats, choline, and carnitine. Eating fish raises high-density lipoproteins (HDL), the good cholesterol.

What are the supporting statistics?

Among other scientific reports that confirm recent clinical findings, here is one from almost two decades ago: “1999  Meta-analysis” meta-analysis of five studies comparing vegetarian and non-vegetarian  mortality rates in Western countries found that in comparison with regular meat-eaters, mortality from  ischemic heart  disease was 34 percent lower in pescetarians, 34 percent lower in  ovo-lacto vegetarians, 26 percent lower in  vegans.”

Can pescatarian diet help maintain good health?

Yes, individuals on pescatarian diet could achieve excellent health as long as they live a healthy lifestyle. Fish, eggs and other dairies, legumes, and nuts, are enough as sources of protein for one to have good nutrition on pescatarian diet. The opposite is true among meat eaters as the data above and below show. Abstinence from red meat, especially processed meats (and processed food items in general) is healthier.

Which are the healthiest fish to eat?

Considering factors like chemical contamination, their food sources, levels of the bad omega 6 ratio to the good omega 3, species endangerment, the following have been cited as the best fish to consume: Wild-caught salmon, Artic char, Atlantic mackerel, black cod, sardines, milkfish (bangus), rainbow trout, anchovies, rock fish, pacific halibut, and regular, light, small tuna, like those is cans.

The fish on the “do not eat list” by experts because of those factors listed are: Tilapia, and catfish (which are scavengers high in omega 6), Atlantic cod (high in mercury), and more so albacore (giant) tuna, which eats little fishes contaminated with mercury and other chemicals. 

Other fish to avoid: Swordfish, king mackerel, shark, bigeye tuna (often used in sushi), marlin, Gulf tilefish, orange roughy and swordfish. Farmed salmon, other farmed fishes and seafoods, are notoriously contaminated with pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, etc. Chilean Sea Bass, an excellent and expensive fish I relish, is among the “not to eat” list only because it is among the endangered species.  Iranian Beluga fish is also on the “protection list.” The most expensive caviar and also the most expensive food on earth is Almas, the caviar from Beluga (about $34,000 per kilo or 2 pounds, 3 ounces). There are many other fishes on the endangered list.

How about eating red meat occasionally?

Anyone who eats red meat, even only once a week, or less, is a meat-eater and does not qualify to be called as pescatarian. The two main criteria are: diet basically including fish and vegetables and totally meatless.

How about cancer risks among meat eaters?

Like most cancers, like breast and colon cancers, pancreatic cancer is significantly impacted by diet, like those high in saturated fats. A pescatarian diet started early in life and sustained faithfully would lower the risk for the development of cancers, besides cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, together with a healthy lifestyle. A diet high in processed meat (sausages, luncheon meats, etc.) may increase the risk of carnivores developing pancreatic cancer by almost 70 percent, reported a recent major study that was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.A study showed “an average of 41 cases of pancreatic cancer were diagnosed per 100,000 people each year among those who ate the most processed meat compared with 20 cases among those who ate the least.” This research, which included 180,000 individuals, also found that individuals who ate even non-processed red meats, including pork, beef, and any other red meats, had a 50 percent higher risk of having cancer of the pancreas. While this is 20 percent lower compared to those who ate processed meats, 50 percent increase in the risk is still too high for comfort, since pancreatic cancer is a very painful and fatal disease, with no known cure.

Scientists think the culprit carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) may not be the saturated fat in red meats but the nitrate-based preservatives and the cooking method, like charcoal grilling and broiling. Apparently, the cooking method and the nitrate preservatives each play a great role as carcinogens.

While the saturated fat in fresh (no preservative) red meat appears not to be linked to pancreatic cancer in this study, other studies have shown that people who eat red meat regularly have a higher risk for developing cancer of the colon, breast, and other cancers in general, compared to those who minimize eating red meat.  Red meat also causes a quick rise in the cholesterol blood level, a condition that increases the risk for the development of heart attack and stroke.

The pescatarian diet is becoming more and more popular today, especially among the young and educated group who are more health conscious and updated on current health data.

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Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States. Email: scalpelpen@gmail.com

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Dr. Philip S. Chua
Dr. Philip S. Chua

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States.

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