No Fish Diet: What to Consider with Nutrition in Mind

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Have you watched Seaspiracy and decided you are Seariously ready to give up fish (pun intended)?

Have you wanted to try a Mediterranean diet plan without fish?

Or perhaps fish is the last food item keeping you from being a full fledged vegan?

Either way, you found the right post! Keep reading to learn about what you should consider eating instead, along with tips from a Registered Dietitian.

But to start, lets define the diet…

*Consumer Notice: This post contains affiliate links that are marked in this manner : (affiliate link)”. If you click on these links and purchase, I earn a commission at no added cost to you.

Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for medical or dietary advice. Always talk to your doctor about starting new supplements or making major dietary changes. See our Disclaimers for more details.

What is a “No Fish” Diet?

A no fish diet simply means fish is omitted from your diet. This includes salmon, trout, tuna, sardines, etc. Anything with fins or scales.

Going forward though, this article is going to focus on excluding all seafood. This includes shrimp, shellfish, etc even though they are technically not “fishes.”

Graphic with pictures about what not to eat on a no fish/seafood diet.

Wait a Minute, Isn’t Fish Good For You?

I know, you have many questions. Why is this Dietitian writing about taking fish out of your diet? Professional organizations recommend fish as a part of a healthy diet, right?

And doesn’t a traditional Mediterranean diet include fish?

Well, yes. In fact, many varieties of fish available for consumption contain beneficial nutrients that may be difficult to get elsewhere in your diet, like iodine and omega 3 fatty acids (we will go more in depth about these nutrients later on).

And certain studies also associate fish with a reduction in heart disease risk.  

Still, it is possible to follow a healthy diet plan without fish!

While fish may have some health benefits, did you know that your entrée of salmon also comes with some not-so-great baggage (more about this later)?

Luckily, there are ways to get the beneficial nutrients found in fish without it.

Benefits of a No Fish Diet

A Healthier Planet

Our demand for fish takes a toll on the planet. Namely, contributing to the extinction of species, causing an upset in the ecosystem, and ultimately contributing to climate change.

According to some estimates, salmon may have a larger carbon footprint than turkey or chicken. Tuna may have a larger footprint than eggs. So, those protein options often touted as “healthier” are not necessarily healthier options for the only shared home we have: our earth.

Of course, in order to reduce your carbon footprint, you will want to consider replacing fish with foods that are actually better for the environment!

Decrease Animal Suffering

If you are still trying to decide whether to give up fish or not, here is one aspect about eating fish that is not up for debate: they feel pain. That’s right! Fish are sentient beings that show emotions and respond to pain.

Fish aren’t protected by the US Humane Slaughter Act that cattle, pigs and sheep have. So whether you purchase fish as wild caught or farm raised, no regulations are enforced in regard to their death. A death that is often slow and painful (prolonged suffocation, lice infestation, chilling water temperature, being examples).

Wow, that was heavy.

If you are convinced to go fish free, but wonder if you can meet your nutrient needs without fish, keep reading!

Nutrients in Fish And How to Get them Without Fish

Vitamin B12

This vitamin is only “naturally” (and still, these foods may be supplemented today) found in animal products, including fish.

Other source of vitamin B12 include supplements and foods fortified with vitamin B12.

Depending on how much fish you eat (and other foods you are consuming) you may reduce your intake of vitamin B12 if you cut out fish.

Not getting enough vitamin B12 could eventually lead to health problems, like anemia and neurological problems.

Will I Need A Supplement?

Some research suggests that vegetarians have a higher prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiency.

So, if you are cutting out fish, its a good idea to check with your doctor whether or not a vitamin B12 supplement is right for you. Especially if you are (FYI: not a comprehensive list):

Iodine

Graphic showing some sources of iodine sans fish/seafood (also in text)

What’s the deal with iodine, and why am I only hearing about it now?

Iodine is critical for the normal functioning of the thyroid gland, a gland in our neck that secretes thyroid hormones. These hormones are important for normal metabolism and many other reactions in the body.

Deficiency of this nutrient could lead to a variety of problems, such as goiters and fatigue.

Foods high in iodine include:

  • Milk
  • Fish
  • Sea Vegetables (ex: nori)
  • Iodized Salt

Iodine deficiency may be relatively rare in the United States possibly due in part to fortification of iodine in iodized salt.

However, many us unknowingly opt for non-iodized salt. If you are concerned about sodium, you might be use less of the salt shaker in general.

So what should you do if you want to eliminate fish, one of the major sources of iodine? This brings us to the next question…

Will I Need A Supplement?

If you are still regularly including iodine containing sea vegetables and/or dairy products, you may be getting enough iodine. For example, one cup of non fat milk contains about 85 micrograms of iodine (57% the daily value).

However, you still might want to talk to your doctor about supplementing, especially if you have eliminated dairy and fish.

Why? As mentioned before, iodized salt comes with sodium which some people may need to limit, or be aware of if they already consume a diet higher in sodium (of course every eating pattern is different-talk to your own doctor or Dietitian for guidance).

And while sea vegetables contain iodine, just keep in mind that you may not know how much you are getting. This is because iodine content is not required to be listed on these products. Depending on the amount you eat, you could exceed the Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) (150 micrograms for non pregnant or breastfeeding adults).

If you are looking for a supplement talk to your doctor first, and be wary of high doses. Too much iodine can cause thyroid dysfunction. Some kelp supplements may have more iodine than is listed on the label.

In summary: Iodine may be a nutrient you should pay more attention.

If you are cutting out fish consider talking to your doctor about an iodine supplement or including other foods containing iodine (as mentioned, some sources are dairy, iodized salt and sea vegetables) as appropriate for any medical conditions you have.

Vitamin D

Why do we need vitamin D? Vitamin D is a essential vitamin (technically a hormone) that we need to ingest through food/supplements or absorb via sunlight. It has many functions in the body including: aiding in the absorption of calcium, maintaining bones, muscle function, and immune health.

Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the US. While it would seem relatively simple to just go outside to get vitamin D, it’s a bit more complicated.

Depending on how much time you spend outside, where you live, or how dark or light your skin is, your absorption can vary. Not to mention the concerns with absorbing too much of the sun rays- such as increasing skin cancer risk.

So how can we get enough vitamin D without only relying on sun rays? Cue in food and/or supplements.

Many of the popular types of fish consumed today (ie: salmon, tuna) come with a good dose of vitamin D. Well, with some caveats of course:

  1. One study suggests that wild salmon had more vitamin D, than farmed salmon.
  2. That same study showed that half the vitamin D content in uncooked salmon was present after frying in vegetable oil. That’s a 50% reduction in vitamin D just from frying! Wow.

    Luckily, you don’t need to consume fish to meet your vitamin D needs. In fact, if you were relying on fish alone, you would need to eat fish every day to meet the RDA. In other words, not very feasible or affordable for many of us! 

    What else can I eat that has Vitamin D? Unfortunately, options are limited. Vitamin D can be found in UV treated mushrooms, and fortified breakfast cereals, orange juice, or plant based beverages. The problem? Many of us aren’t eating enough of these foods to get enough vitamin D.

Will I Need A Supplement?

Talk to your doctor about getting your Vitamin D levels checked and supplementing, because as we have established, it is a common nutrient deficiency.

In Summary: Vitamin D Deficiency is common nutrient of concern for many diets. Certain fish can be significant source of vitamin D, so ask your doctor if a supplement is right for you. He or she can check your Vitamin D levels and discus an appropriate dose.

Other Nutrients You May Need to Pay Extra Attention to When Eliminating Fish

Protein

No surprise here! Protein is abundant in fish, an d certain fish are considered lean proteins. But here’s the catch (no pun intended): you probably don’t need as much protein as you think.

We cover the topic in more depth in our comprehensive post about giving up meat. So make sure you read the section about getting protein without animal flesh here: “Can Humans Survive without Meat?

Selenium

One of the lesser-known reasons why fish is touted as healthy may be because of selenium! For good reason too. Selenium plays an important role in thyroid and immune health. Selenium inadequacy might even be a cause the “blues” or a depressed mood.

Could this be why some people feel so “off” once they stop eating fish? Maybe, but that doesn’t have to be you! Because you can get a hefty dose of selenium from these non fish sources:

  • Brazil Nuts, 1 ounce (6-8 nuts) 1 nut (544 mcg (about 989% the RDA)
  • Enriched Macaroni, 1 cup cooked (37 mcg (about 67% the RDA for adults))
  • Roasted boneless turkey, 3 ounces (31 mcg (about 56% the RDA for adults))
  • Brown long grain rice, 1 cup cooked (19 mcg (about 35% the RDA for adults))

Certain countries and/or regions may have lower amounts of selenium in the soil.

So, talk to your doctor about selenium when you give up fish, especially If you live in a selenium soil deficient region. You could also discuss eating about half a Brazil nut a day.

Graphic containing sources of selenium sans fish.

Vitamin A

Believe it or not, certain types of fish are some of the highest sources of vitamin A! Well, specially: preformed vitamin A.

Why does it matter that we are talking about preformed vitamin A? Here’s the scoop:

What many believe to be “vitamin A” in plant based foods (ie: carrots, sweet potatoes, etc), is actually beta carotene, a pre cursor to vitamin A.

Beta carotene must be converted to be usable as the active form the active form of vitamin A.

The catch is this: not all of us can covert beta carotene to preformed vitamin A efficiently. 45% of certain groups of people may have trouble with this conversion.

So what should you do to get this essential nutrient that is so important for vision and immune health when you are giving up fish? Consider doing the following:

  1. Eat enough of beta carotene rich fruits and vegetables (ie: sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, mangos etc).
  2. Eating some fat with beta carotene rich fruits and vegetables (ie: fat sources may include foods like avocado, nuts, olive, etc).
    And/or
  3. Talk to your doctor about taking a supplement containing some vitamin A (often listed as Retinyl Palmitate). P.S. If you are looking for a vegan multivitamin that includes petinyl palmitate, make sure you check out the multivitamin section in our post Vegan for Beginners.

Always talk to your doctor before adding any supplement. Too much preformed vitamin A can be dangerous.

And if you want to learn more about vitamin A for vegans, check out our post: Vegans Vitamin A Needs to be on Your Radar!

Choline

This nutrient is important for metabolism, and a deficiency could lead to liver damage.

Eggs and meat contain a considerable amount of choline. Some plant based sources such as soy contain a decent amount of choline, as well as certain fish. So its important to remember this nutrient when giving up fish!

Check out our post about an egg free diet to learn more in depth info about choline.

Lastly, certain groups of people, may be at greater risk of choline inadequacy, including:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The nutrient you probably heard the fish industry boast about the most is omega 3. Sure, many fish are rich in it, but what if I told you that there was a way to get all of that omega-3 goodness without fish?

Alright, I am getting a bit ahead of myself. FIRST, lets gain an understanding about what these fats are, and why we need them.

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats (a healthy fat), that is actually an umbrella term for three unique fatty acids. They are:

  • A-linolenic acid (ALA) an essential fat
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid, (EPA)
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

Of these omega-3’s, only ALA has been found to be essential. This means we must obtain ALA from food/supplements because our bodies cannot make it on its own.

ALA is a precursor to EPA. In other words, ALA can be converted to EPA, which in turn can be converted to DHA (though this process is thought be slow and small). If we don’t get enough ALA, we might experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms, like skin or hair problems.

That doesn’t have to be you though! The good news is that ALA is abundant in plant sources including:

  • walnuts
  • chia seeds
  • flax seeds
  • hemp seeds

You can easily obtain all the ALA your body needs without eating any fish. In fact, one ounce of English walnuts has more than the (Adequate intake (AI)) requirement for ALA in adults. How easy is that?

So what is all of the hoopla surrounding omega-3 and fish? Well, lets go back to the other two forms of Omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, of which fish are typically rich in, while nuts and seeds are not.

Who cares? If EPA and DHA aren’t essential, do we really need them? This my friend, is where the answer gets a little hazy. So lets try to clear some of that smoke:

We know that DHA is a major component of the brain, and that EPA has an important role in blood clotting and inflammation.  

Research has primarily focused on DHA. While some research shows supplementing DHA may be associated with a reduced risk of on heart disease risk and cognitive decline. However, the risk reduction in heart disease may not be as strong as we think, and some studies do not show major benefits for cognitive improvement.

Bottom line: We need more research regarding the benefits of DHA. But lets say you would like to get DHA, but also want to give up fish? It is possible!

Fish do not make DHA. They must eat microalgae and/or the plankton (who eat the microalgae) to obtain DHA, which means… we don’t need to eat fish to get DHA. Bonus? You cut out the middle man (fish), not to mention any accumulation of heavy metals or other pollutants in fish!

How do you do that though? Via a virtually pollutant free algae oil supplement. However, do your really need to supplement? Lets talk about that next…

Will I Need to Take any Supplements?

First things first, most of us should be making sure we meet the AI for ALA (1.6 grams for adult males, 1.1 grams for adult non pregnant/ lactating females). This can easily be obtained via the foods listed below.

Veganhealth.org has a neat chart. To find out how much they recommend increasing your ALA if you are concerned about meeting your Omega-3 needs on a no fish diet, check them out at this link: https://veganhealth.org/daily-needs/#Omega-3-Fats

If you are consuming sufficient amounts of ALA you should convert a little bit of that ALA to EPA and in turn, convert EPA into DHA. However, this conversion process is thought to be inefficient. Still, vegans tend to have lower rates of heart disease, one reasonwhy you might consider taking fish oil in the first place.

But the question remains. Do you need to take an algae oil (vegan DHA) supplement if you eliminate fish? And the answer is…

We are not aware of a set Dietary Reference for the minimum amount of EPA or DHA that is required for healthy adults.

So we can’t definitively say that you will absolutely need a supplement on a no fish diet. Still, you can should talk to your doctor if you have concerns, and especially during pregnancy and breastfeeding

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, EPA and DHA are especially important for the neurological development of baby. There is evidence to suggest that a supplement for these mommas/mommas to be can be beneficial. In fact, the American Pregnancy Association recommends a minimum of 300 mg of DHA for pregnancy.

What if you aren’t pregnant or breastfeeding and a are concerned about DHA when you cut out fish? Or you have a history/risk factors for heart disease or cognitive degeneration? Or just have questions in general?

Talk to your doctor about including a DHA supplement.

Vivo Life offers a vegan (algae based) supplement that has a dropper so you can adjust the dose. I love that they test for heavy metals, PCBs, and dioxins. You can even check out their analysis on their site!

Check it out here.

graphic showing examples of omega 3 sources sans fish.

In Summary: You can meet your ALA (the essential omega-3 fatty acids) via plant based foods, such as chia, flaxseed, and walnuts. If you are concerned about DHA, on a fish free meal plan, talk to your doctor about adding a vegan (algae based) DHA supplement.

How To Have Success on a Diet With No Fish

*Consumer Notice: This section contains affiliate links that are marked in this manner : (affiliate link*)”. If you click on these links and purchase, I earn a commission at no added cost to you.

The best fish free diet plans are the ones that you can afford, enjoy, and incorporate into a healthy eating pattern.

When planning your meals without fish, don’t forget to keep the nutrients you just learned about in mind.

For example, if you typically think of fish on your plate as the protein portion, you could switch out the fish with protein and ALA rich tofu. Pair that with a nice peanut sauce for a good dose of selenium. Thai anyone?

And don’t forget those foods that are high in ALA as discussed above!

Talk to your doctor about whether a vitamin D and vitamin B12 supplement would be appropriate for you, whether your fish free or not. And, don’t forget to ask about iodine supplementation as well, especially if you have cut out dairy in addition to fish.

Before you go, here are a few more Dietitian written tips to keep in mind:

Track Your Nutrients

Yes, it may involve some measuring and time, but the good news is, you shouldn’t have to track forever, and tracking can be a helpful tool to figure out where you may be meeting or lacking in nutrients.

Once you get familiar with the what a typical day or week of eating to meet your nutrition needs looks like, you are equipped with carrying on those habits without tracking.

Cronometer (affiliate link*)is awesome because it has a huge food data base, space to enter your own recipes, and provides you with in depth nutrient content. For example, micronutrients, like iodine.

P.S.: Ideally a Registered Dietitian would help you plan nutritionally adequate meals without fish. If you have any concerns about your diet, find a Registered Dietitian near you.

2. Treat Your Cravings the Fish Free Way

If you just love the taste of tuna salad or Crab Rangoon, I got good new for you!

The internet is bursting with awesome recipes that mimic the fishy taste you loved.

Keep experimenting in the kitchen, and check out the following recipes for some inspiration:

3. Remember Your “Why”

Don’t forget the reasons why you decided to give up fish in the first place and remember them when all your buds are ordering the fish fillet sandwich at the golden arches.

Find your own “no catch community” (see what I did there?) for moral support and accountability.

Did you find this article helpful? Let us know in the comments below!
And while you’re here, why not explore our blog? We tackle questions such as Can a Vegan Eat Bread? and Examples of Eco Friendly Food.
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