Are you new to veganism and not sure if you can eat fish or not? Or perhaps you dining with a vegan buddy and you want to attend to her or his dietary needs.
Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude all animal cruelty for food. Given that fish belongs to the Kingdom Animalia, then the answer to the question of “Can vegans eat fish?” is a massive “NO”!
Lucky for you there are actually plenty of alternatives to eating fish. So continue reading to learn what other foods you can eat to get all the nutrients and health benefits that people claim they can get from fish.
This way you can be healthy and not have to kill any indefensible animals just to appease your taste buds!
To Fish Or Not To Fish
Before we go straight into figuring out the best foods out there that can take the place of fish on the dining table, I feel like it’s important to also look at different issues surrounding fish and fishing in general.
1. High Mercury Levels in Fish
Our bodies of water naturally don’t contain high levels of mercury. However, due to different reasons such as the following below, our waters can easily be contaminated and infiltrated:
- The deposition of atmospheric particles such as snow, rain, etc.
- Mining wastes
- Industrial waste materials
- Volcanic eruptions
Fish are known to concentrate mercury in their bodies. This is often through methylmercury which is a highly toxic organic compound found in mercury. However, the level of mercury differs from one fish to another.
How mercury ends up in fish starts with algae absorbing methyl mercury. These algae are then consumed by bigger organisms such as fish. The more fish consume algae and the like, the more mercury is absorbed in its viscera and muscles tissues.
The result is what is referred to as bioaccumulation. The more mature the fish are, the level of mercury present could be higher. The same thing can be said for bigger fish as they consume more algae.
As mentioned beforehand, the mercury content differs from one fish to another. Here are examples of some species that have high levels compared to others:
- King mackerel
- Orange roughy
- Bigeye Tuna
- Ahi tuna
Consuming fish that have high levels of mercury is not good for the human body. This rings true to pregnant mothers as the exposure can affect the development of the unborn child’s brain and the nervous system. It is also known to cause the following problems:
- Speech Impairment
- Muscle Weakness
- Hearing Problems
- Walking Problems
Sushi lovers should also be wary as most of the fish being used in this Japanese food favorite are known to have high levels of mercury in them.
2. Fish with PCBs
Mercury isn’t the only toxin that human beings can get from consuming fish. There is also PCBs or Polychlorinated biphenyl.
PCBs were industrial chemicals that were used in the late 1920s until the 1970s. Its use was banned due to the many ill effects it has on human beings. PCBs are known to affect our nervous, endocrine and immune systems. It has also been linked to some types of cancer.
While its use ceased a long time ago, there are still PCB remnants and particles present in the environment today. There are still traces of PCBs in the soil, air and water.
In the water, PCB traces have settled in the sediments. The smaller marine organisms are the first to absorb these. Once these smaller organisms are consumed by bigger organisms, the latter soaks up the PCBs found in the former.
3. Unethical Fishing
Human beings have been fishing since time immemorial. However, in this day and age, no one can deny that people have resorted to unethical fishing methods that affect so many aspects of life including the environment and our health.
As demands for fish increase and as supplies decrease, some people have resorted to destructive fishing methods such as the following:
- Bottom Trawling
This involves using a cone shaped net that is dragged along the seabed or ocean floor. This damages and crushes different organisms including fish and corals.
This refers to the capture of marine animals (fish included) that are not the intended target. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, 38 million tonnes of sea creatures are unintentionally caught with 40% of that being fish caught worldwide.
4. Use Of Explosives and Poisons
In some parts of the world, people have resorted to using explosives and poisons to catch fish.
Some fisherfolks use poison to stun or kill fish. One of the most common poisons being used is cyanide. This does not only kill fish and other organisms but it also destroys corals and other marine life.
There are also those who make use of explosives, resulting in blast fishing. The explosion in the water creates large craters that not only kill their intended catch but also cause damage to the other marine organisms.
Fish Alternatives For Vegans
Fish have been a staple in most diets – starting from the different ancient civilizations up to today’s modern times.
However, eating fish is something that is definitely NOT in a vegan’s vocabulary. Consuming fish literally goes against the principles and beliefs of vegans.
In lieu of fish, we look into some food alternatives that vegans can focus on to make up for the loss in nutritional and health factors and benefits particularly Omega-3 and protein.
Cultivated since the ancient times, flax seeds have been around for ages. And while they are little in size, they pack a lot of nutrition and other health benefits.
- High in Omega 3 Fats
Rich in Omega 3 Fats, flax seeds are a great alternative to fish. They are a good source of the plant-based Omega-3 Fatty Acid called alpha-linolenic acid (also known as ALA). ALA is just one of two essential fatty acids that the body needs but does not produce.
There have been studies regarding the health benefits of flax seeds. They help in preventing the deposit of cholesterol in the heart’s blood vessels. They also help in reducing inflammation in the arteries and reducing the growth of tumors.
There have also been other studies conducted that concluded the following:
- ALA found in flax seeds help decrease the risk of heart disease by 14%
- ALA linked to lowering risks of strokes.
- Rich in Lignans
Flax seeds are known to be a great source of Lignans. Compared to other plant foods out there, the lignans found in flax seeds are 800 times more.
Lignans are plant compounds that are known to have estrogen and antioxidants properties. These properties are said to be important in lowering the risk of developing cancer and in improving our health.
- Rich in Dietary Fibers
Flax seeds have two types of dietary fibers which are insoluble (60–80%) and soluble (20–40%). These dietary fibers are essential in promoting regular bowel movements and in improving our digestive health.
The insoluble fibers are vital when it comes to the binding of the stools with water and in softening it. This helps prevent constipation and those with IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
As for the soluble fibers, it helps by in the slowing down of our digestion rate, in regulating blood sugar and in lowering cholesterol.
- High in Protein
If you are looking for a good plant-based protein source, consider flax seeds. Protein from flax seeds have high levels of the following amino acids: Aspartic, Glutamic and Arginine.
Also, flax seed protein is known to help with the following: lowering cholesterol, improving the function of the immune system, preventing tumors.
Apart from its various health benefits, flax seeds are multi-faceted. You can add them to your diet in various ways. You can mix them with your favorite vegan cookie, cake or bread batters. You can also add them to your breakfast grain mix!
BONUS: To learn more about why vegans don’t eat fish, check out the video below!
2. Chia Seeds
Their size might be small but chia Seeds are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. Once a staple of the Aztecs and Mayans, chia seeds have been around for centuries. The word “chia” comes from Mayan and it means “strength”. In modern times, chia seeds are considered as “superfood”.
Chia Seeds are the black seeds that come from a plant called Salvia Hispanica. Chia Seeds are also known to have:
- High Levels of Protein
Chia Seeds are a great source of protein most especially for people like vegans who do not eat animal products.
Chia seeds contain nine of the most essential amino acids which the body can’t produce at all. Also, they are considered as a great weight loss aid because they help reduce your obsession with thinking about food by 60%.
- Rich in Omega-3
As a good source of Omega-3, chia seeds have a positive influence on our cardiovascular health like: regulating the rhythm and blood pressure of our heart, lowering cholesterol, decreasing inflammation, and preventing blood clot.
- Carbs Are Fiber
Plenty of fiber is found in chia Seeds which helps you feel more sated and stop you from overeating.
Cultivated since the rise of ancient civilizations, soybeans or soya beans is part of the legume family that originated in East Asia. It is known to be a great source of: protein, and good fat (Polyunsaturated Fats -includes Omega-3 Fatty Acids- and Monounsaturated Fats).
Soy beans also contain: calcium, iron, isoflavones, folate, riboflavin, vitamin K, potassium, magnesium.
Apart from all these nutritional values, eating soy-based foods are also beneficial to the body. Here are some benefits that we can get from soy-based foods:
- Prevent Heart Attack and Stroke
Considered to be a heart-friendly, soy-based product such as tofu can help lower cholesterol. Also, the fiber content found in soy can help decrease the absorption of the cholesterol in our bodies.
- Fight Against Cancer
Soybeans are rich in antioxidants which help fight against free radicals that cause cancer.
- Prevent Osteoporosis
The antioxidants found in soy are said to help increase bone density. This and the traces of copper, zinc, magnesium, and calcium work together in improving bone health and in preventing problems like osteoporosis.
- Diabetes Treatment
The magnesium and isoflavones found in soybean help in improving the insulin sensitivity in the body, thus making it easier for those who have diabetes.
- Stronger Immunity
Soybeans are rich in protein so this means that it would help fight viruses and illnesses that might come. This is because protein helps in regulating our immune system.
- Improve Brain Health
There are vitamins present in soybeans such as magnesium and zinc can increase the brain’s health notably. By adding soy-based foods in your diet, it will help improve your cognitive ability more.
To add, soy-based foods also help decrease stress and sharpen your memory and clarity as well.
Squirrels are not just the only ones that can enjoy walnuts! You should too! Walnuts are highly nutritious and are good for our health.
- Rich In Antioxidants
Compared to other nuts, walnuts have higher antioxidant levels. According to a study, eating walnuts fights oxidative damages in our bodies. This includes damages made by bad cholesterol or LDL.
- Great Source of Omega-3
In terms of Omega-3 content, if walnuts had to go head to head with other nuts, it would reign superior over them as it has a higher level of this fatty acid.
The Omega-3 found in foods like walnuts is ALA or Alpha-Linolenic Acid. A study has shown that consuming ALA-rich food lessens the risk of dying from heart diseases by 10%.
- Reduce Some Cancer Risks
There have been studies linking eating walnuts with reducing the risks of developing certain cancers like colorectal, breast and prostate cancer. It is said to be due to the Polyphenol antioxidant found in walnuts.
- Support Healthy Brain Function
Walnuts have nutrients that keep the brain healthy as we age. There have been some studies conducted among older adults that concluded that through eating walnuts, their brains functioned better. Their mental flexibility, memory and processing speed improved.
- Manages and Lower Risk Of Diabetes 2
Walnuts are said to be helpful when it comes to controlling weight. When weight is controlled, it reduces the risk of developing diabetes. It also helps control Diabetes 2 as it is linked to blood sugar control.
When You Crave Fish...
From time to time, you might find yourself craving the texture and flavor of fish. While there are plenty of alternatives like the ones I have mentioned above, there are also recipes that you can try to satisfy your craving.
If you miss the flaky flavor of tuna, you can make use of the following:
- Chickpeas (Tuna Salad)
Some vegans have opted for jackfruit as a vegan fish substitute. Jackfruit contains a variety of vitamins including: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Niacin, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Potassium, Calcium, Iron, Sodium, Folic Acid, Zinc
Jackfruit is also a good source of phytonutrient (which fight cancer, hypersensitivity, ulcer, and inflammation) and phenolics. It’s also rich in minerals, proteins, fiber and the bad kind of fat and cholesterol.
You can use jackfruit as a tuna alternative for salads, sandwiches and many other things.
As for chickpeas (or also garbanzo beans), they are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fibers. Also, it has high levels of protein which makes it an ideal option for meat and fish.
Due to its nutritional content, it has so many health benefits – from controlling blood sugar to weight management. Also, if you incorporate chickpeas into your diet, it helps in reducing the risk of developing heart diseases and certain cancers.
Another alternative that you might have is the Vegan Fish that you can get from the supermarket. There are now vegan fish options made of soy protein available.
If you go to your favorite grocery or vegan store, you might come across foods like Vegan Fish Fillet or something similar. These are mostly made of soy protein and wheat.
If this is something you are open to trying, you can definitely make so many savory dishes. Perhaps you can even recreate some of your favorite fish dishes that you used to eat back when you were not vegan.
Fish is something that vegans like us cannot indulge in. But regardless of this fact, there are plenty of vegan options for us to choose from. It’s just a matter of choosing ones that can fulfill the nutritional needs our bodies require.
Apart from the fish substitutes I included above, do you know of any other food that we should mention in this blog post? Let us know in the comments below! Also, if you have special recipes for these fish alternatives, let us know as well!
And don’t forget can also share this with your vegan friends on your favorite social media platforms!