What should replace red meat in my new fish-only diet?
December 13, 2010 12:53 PM   Subscribe

What vitamin/nourishment consequences do I need to understand about my recent shift from all-around meat-eater to "pescatarian"?

I work at a Cuban restaurant. I'm around massive and available quantities of all sorts of delicious meats -- pork, beef, chicken, etc. That is the sort of stuff I would eat (that and lots of rice and beans and deep fried plantains).

About a month ago, almost on a whim, I decided to eliminate red meat from my diet. I also have limited my chicken intake to about one or two meals a week. I did this in an effort to treat my body better (I don't think I need to eat meat two or three times a day) and to live a more conscious lifestyle. Other than those things, I have been eating lots of seafood (fish and shrimp), veggies, grains, and such. I've never been a big red meat eater, so the transition has not been all that difficult for me.

Overall, my body has felt more sensitive to things since I cut out all the meat. Whereas I used to ingest basically whatever I wanted to ingest, last week I couldn't even get halfway through a hot chocolate because all of the sweet sugary milk was seriously cramping up my stomach.

My main question is -- what do I need to understand about the shift I've undergone? What specific foods or vegetables should I be eating on a regular basis? Should I be taking some sort of vitamin supplement each day? I heard spinach was rich in iron -- does that mean I need to be upping the amounts of spinach I eat?

Any friendly advice about my fish-a-tarianism would be appreciated.
posted by fignewton to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can't imagine that your experience with hot chocolate has anything to do with your transition to pescatarianism. I've gone back and forth from omnivore to pescavore to true vegetarian probably ten times in my life and have never experienced any notable consequences.

Have you cut down on sugar as well? When I cut my sugar intake drastically in my early 20's, I got to the point where a few Skittles would give me a headache.
posted by something something at 12:58 PM on December 13, 2010

Keep your protein and your fat up and you should be fine. Concentrate on that protein though, it's easy to not get enough, especially if you're a male.
posted by unixrat at 1:01 PM on December 13, 2010

Also B12. And avoid soy - I know that there's a lot of controversy on the endocrine disruption but it's not something that you really want to be taking a chance on. (Especially if you're male.)
posted by unixrat at 1:24 PM on December 13, 2010

Don't eat too much cheap farmed fish or shellfish. Especially imported from places with lax environmental laws (shrimp from SE Asia). They dump all kinds of crap in the net pens to kill fouling organisms, lice and bacteria. Antibiotics, copper, algaecide, chemical fertilizers, organic fertilizers etc.

Also they destroy mangrove swamps but that's another story.
posted by fshgrl at 1:33 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

If we are just talking about macro and micronutrients, I think everyone, no matter what diet they are on, can benefit from tracking their diet. Use a site like FitDay to keep track of everything you eat for a week. Then, take a look at your profile. You may discover that you are low on iron or B12 and you can make proper adjustments in your diet.

If we don't know what your diet is like now, we really can't make proper recommendations on how to change it.
posted by munchingzombie at 2:19 PM on December 13, 2010

Best answer: What specific foods or vegetables should I be eating on a regular basis? Should I be taking some sort of vitamin supplement each day? I heard spinach was rich in iron -- does that mean I need to be upping the amounts of spinach I eat?

One thing to remember is that humans are not delicate fairy-beings who will keel over dead if we don't get the precisely optimal amount of iron or whatever. For large portions of human existence, we have lived practically on starvation diets, eating whatever the frak we could get our hands on. Which usually didn't involve nutrition labels or Recommended Daily Allowances. There are hunter gatherers living in the Kalahari desert who subsist mainly on this particular type of nut. I'm sure they're very nutritious nuts, but so far none of these guys have fallen down dead because they didn't get enough zinc this week. Even if you want to talk about "civilized" European society over the last few centuries, 19th century English factory workers mainly subsisted on bread, butter, and tea. And they worked longer hours than we do!

You really don't need to worry overmuch about cutting red meat out of your diet. If you are an otherwise healthy person living in an affluent developed country, you're probably getting plenty of nutrition and having all your basic dietary needs met. Take a multivitamin if it would make you feel better, but there's really nothing to worry about.

It's actually not "easy not to get enough" protein - I spent three years as a strict vegetarian and never had a problem with protein. If you eat substantial amounts of food on a regular basis, I promise you that you are getting enough protein without daily red meat intake. If you're a pro bodybuilder, you might want to consult your nutritionist or something. But all in all, people in the developed world get enough protein without having to think about it.

In my opinion, too, overthinking dietary stuff leads directly to what you've described about drinking the hot cocoa. You've been avoiding red meat for, what, a couple weeks? That's not a substantial dietary change*; certainly not enough to cause your body to rebel at contact with sweets or dairy. What has changed is your thoughts about food - you're thinking a lot about ingredients and the way you eat, so your body is flipping out in response. Relax. Just eat stuff. It's really not as hard as you're making it out to be.

*Even now that I'm back to being an omnivore, I might go weeks or months without eating red meat. And yet I am still able to eat sweets, dairy, junk food, etc. without hemorrhaging my innards out.
posted by Sara C. at 2:19 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fish has vitamin B12. So do milk products and chicken, which you seem to be eating. Unless you have a proven deficiency, there's no need to supplement vitamin B12.
posted by flying kumquat at 2:39 PM on December 13, 2010

Sounds like you're fine as you are.
posted by statolith at 12:54 PM on December 14, 2010

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