If you’re interested in a very low-carb eating approach and would like to get your nutrition from plant-based foods, fish, and seafood — the pescatarian keto diet might work for you.
This article shows you why combining pescatarian and keto diets may be a good idea, a list of foods you can eat, tips for getting started, and a sample meal plan.
The pescatarian keto diet is an eating plan that merges certain aspects of pescatarian and keto diets.
In other words, a person on this dietary strategy would restrict their carbs to just 20-50 grams per day while avoiding all animal products except for fish, seafood, eggs, and dairy.
When it comes to vegetables and fruits, these are limited to low-carb options, such as leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, avocados, and berries. Most nuts and seeds are allowed since they’re low in net carbs.
70-80% of your daily calories should come from fat, while 20-30% should come from protein. There are plenty of healthy fat sources to choose from that provide omega-3 fatty acids[*].
Following the keto diet for pescatarians may be more effective for improving certain aspects of your health (or reaching specific goals) than doing one diet alone.
1. Achieve Better Control Over Your Blood Sugar
Keeping your blood sugar levels within an acceptable range helps avoid problems, especially if you’re at risk for prediabetes or already have diabetes[*].
On a traditional pescatarian diet, a lot of food options tend to be rich in carbs, which could spike blood sugar.
Examples are starchy vegetables, such as white potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, butternut squash, and taro. Fruits high in simple sugars (fructose and glucose) are also best avoided since they easily increase your carb intake. Stay away from sweeter fruits like bananas, apples, grapes, mangoes, and pineapples.
A 2021 narrative review also shows that limiting the intake of carbs prevents glucotoxicity or the impaired function of your beta cells (cells that secrete insulin)[*].
2. Lose Weight and Keep It Off Long-Term
While both pescatarian and keto diets aid weight loss, combining them will likely lead to lasting results.
Low-carb diets have also been known to suppress hunger compared to other traditional weight loss approaches. For example, 17 obese men in a crossover study did not only lose more weight, but they also reported experiencing less hunger on a very low-carb diet[*][*].
If you’re an athlete or living a physically active lifestyle, a study shows that peak whole-body fat oxidation (or fat breakdown) is greater on a keto diet during exercise, compared to other diets with varying macro ratios[*].
That said, it’s possible to use a low-carb pescatarian diet for sustainable fat loss.
3. Consume High Levels of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Pescatarians eat fish and seafood, which are excellent dietary sources of omega-3s.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that may reduce inflammation, thereby helping lower your risk of cancer, arthritis, and neurodegenerative diseases[*].
In addition to fish and seafood, you can get your omega-3s from plant sources like walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and brussels sprouts. These are all low in net carbs, making them keto-friendly.
4. Avoid Nutritional Deficiencies
A plant-based diet can lack certain nutrients that happen to be more abundant in animal-sourced foods. Examples of these nutrients are protein, vitamin B12, iron, and taurine which play vital roles in the body.
This is why people following a vegetarian diet must ensure that they’re obtaining all the nutrients they need — whether through supplementation or finding other foods that contain them.
By transitioning to a pescatarian keto diet, your nutrient sources increase since you’re adding fish and seafood. Plus, the added benefit of blood sugar control and weight loss as a result of reducing carbs.
A word of caution, though:
If this is your first time trying a low-carb pescatarian diet, you might experience electrolyte imbalances, which result from water weight loss. Because glycogen, the storage form of carbs, is stored with water molecules in your muscles. When glycogen is broken down, water is also excreted through urine[*]. At the same time, you lose electrolytes such as sodium and potassium.
While you’re in ketosis, make sure to replenish lost electrolytes through proper nutrition and taking an electrolyte drink that’s keto-friendly.
5. You Can Build Muscle
Since the low-carb pescatarian diet has more protein sources than a vegetarian diet alone, you can work on gaining muscle mass on top of losing body fat (a.k.a. body recomposition.)
A study done on 8 high-level athletes found that a very low-carb diet has no negative effect on their strength performance. While their menu wasn’t purely pescatarian-based, it included fish, raw and cooked green vegetables, eggs, and cheese[*].
In another study, females aged 20-40 years who did 10 weeks of resistance training while on a keto diet lost body fat while preserving lean body mass. Their calorie percentages from carbs, fat, and protein were as follows: 6, 66, and 22 respectively[*].
On top of ensuring the right amounts of protein and resistance training, it’s important to slightly increase your calorie intake and use carbs strategically (for example, eat them around your training sessions to support your performance.
Read more: A Guide to Building Muscle on Keto
Here’s a list of healthy foods you can eat:
- Leafy greens: spinach, kale, swiss chard, arugula, romaine lettuce
- Cruciferous veggies: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, bok choy, collard greens, arugula
- Herbs and spices: garlic, onion, ginger, paprika, turmeric, black and white pepper
- Others: asparagus, mushrooms, olives, eggplant, bell peppers, green beans, snow peas
- Coconut meat
Nuts and Seeds
- Brazil nuts
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Sunflower seeds
Eggs and Dairy
- Heavy whipping cream
- Sparkling water
- Herbal teas
- Low-carb green smoothie
- Low-carb fruit smoothie
- Almond milk
- Dairy milk
IMPORTANT: If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or considering becoming pregnant, it would be best to avoid eating raw or undercooked fish. This is to reduce your risk of getting exposed to potentially harmful bacteria that could affect you and your baby. Also, check with your healthcare provider for any nutrition concerns.
Keto for pescatarians may offer many benefits and it takes the right strategies to make it work to your advantage. If you’re a beginner, here’s how to transition smoothly.
1. Remove High-Carb Food Items from Your Kitchen
The first thing you need to do is remove anything from your kitchen that prevents you from entering ketosis, including non-pescatarian foods, such as meat and poultry.
Tip: If you live with other people who are not on this plan, consider having separate storage for your specific foods. Until you can fully control your carb cravings (in case they strike), steer clear of anything that might derail you from your new diet.
2. Determine Your Unique Daily Macronutrient Intake
The pescatarian keto diet follows the typical keto macronutrient ratio of 70-80% fat, 20-30% protein, and 5% or lower carbs. Your macros may change if you’re specifically looking to build muscle on pescatarian keto.
Use our free keto calculator to have a clear idea of how many calories, fat, protein, and carbs you need in a day to reach your goals.
3. Do a Pescatarian Keto Meal Planning Brainstorm
Meal planning helps you save time and makes it easier for you to stick to your diet. Here are a few ways to effectively plan your meals:
- Start small. There’s no need to plan a whole month’s worth of meals. Begin by imagining the foods you can eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner during the first week.
- Always include quick-cook meals for unexpected busy days. You’ll never know. In that case, explore five-ingredient recipes that can be ready in 15 minutes. This flourless pancake recipe, for example, is one to try.
- Prepare (wash, peel, chop) your veggies and fruits in advance once you get home from the grocery. This will slash meal prep time. Just make sure to keep them in an airtight container in the fridge.
- Vary your menu for a more enjoyable experience. On top of that, variation allows you to optimize your nutrient intake.
4. Create a Grocery List Based On Your Meal Ideas
Having brainstormed some pescatarian keto meals, you now have a good idea of what to include on your grocery list.
It helps to categorize your list based on grocery aisles — for example, fresh produce, frozen section, seafood, pantry, and canned goods.
One benefit of having a clear grocery list is that it lessens the likelihood of buying unnecessary items (or items that aren’t keto-friendly).
5. Stick to Pescatarian Keto for More Than a Few Weeks
Sticking to a whole new way of eating is easier said than done.
While there is no one perfect diet — because we have unique genetics, preferences, circumstances, and more — give your current diet enough time to see if it works for you.
The first few days of the pescatarian keto diet are probably going to be the most challenging because of the keto flu, which happens within 24-72 hours of lowering your carbs.
A few tips that would help are setting realistic expectations, planning ahead (this includes unexpected situations and social gatherings), and keeping track of your progress.
This one-week sample meal plan provides meal ideas, including our very own pescatarian keto-friendly recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Breakfast: Cloud bread (made with eggs, salt, cream cheese, and cream of tartar)
- Lunch: Zesty Chili Lime Keto Tuna Salad
- Dinner: Crispy Skin Salmon with Pesto Cauliflower Rice
- Breakfast: Cheese omelet
- Lunch: Shrimp Stacks
- Dinner: Zucchini noodles with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese
- Breakfast: Keto Blueberry Pancakes
- Lunch: Eggplant salad (a mixture of grilled eggplant, bell peppers, mayonnaise, and parsley)
- Dinner: Tom Yum Kung (Thai Seafood Soup)
- Breakfast: Pesto Cauliflower Rice
- Lunch: Tuna stuffed avocados
- Dinner: Spicy Ginger Salmon Buddha Bowl
- Breakfast: Easy Keto Tortillas with cheese or tuna
- Lunch: Keto Poke with Ahi Tuna and Citrus
- Dinner: Eggplant casserole (eggplant slices, marinara sauce, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese)
- Breakfast: Easy, Low-Carb, Keto-Friendly Cauliflower Fritters
- Lunch: Smoked Salmon Pate with Cucumber
- Dinner: Creamy Tuscan Garlic Butter Shrimp
- Breakfast: Simple Homemade Garlic & Herb Flaxseed Crackers
- Lunch: Egg salad (hardboiled eggs, bell peppers, chopped celery, scallions, and mayonnaise)
- Dinner: Spicy Tuna Keto Sushi Roll
Should You Try the Pescatarian Keto Diet?
The pescatarian keto diet may be a helpful approach for managing blood sugar, losing weight (and building muscle), and getting more omega-3s — among other benefits that a standard keto diet provides.
If you enjoy eating fish and seafood, in addition to vegetarian diet foods like veggies, fruits, eggs, and dairy — low-carb pescatarian may be worth trying.
It’s possible for you to feel overwhelmed in the beginning if you’ve never done keto or pescatarian before since these diets cut out food groups, specifically high-carb foods, poultry, and meat.
Simple strategies like having a definitive food list, meal planning and prepping, and being patient with the process may help make this lifestyle sustainable for you.