Oysters: A Nutrient-Dense, Super Food

by lydia on September 29, 2010

Oysters truly are a nutrient-dense, super food. I hope I can convince you to give them a try. My first experience with oysters dates way back over 15 years ago when I tried them in a bar, raw. At the time it was a very odd concept to me, but being a young curious chick I was up for trying anything. (well almost anything). I found them odd as they slid into my mouth and I was told just to swallow them whole, I honestly couldn’t help but chew them. Now I know better, chewing them is acceptable and in my case preferable. Just this past winter I rekindled my ever so brief affair with oysters, and now I try to consume them on a monthly basis. The reason for this is, I learned just how nutrient dense and amazing of food that they are, and I am a sucker for any food that will truly nourish my body. I heard Sally Fallon, founder of the Weston A. Price Foundation, once asked in an interview what she thought were the top 5 most nutrient dense foods, she listed them off and then said, ‘and I’d have to add oysters and mussels as a 6th option.’ (She didn’t put them in the top five because she doesn’t think of them as they are not her preference.)

Consuming and Opening Oysters

Fresh oysters on plate with lemon

The best way to consume oysters to retain all of their goodness is most definitely raw on the half shell. Since oysters must be eaten alive or cooked alive, going for them raw makes the most sense (at least to me it does). However, if you prefer to try them cooked be sure that the shells are not already open, and that when cooked they do open, otherwise they are already dead and should not be consumed. If you are going to open them up and then cook them, be sure to do it immediately.

Unlike most shellfish, oysters can have a fairly long shelf life, up to two weeks; however, their (decreasingly pleasant) taste reflects their age. Oysters should be refrigerated out of water, not frozen and in 100% humidity. Oysters stored in water under refrigeration will open, consume available oxygen and die. Care should be taken when consuming oysters.

Opening oysters requires skill. The preferred method is to use a special knife (called an oyster knife , a variant of a shucking knife), with a short and thick blade about 2 inches long.

Insert the blade, with moderate force and vibration if necessary, at the hinge between the two valves. Then twist the blade until there is a slight pop. Then slide the blade upward to cut the adductor muscle which holds the shell closed. Inexperienced shuckers can apply too much force, which can result in injury if the blade slips. Heavy gloves are necessary: apart from the knife, the shell itself can be razor sharp. Professional shuckers require less than 3 seconds to do the deed. I personally do not use gloves, but I have to say it’s a very dangerous procedure that should be done with great care and is not for the faint of heart. (and I, by no means am a professional shucker, it can take me a few minutes wrestling with these bad boys before I finally conquer them.)

If the oyster has a particularly soft shell, the knife can be inserted instead in the sidedoor, about halfway along one side where the oyster lips widen and there is a slight indentation.

Check out this video for a demonstration on how to shuck an oyster;

Health Benefits of Oysters

Oysters, especially ‘wild’, are excellent sources of several minerals, including iron, zinc, calcium and selenium, which are often low in the modern diet. They are also an excellent source of Vitamin B12 the stress reducing vitamin and a rich source of vitamin A, also incredibly lacking in modern diets.  Oysters are considered the healthiest when eaten raw on the half shell. Oysters are also high in amino acids, namely tyrosine, which is used by the brain to help regulate mood and adapt to stress.

Oysters are known for their high levels of the mineral zinc. Zinc, also known as the intelligence mineral, is required for mental development, for healthy reproductive organs (particularly the prostate gland), for protein synthesis and collagen formation. Zinc is also involved in the blood sugar control mechanism and thus protects against diabetes. Zinc is needed to maintain proper levels of vitamin E in the blood. One of the highest concentrations of zinc is found in the eyes, eye health is dependent on zinc. Zinc plays a part in hundreds of enzymes including those that break down alcohol and help digest carbohydrates. Zinc also supports wound healing. Inability to taste or smell and loss of appetite are signs of zinc deficiency. High levels of phytic acid in cereal grains and legumes block zinc absorption. Zinc deficiency during pregnancy can cause birth defects. Zinc deficiency can cause learning disabilities and mental retardation. In men, zinc depletion decreases fertility. Deficiency can also result in symptoms such as slow growth, decreased wound healing, loss of hair and more frequent infections.

Nutrient Profile of Oysters

Looking to find out the nutritional value of consuming raw oysters, just one cup of oysters highlights the following nutrients;

  • Vitamin A = 248 IU
  • Vitamin D = 794 IU (this is an excellent source of vitamin D!!)
  • B12  = 48.3 -252 mcg (this number is varied due to several sources citing the B12 content differently)
  • Calcium = 112 mg
  • Iron = 16.5 mg
  • Magnesium = 117 mg
  • Phosphorous = 335 mg
  • Potassium = 387 mg
  • Zinc = 224 mg (this is 1502% the USDA recommended amount)
  • Omega 3’s = 1667 mg
  • Omega 6’s =144 mg

In the interest of keeping this article brief I simply mentioned the highest level nutrients of oysters, remember oysters have even MORE value than just the above mentioned. To see further the nutrition facts on consuming oysters,  check out this link. You will marvel at the full amino acid profile, these babies truly are a superfood!!

Further Articles/Recipes 

This post contributed to Real Food Wednesdays and Monday Mania.



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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Phil September 29, 2010 at 7:49 am

Good information, Lydia, thanks. These bad boys need to show up on my plate sometime, and now I have the wherewithal to deal with them. Will come back to this post. Thanks.


julie September 29, 2010 at 12:48 pm

So are mussels similar in nutritional value? I’m more comfortable with them having grown up with them, also they’re local and cheaper. Don’t know about eating them raw though…when I lived in Maine people would pick them up off the beach and suck them down raw, not my cup of tea maybe.


lydia September 29, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Yes, mussels are similar!! I don’t know about eating them raw either – but since they are local for you that would a great option for your family, since liver isn’t as popular 😉


julie September 30, 2010 at 5:44 am

Oh but I haven’t given up on liver yet, just getting around to trying again with some recipes from 700 forgotten skills of cooking by darina allen. You HAVE to get the book, you would love it!


Rebecca October 4, 2010 at 4:07 pm

I need more oysters in my life, and I would be inclined to keep eating raw oysters when I next get pregnant, BUT everyone says not too. If I think my source is really good though, is it safe for the baby? Even my obgyn did not have a real answer. Also, I read that if the oyster doesn’t smell bad, then it’s not infected with something that will make me sick…is there some hidden danger for baby?
Does anyone know where to get the real answers? I’m tired of, “just don’t do it,” and all the scare-mongery advice based on outdated info.


lydia October 4, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Hi Rebecca!!

In traditional cultures they conserved and prized foods like oysters for those who were of child bearing years, pregnant and nursing. So traditional wisdom says yes oysters are more than safe for you and your baby, they are highly valuable to you in this phase of life!!! I think a lot of those warnings are fear based anyways. You have to take what your Dr. says and evaluate and research for yourself! If it were me, I’d be eating oysters as much as I could. Just sayin’!!!


Lore October 17, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Are smoked oysters out of the question? I’ve had the one’s from Trader Joes and my guts feel so good when I eat them. Is it really that they are lousy and i”m kidding myself? Please tell me the awful truth…


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