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Vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, flexitarian - many people are making the switch to these and other diet alternatives for many reasons ranging from health to ethics. What do they mean? Can vegans eat fish? We're here to clear up the confusion.

There are many confusing terms thrown around these days to describe almost every diet choice under the sun. For the diets mentioned above, let's break them down a little further. 

There are several types of vegetarian diets, including lacto, ovo, and lacto-ovo vegetarians; some vegans choose to consume honey, and some choose not to eat white sugar and other products that are processed by animal products. The dietary options are seemingly endless, which can be confusing. 

Can a vegetarian or vegan eat seafood? Is fish meat? Read below for more on what defines each alternative diet and what types of foods are considered part of a vegan diet. 

Can you eat fish on a vegan diet?

Technically, no, a vegan that eats fish isn't truly a vegan. A vegan diet is defined as one that is entirely free of any animal products. At its core, veganism was created in 1944 and is a lifestyle that is void of any animal products to limit animal exploitation. 

Nowadays, people follow vegan diets but may not always subscribe to "veganism" and may enjoy the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet. 

Vegan diet followers don't eat fish, being an animal product, but many make exceptions to build a diet that works for them. At that point, they don't follow a traditional vegan diet but can still enjoy many of the benefits of a "vegan plus fish" diet of their own definition. 

If you're a vegan but eat fish, technically, your diet falls under the umbrella of "pescatarian."

Alternative Protein: Vegan Food Products

If you want to follow a proper vegan diet that omits all animal products, some incredible meat alternatives are available to up your protein intake in any vegan meal. 

Tofu is the #1 most popular plant-based protein enjoyed by those that eat vegan diets. It's incredibly versatile, high in protein, and contains essential minerals. You can stir-fry, bake, steam, or grill tofu - it's even delicious deep-fried, like in this tasty tofu tempura.

Other beans and legumes like lentils, black beans, and chickpeas are fantastic sources of protein and fiber that can be eaten fresh on salads or baked into meatless burgers.

Nuts and seeds like walnuts, peanuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds, are high in protein and brain-protecting fats; enjoy them raw, or blend soaked cashews to make a mean vegan cheese sauce.

Fermented, gut-healthy tempeh is an excellent substitute for bacon with its salty flavor and chewy texture, while wheat-based seitan has an uncanny resemblance to meat in both texture and flavor.

Do vegetarians eat fish?

Vegetarians abstain from eating the flesh of animals and fish but generally continue to enjoy products from animals, like dairy, eggs, honey, and more. 

A vegetarian that eats fish also falls under the definition of "pescatarian."

Pescatarian vs. Vegetarian Diet

Pescetarians follow a mostly vegetarian diet but also choose to eat fish. Although vegans don't eat dairy and animal products, there is no difference in the technical definition between a vegetarian eating fish and a vegan eating fish - it's all pescetarianism, a no-meat diet.

Why follow a pescatarian diet?

Vegetarian and vegan diets can feel quite restrictive, and sometimes finding food to eat outside of your own cooking can be challenging. Although vegan food availability seems to be improving, restaurants often don't have a ton of vegan options, if any at all. 

Fish has some incredible health benefits, as they're incredibly rich in nutrients. Seafood is exceptionally high in protein and many essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, which is commonly far too low in many vegan diet followers.

Why? B12 is in many plant-based foods, but our bodies don't absorb B12 from plants as readily as animal products. 

Fish also provides vegans and vegetarians with high doses of other essential nutrients. Omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (EPA & DHA), for example, are almost non-existent in plant-based foods. These two fatty acids are crucial for optimal brain health, heart health, and proper fetal development.

Vegetarians can get omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) can convert in the body to EPA and DHA. Still, the process is complicated, leaving many vegetarians low in these two crucial fatty acids.

Which diet should I choose?

Choosing to follow a specific diet is complicated; keep all of your most essential considerations in mind to find one that aligns with your values. 

Here are a few things to consider when choosing a diet:

  • Ethics of eating animals and farming practices
  • Religious convictions
  • Health risks and potential improvements
  • Environmental implications 
  • Financial costs 
  • Dining options and availability of produce

Following any of these diets is a choice, not a self-imposed restriction. Choose based on what you want to do for yourself and not from outside pressures. Don't worry about breaking the rules because you choose your own to live by and decide when it's okay for you to break them.

The term "flexitarian" defines the ever-growing complexity of dietary choices - it encompasses people that eat a mostly vegetarian or vegan diet but sometimes choose to consume animal products. 

Final notes: Vegan diet with fish

Can a vegan eat fish? We've learned that no, a vegan diet that includes fish technically isn't a thing. 

But a pescatarian diet can allow flexibility for those that mostly follow a vegetarian or vegan diet and include fish and seafood. And even further along that spectrum, a flexitarian eats other animal products on occasion while mostly avoiding them in their diet. 

There are many health benefits to pescetarianism, flexitarianism, as well as vegetarianism, and veganism. Weigh your values and determine what works best for you - there is no shame in doing what feels right for you, no matter the choice.

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