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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)?
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 be eating instead, along with tips from a Dietitian.

But to start, lets define the diet…

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.” I used the term “no fish” in the title, since fish are the most commonly consumed “seafood” in the United States.

No Fish/Seafood Diet Graphic

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?

I’m not necessarily disagreeing. In fact, many fish available for consumption contain beneficial nutrients that may be difficult to get elsewhere in your diet. Nutrients like iodine and omega 3 fatty acids (we will go more in depth about these nutrients later on). Certain studies also associate fish with a reduction in heart disease risk.  

However, consuming fish does not come without consequences to the environment and the quality of life for fish.

And if you are concerned about missing out on the benefits of fish, you may be surprised to find out that your entrée of salmon also comes with some extra “baggage.” Some not-so-healthy baggage, that is (more about this later).

Luckily, there are ways to get the beneficial nutrients found in fish without that excess baggage. And if that is the case, why not try it?

Benefits of a No Fish Diet

Reduce Heavy Metal Intake

Have you been pregnant and told to avoid high mercury fish. Why? Because contaminated fish is the major source of mercury in the diet. Mercury is a toxic compound that the body has no need for. In fact, It can be especially detrimental to the brain.

And here’s the catch (no pun intended), fish can contain other heavy metals aside from mercury, including cadmium, lead, and plutonium.

There is no dietary need for these heavy metals, and high ingestion of them can have serious consequences.  Giving up fish is one way to reduce your intake of heavy metals.

Less Plastic Intake

Plastic is not the side with fish that you might be expecting, but the reality is this: fish can accumulate macro and microplastics and their associated chemicals. Why? Unfortunately, the elements of nature (wind, floods, etc), wastewater, and human pollution are all involved in polluting the ocean.

This is a concern because the fish eat plastic particles and additives which accumulates in their bodies. This can cause blockages of the GI tract, reproductive and even behavioral disturbances. If we eat these fish, we run the risk of accumulating these hazardous chemicals as well, although we have yet to understand how much and what the long-lasting consequences are.

Nonetheless, it seems reasonable to assume that frequent long term exposure might not be the best for human health.

Lower Cholesterol Intake

Surprise! Seafood may contain anywhere from 52-161 mg of cholesterol per serving.

Ok, but maybe you have heard that cholesterol really isn’t something to be concerned about, and I get it. Other dietary factors, like saturated fat may play a bigger role than cholesterol in relation to heart disease risk. However, eating a large amount of cholesterol still plays a role, especially for certain health conditions.

Check out my post: Egg Free Diet…to find out more details regarding why you may need to be cautious about getting too much.   

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 proteins often touted as “healthier options” are not necessarily healthier options for the only shared home we have: our earth.

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

Iodine

Graphic of sources of iodine without fish

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 goiters, fatigue, and weight gain.

Foods high in iodine include:

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

Iodine deficiency is 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 mcg of iodine (57%) the daily value.

However, you if have eliminated dairy and fish, you may need to talk to your doctor about a iodine supplement.

Why? Because it would take a lot of iodized salt to meet your iodine needs, and while sea vegetables contain iodine, 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 easily exceed the Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) (150 microgram for non pregnant or breastfeeding adults).

If you are looking for a supplement, be wary of high doses. Too much iodine can cause hyperthyroidism (an over active thyroid).Some kelp supplements may have more iodine than is listed on the label.

In summary: Iodine may be a nutrient of you should pay more attention to if you are not consuming foods high in iodine regularly. If you are ditching fish but still eating dairy frequently, you’ll probably be well on your way to getting enough iodine.
However, if you are eliminating dairy and fish, you should consider other high iodine foods (ie: sea vegetables, iodized salt) or talk to your doctor about an iodine supplement.

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. Perhaps fried fish fillet sandwiches may not be the best source of vitamin D after all?

    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.

    So while you could meticulously plan your diet to get adequate vitamin D, a better insurance policy might be supplement. Especially if you live in a climate that has very little sunlight or you stay inside most of the day.


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.

Pure Encapsulations offers a vegan vitamin D3 supplement that has a dropper so you can easily tailor your dose. I really like this brand because they utilize independent lab testing, and many of their supplements are free from several of the common allergens. As a vegan, I appreciate that its vegan of course!


Check it out here:


In Summary: Vitamin D Deficiency is common nutrient of concern for many diets. Since fish can be significant source of vitamin D, take giving up fish as the cue you need to talk to your doctor! He or she can check your Vitamin D levels and discus an appropriate dose for you.

Nutrients You May or May Not Need to Pay Extra Attention to When Eliminating Fish

Protein

No surprise here! Protein is abundant in fish. But here’s the catch (no pun intended): you probably don’t need as much protein as you probably think you do.

I cover the topic in more depth in my comprehensive post about giving up meat (coming soon). So make sure you read the section about getting protein without animal flesh here: “Can Humans Survive without Meat? (link will be here after it has finished its makeover!”.

Selenium

One of the lesser-known reasons why fish is touted as healthy is because of selenium! For good reason too. Selenium plays an important role in thyroid health, keeping our immune system running optimally. 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 Nut 1 nut (about 92 micrograms (which is about 167% the RDA for adults, so DO NOT over do it)
  • 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))

Those living in the US are more likely to be selenium sufficient. However, other countries may or may not have lower amounts of selenium in the soil.

So, If you live in a selenium soil deficient region, talk to your doctor about adding a selenium supplement. 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:

The “vitamin A” found in plant based foods (ie: carrots, sweet potatoes, etc), is not in the active form (preformed vitamin). Plant based “vitamin A” is better thought of as a pre cursor to vitamin A, called beta carotene. In other words, beta carotene must be converted into the active form of vitamin A, to aid in vision and immune system health.

The catch is this: not all of us can covert beta carotene to preformed vitamin A efficiently. In fact, a staggering 45% may have trouble with this conversion.

So what should you do if you are giving up fish? Consider doing the following:

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

Always talk to your doctor about this supplement though. Too much preformed vitamin A can be dangerous.

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 will meet more than your daily requirement (Adequate intake (AI)) days requirement for ALA. 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 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 RDA for ALA (1.6 grams for adult males, 1.1 grams for adult females). This can easily be obtained via the foods listed below.

Veganhealth.org sums recommendations for omega 3 wonderfully. 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, the very reason why 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…

There is no 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, there is good evidence support a discussion with your doctor and for to supplementation during pregnancy and breastfeeding

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, EPA and DHA are especially important for the neurological development of baby. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that a supplement would be warranted for these mommas/mommas to be. 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? Absolutely talk to your doctor about including a DHA supplement.

If you are looking for a vegan DHA supplement, Vivo Life offers a vegan (algae based) supplement that has a dropper so you can easily tailor your 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: https://www.vivolife.com/products/omega-3

Graphic showing sources of omega 3 fats without 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, talk to your doctor about adding a vegan (algae based) DHA supplement.

How To Have Success on a Diet With No Fish

The best fish free meals are the ones that you can afford, enjoy, and incorporate into a healthy long term lifestyle.

When planning your meals without fish, don’t forget to keep the nutrients you just learned about in mind so your body gets what it needs.

For example, if you typically think of fish on your plate as the protein portion, 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?

Talk to your doctor about a vitamin D supplement whether your fish free or not. Lastly, 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:

1. 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.

Yes, it may involve some measuring and time, but the good news is, you shouldn’t have to track forever! Once you get familiar with the what a nutritionally sound day or week looks like, you are equipped with carrying on those habits without tracking. So don’t forget to sign up for cronometer(affiliate link*)!

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. You can even purchase imitation seafood products from stores if you have a craving.

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.

And don’t forget, I am also here for you! Sign up for my e-mail list to receive support, tips, and the awesome fish free recipes and products.

May the fork be with you…


Transitioning to a plant based diet doesn’t have to be scary! You can meet all the nutrients you need on a well planned vegan diet.

Have you mastered a fishless diet and are ready to tackle a vegan diet? Then you HAVE to check out my article “Vegan For Beginners!

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