Last week, my family and I went on vacation to a beach in Connecticut where my grandparents have a cottage. I had two goals for myself during the trip: 1) to learn how to juggle, and 2) to try raw oysters. I still can’t juggle very well, but I did try raw oysters. And I liked them. And here are 5 reasons you should eat them too.
1. They’re surprisingly nutrient-dense
These slimy little balls of sea snot don’t look like much, but it turns out they’re overflowing with nutrition. This is one of the big reasons I wanted to try them – they kept cropping up on lists of “superfoods” alongside other hard-hitters like liver and egg yolks and dark leafy greens. I was starting to feel left out of the nutrient-seeker club.
Oysters are most renowned for their zinc content, at around 66 mg per dozen (according to the USDA food database). That’s over FOUR TIMES the daily value of 15mg, which is awesome because the typical Western dieter could do with a little more zinc in their life. Zinc is depleted during stress (not that any of us are ever stressed), and high intakes of grains and other phytate-containing foods can result in low zinc levels. (1)
Oysters also have 7-10 mg iron (about half the daily value), 33 -107 mcg selenium (daily value is 70 mcg), 30-55 mg magnesium, and 109 mg choline, which doesn’t compare to the ~150 mg choline in one egg yolk, but it ain’t too shabby!
2. They’re sustainable
Several factors come into play when thinking about food sustainability. For instance, you want the environment to be disrupted as little as possible during the production of the food, unlike factory farms that pollute the waterways or trawling operations that destroy entire underwater ecosystems. Ideally, you’d like the food to be part of a healthy, self-sustaining ecosystem while it’s growing, unlike the vast mono-crop farms that deplete the soil, disrupt habitats, and require constant spraying with pesticides and herbicides to maintain.
Luckily, oysters are a solid choice on all these fronts. First of all, you’d be hard-pressed to eat lower on the food chain than an oyster (plankton smoothie, anyone?). And (perhaps surprisingly), farmed oysters are an even better choice than wild oysters.
Because oysters are filter-feeders, all that’s involved in farming them is sticking them in the ocean in nets or trays and letting them grow. They don’t need additional feed, chemicals, or antibiotics, and according to the New England Aquarium, oyster farms can actually improve local water quality. And unlike with wild oysters, you don’t risk disrupting the natural ocean habitat when you harvest them.
3. They’re versatile
I personally have only tried raw oysters and smoked tinned oysters, and found the smoked oysters distinctly unpleasant. But I’ve been told oysters are delicious fried, grilled, baked, steamed, or stewed as well. At some point I’ll probably branch out and try oysters cooked different ways, but I have to say – I’m pretty picky when it comes to food textures, and I really don’t like the texture of cooked clams or mussels. I’m not a huge fan of the taste, either. So if cooked oysters are anything like other cooked bivalves, I’ll probably stick with raw oysters, which are smooth and easy to chew, and taste fresh and salty instead of bitter and musty.
But have I mentioned how many different things you can put on raw oysters? I like lemon juice and horseradish, but you could also try cocktail sauce, hot sauce, chimichurri, bacon and jalapeño, pesto, mignonette sauce, or whatever other tasty sauce or topping you can come up with. More ideas (and some serious oyster porn) here.
4. They might just be a perfect food for vegans
*Huddles behind computer screen awaiting an enraged vegan mob wielding spears of sharpened kale stalks*
Before you impale me with a vegetable, hear me out. I truly respect vegans who decide to forgo all animal products to reduce animal suffering, lessen their personal carbon footprint, and improve their health. The trouble is, lots of nutrients are really hard (or impossible) to get from plant foods alone, and unless someone has superior genetics and a truly formidable squad of intestinal microflora, they’d need to take a few supplements to avoid suffering from nutrient deficiency-related health woes.
…or maybe not. A year or two ago, I came across the idea of “bivalveganism” on Denise Minger’s website Raw Food SOS. (If you don’t know who Denise Minger is, I highly recommend you acquaint yourself with her work. She doesn’t blog much, but she’s my favorite health writer by far. And she likes cats.)
According to a couple articles I found online (here and here), oysters don’t have a central nervous system and are unlikely to experience pain the way humans and other animals do. And I already mentioned the impressive sustainability of the oyster, so oysters seem perfectly aligned with both the ethical and environmental ideals of veganism. And as far as health is concerned, oysters supply ample amounts of iron and zinc – two nutrients that are difficult to get on a vegan diet – as well as some B12, which is impossible to get from plants. If I were still vegan, I’d definitely much rather eat oysters a couple times a week than have to take several different supplements.
5. They’re delicious
No further elaboration needed. Go eat them. And then leave a comment letting me know your favorite way to eat oysters!