So, you’re not so thrilled about the whole “red meat” deal but still want to give Paleo a try? Great! Paleo doesn’t have to be about wrapping your steak in bacon; it’s perfectly possible to do Paleo as a pescetarian: someone who eats fish, eggs, and optionally dairy, but not red meat, pork, or poultry. Whether you’re pescetarian for environmental, religious, or personal reasons, it’s absolutely possible to construct a very healthy Paleo diet without any red meat.
In fact, a pescetarian Paleo diet has a lot of advantages. First of all, it’s a lot better than a strict vegetarian (eggs and dairy, but no meat at all) diet. It’s possible to go Paleo as a strict vegetarian, but that many eggs all the time get boring! A pescetarian diet makes it easier to get all the nutrients you need without feeling like you’re eating omelets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
If you’re doing Paleo as a pescetarian, you’re also avoiding a lot of the pitfalls that plague Paleo beginners:
- No risk of iodine deficiency. Since seafood is so rich in iodine, you won’t lack for it even if you switch out your salt to non-iodized sea salt.
- Excellent Omega-3 levels. If fish is your primary protein source, your Omega-3 intake will be almost automatically dialed in.
- Lots of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for everything from weight loss to fertility, and most of us don’t get nearly enough of it, since we’re stuck inside all day and rarely get out in the sun. Some of the only food sources are fatty cold-water fish like salmon and sardines: if you’re eating a pescetarian Paleo diet, your dietary Vitamin D consumption is probably a lot higher than average. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go outside, but it definitely helps.
The (potentially) Bad
As amazing as seafood is, though the pescetarian Paleo life still deserves a few caveats. None of these are reasons not to try it; they’re just pitfalls to watch out for, so you can prevent them before they happen.
A pescetarian Paleo diet doesn’t have to be boring any more than any other variation of Paleo. But the more restrictions you take on, the easier it is to start feeling bored and irritated by all the things you “aren’t allowed” to eat. To avoid feeling bored, make an effort from the beginning to try new recipes. Don’t just eat salmon fillets every single day. There’s a huge variety of seafood out there; experiment with crab, lobster, shrimp, tilapia, sardines, mackerel, tuna, octopus (calamari, anyone?), and oysters. Or try different ways of preparing your fish – raw in sashimi vs. pan-fried vs. grilled.
If you can tolerate dairy, it also helps a lot to add in yogurt or cheese as a supplemental source of fat and protein. If you eat eggs for breakfast, a big salad with nuts and cheese for lunch, and fish for dinner, you won’t have to repeat the same protein source twice in one day.
Nutrients in red meat
Far from the nutritional devil it’s made out to be, red meat is actually extremely nutritious. You can get almost all of its advantages from seafood, but there are just a few things you might be missing:
- Conjugated linoleic acid: this is a special type of saturated fat found in grass-fed (only grass-fed: there’s almost none in grain-fed) meat. CLA is particularly interesting from a Paleo perspective because it has interesting potential benefits for weight loss. As a pescetarian, you could get CLA from pastured butter or pastured egg yolks (although again: these must be from animals that lived happy lives outside).
- Vitamin K2: also found mostly in grass-fed meat and animal products. Pastured egg yolks are an easy workaround for this too though.
- Saturated fat: yes, this is a nutrient! But you can easily get it from eggs, butter, or coconut oil; you don’t need meat.
Essentially, as long as you’re also eating yolks from pastured eggs every day, you’ll be all set for your nutrient needs. The only reason you’d need a supplement would be if you couldn’t eat eggs, or if you couldn’t get truly pastured eggs for some reason.
Yes, there is such a thing! Protein should never make up more than 30% or so of your daily calories; your body can’t actually metabolize any more than that, so it’s just wasted money spent on nutrition you aren’t actually absorbing. And it can also make you feel really lousy, because your body is starving for calories but not actually getting them (this is also called “rabbit starvation” if you want to look it up).
Protein overload can happen to anyone, but pescetarians are particularly prone to it because many species of fish are so lean. If you look at the Nutrition Facts on a can of tuna, you’ll see that it’s almost entirely protein, with just a tiny amount of fat in the mix. The same goes for a lot of other fish, especially white fish (tilapia, swai, whitefish…) and bivalves like mussels and oysters. If you’re eating exclusively fish, it’s easy to get a lot of protein very fast, without enough fat to go with it.
Some warning signs that this may be affecting your health are:
- You feel constantly hungry even after eating large amounts of food (your body is starving for fat and/or carbs).
- You’re craving something but feel turned off or even nauseated by everything you try to eat. Nothing looks good…but you’re still hungry!
- You’re losing weight extremely fast, your hair is falling out, and you feel weak or shaky.
- You have no energy.
To fix this problem, just focus on adding more fat and starch to your meals. You can do this in any number of ways:
- Add avocados, nuts, or other plant fats.
- Cook with generous amounts of butter, coconut oil, olive oil, or other healthy cooking fats.
- Make curries with coconut milk (or full-fat dairy, if you tolerate dairy).
- Use fatty sauces and dressings, like pesto and mayonnaise.
- Eat more safe starches. There’s nothing wrong with carbs!
Summing it Up
There are a few downsides to going Paleo as a pescetarian, but there’s really not a lot of bad, and all the potential problems are completely fixable with some smart nutritional planning.
It’s worth mentioning that if you’re pescetarian for nutritional reasons, it might be worth revisiting those arguments from a Paleo perspective: red meat isn’t actually a nutritional demon any more than whole grains are an angel. Including other animal products in a Paleo diet can make it more interesting and nutritionally varied. Even if your reasons revolve around ethics, it might be worth a look at the difference between truly grass-fed meat and factory-farmed products to see if you can add the former to your diet in good conscience.
On the other hand, though, nobody’s saying you have to give up pescetarianism to go Paleo: you absolutely don’t! Especially if you tolerate dairy, but even if you don’t, there’s nothing wrong with eating a Paleo diet based mainly on fish and eggs. Enjoy some tasty Pad Thai or tuna burgers, and just make sure you’re getting plenty of egg yolks for the healthy fats and important nutrients.