Exploring and Reflecting on a Pescatarian Diet as a University Student Living in Residence
Written by Kyobin Hwang
Defined as the dietary exclusion of all meat types except seafood, pescetarianism has gained traction for its health benefits.1 Fish, a rich source of protein for pescatarians, is low in saturated fat and contains abundant omega-3 fatty acids.2 The omega-3 acids in fatty fish help reduce plaque build-up in arteries and lower’s the risks of developing an irregular heartbeat (i.e., arrhythmia).3 Omega-3s also lower triglyceride levels in the blood and can have therapeutic effects on blood pressure.3
While I have made several attempts in the past to incorporate this diet into my lifestyle, it has been incredibly short-lived. Nevertheless, I was determined to adopt a pescatarian diet for a year as a Community Advisor in one of McMaster University’s residence buildings. Admittedly, living in residence posed several challenges to my journey, but this process shed valuable insight into the accessibility, inclusivity, and feasibility of pescetarianism for students living on campus.
Insight #1: Nutritional Information
As with any diet, it is important to be aware of the nutritional information of the consumed food. In the case of pescetarianism, the absence of red meat from the diet may result in significantly lower iron intake.4 Iron is essential for multiple biological functions, including oxygen transport and the functioning of the immune system.5 Therefore, in optimized pescatarian diets, there must be an emphasis on products that are high in iron content, such as oysters, clams, and shrimps.4 Moreover, plant-based diets can be low in iodine and vitamin B12.6 Therefore, it is essential to supplement these nutritional content to prevent the downstream health effects of deficiencies.
Being aware of my nutritional uptake information enabled me to make informed choices about my diet, support my health goals, and prevent potential health issues. Through this process, I discovered that McMaster University offers a list of nutritional information for campus food online.7 While this can be helpful, the information ultimately lacks detail on nutrients, including certain vitamins and trans-fat content. Additionally, it is challenging to obtain quantitative nutritional insight on meals that involve selecting my own ingredients (e.g., “Build Your Own Bowl,” “Make Your Own Omelette,” etc.).
Insight # 2: Cross – Contamination
I was surprised to learn about the risk of food cross-contamination on campus. While those with dietary preferences may not be bothered by cross-contamination, it can pose a serious concern for those with allergies and religious or other strict dietary practices. As such, to prevent food cross-contamination, it is crucial to follow proper food safety practices, such as separating raw and cooked foods, using separate utensils and cutting boards, practicing good hand hygiene, storing foods properly, and thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and equipment.
So how can we ensure our campus meals are meeting our dietary needs?
For most dietary preferences, you can return to the list of nutritional information for campus food online and use the “Allergen Filter” setting to view the food options that specifically meet your needs. Unfortunately, there is no pescatarian filter, but this is a clear future step for McMaster University to be more inclusive of individuals practicing this diet. In the meantime, you can select the vegetarian or vegan filter since these meals fulfill pescatarian requirements.
Insight # 3: Menu Options
I learned that McMaster University’s seafood selections lack variety. Salmon and shrimp were among the most common, followed by cod, served on a monthly basis at Centro. Tuna was also available as protein additions to some poke bowls and sandwiches. To my knowledge, this is the extent of fish types served at McMaster University. While these options are substantial sources of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and iron, a wider variety of fish types would be helpful. With this in mind, broadening the seafood selection on campus is an essential step to be more inclusive of individuals practicing the pescatarian diet. Having said this, here are some of my favourite dishes available on campus I have tried this semester:
|Honey Garlic Salmon with a Side of Mushrooms and Peas
|Centro, SMPL Meal
|Basil Pesto Flatbread
|Salmon Cream Cheese Roll
|Shrimp Pasta with Arrabbiata Sauce
|Centro, Pas Noodle
Since campus food options are somewhat limited for pescatarians, I recommend capitalizing on the kitchen spaces available in each of McMaster University’s residences. In my experience, taking a couple of days of the week to cook meals for myself was an effective way to diversify my food options, build foundational culinary skills, and reap the self-care benefits of cooking in a kitchen.
While it may be overwhelming at first to cook for yourself, several campus resources are available to support you. For example, the Student Wellness Centre runs a Food for Thought program, which offers fun and interactive classes for McMaster students of all cooking and food experiences.9 This is a free opportunity to discover and experience how to cook healthy and delicious meals while on a student budget. Similarly, the Food Literacy team organizes residence-specific cooking classes tailored toward first-year students on campus. To learn more about these opportunities, follow the Student Wellness Centre’s Instagram and Eventbrite page for updates.
As for my personal next steps, I am excited to continue my journey as a pescatarian by learning what food combinations I can enjoy outside of on-campus food vendors and how I can modify all of my favorite foods into a pescatarian version. Rather than depending on restaurants and campus vendors, my goal is to cultivate my culinary skills by cooking more and thinking more critically about the food I consume.
- Wozniak H, Larpin C, de Mestral C, Guessous I, Reny JL, Stringhini S. Vegetarian, pescatarian and flexitarian diets: sociodemographic determinants and association with cardiovascular risk factors in a Swiss urban population. British Journal of Nutrition. 2020 Oct;124(8):844-52.
- Burger J, Gochfeld M. Perceptions of the risks and benefits of fish consumption: individual choices to reduce risk and increase health benefits. Environ Res. 2009 Apr;109(3):343-9. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2008.12.002.
- Mendivil CO. Fish Consumption: A Review of Its Effects on Metabolic and Hormonal Health. Nutr Metab Insights. 2021 Jun 3;14:11786388211022378. doi: 10.1177/11786388211022378.
- Eustachio Colombo P, Elinder LS, Lindroos AK, Parlesak A. Designing Nutritionally Adequate and Climate-Friendly Diets for Omnivorous, Pescatarian, Vegetarian and Vegan Adolescents in Sweden Using Linear Optimization. Nutrients. 2021 Jul 22;13(8):2507. doi: 10.3390/nu13082507.
- Johnson MA, Fischer JG, Bowman BA, Gunter EW. Iron nutriture in elderly individuals. The FASEB journal. 1994 Jun;8(9):609-21.
- Groufh-Jacobsen S, Hess SY, Aakre I, Folven Gjengedal EL, Blandhoel Pettersen K, Henjum S. Vegans, Vegetarians and Pescatarians Are at Risk of Iodine Deficiency in Norway. Nutrients. 2020 Nov 20;12(11):3555. doi: 10.3390/nu12113555.
- Menu nutritional information [Internet]. [cited 2022 Dec 12]. Available from: https://macnutrition.mcmaster.ca/Nutrition/ServiceMenuReport/Today
- Martinez OD, Roberto CA, Kim JH, Schwartz MB, Brownell KD. A survey of undergraduate student perceptions and use of nutrition information labels in a university dining hall. Health Education Journal. 2013 May;72(3):319-25.
- Food for thought [Internet]. Student Wellness Centre. [cited 2023 March 4]. Available from: https://wellness.mcmaster.ca/your-health/food-and-nutrition/food-for-thought/