When you think of a carefully arranged plate of fresh oysters, you probably imagine enjoying them while on a romantic date at a seafood restaurant, or while watching the sun dip below the horizon at the beach.
It is no surprise that oysters are best known for their aphrodisiac and libido-boosting qualities, but there are actually dozens of health benefits to eating oysters.
Do you know how oysters are good for you?
After reading these five health benefits, you might want to think of eating oysters more often!
First, A Little History of Oysters and Man
Oysters are a type of mollusk made up of two shells (called bivalve), and they usually live in marine or brackish habitats. Today, the oysters we eat are either caught in the wild or cultivated in oyster farms.
We now see oysters as a very refined food, but they have been linked to human gastronomy for thousands of years.
Anthropologists from Arizona State University who were exploring caves in South Africa found evidence of shellfish dinners enjoyed by humans over 160,000 years ago. Oysters, unlike other sources of protein, were easier to obtain than hunting game (and thus used less energy and time) for humans living on the coast.
Skipping several thousand years ahead, oysters became an integral part of culinary culture in several parts of Europe, mainly French, English, and even Scottish cuisine.
The most robust oyster culture in the world nowadays, however, is the American oyster culture. The oyster has ingrained itself so deep into the American tradition, particularly in the northeast, that stuffed oysters are now a timeless Thanksgiving dish for many easterners, a tradition that began as early as 1685.
Without a doubt, this seasonal dish is an integral part of human culture. But beyond that, you might be wondering;
Are oysters healthy?
Are oysters good for you?
Well, eating oysters has several health benefits, which we will describe below.
1. Oysters are an excellent source of dietary minerals
Oysters are an excellent source of all major dietary minerals except for calcium and potassium (only 11% per one-cup of oysters of these minerals). One cup of oysters provides:
- 92% iron
- 29% magnesium
- 33% phosphorus
- 22% sodium
- 1502% Zinc (not a typo!)
- 552% copper
- 46% manganese
- 22% selenium
All of these minerals are essential for proper metabolism, fluid balance, healthy bones and teeth, building structures, and they form part of numerous enzymes and proteins needed for normal biochemical processes.
2. Helps to Strengthen Your Bones
One cup of oysters contains almost 200% of Vitamin D, an essential nutrient for bone strength and overall health. We need Vitamin D for calcium to be absorbed into our bones.
While we can technically obtain all the vitamin D we need from the sun, many of us don’t get enough of the direct sunlight we need for this to be a dependable source.
If you aren’t getting enough unprotected sun exposure, another way to get enough vitamin D is through diet. Oysters provide a great source of Vitamin D.
3. Helps Fight Against Free Radicals
Free radicals come from the environment, from eating a poor diet, from excess exercise, and even from normal metabolic processes. Although some levels of free radicals are expected, too many can cause damage to our tissues and organs, and over time too much exposure to free radicals can lead to cancer.
Antioxidants are components that neutralize free radicals and prevent them from doing damage to our body.
Oysters contain a unique antioxidant called 3,5-Dihydroxy-4-methoxybenzyl alcohol (DHMBA), a powerful antioxidant that fights against oxidative stress.
DHMBA is a relatively newly discovered antioxidant, so more research must be carried out to determine its effectiveness in fighting against cancer and inflammation, both caused, in part, by oxidative stress.
4. Promotes Heart and Brain Health
Oysters contain significant amounts of unsaturated fat, which help to promote blood circulation, and reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol and boost HDL “good” cholesterol. Research shows that exchanging foods with saturated fat, like some types of beef and other animal fat, results in more favorable serum LDL and HDL levels.
Additionally, oysters are high in Omega-3 fatty acids (1667mg/cup), a type of unsaturated fat, which is essential for brain development and maintenance.
Initial studies show that the antioxidant mentioned above, DHMBA, also helped to reduce the oxidation of LDL “bad” cholesterol. Since oxidation of LDL cholesterol is linked to heart disease, DHMBA might be effective in helping to prevent the development of heart disease risk factors.
5. High-Quality Source of Lean Protein
Almost half of the oysters’ calories come from high-quality proteins. Oysters are referred to as a source of “lean” protein because the fat in oysters is polyunsaturated and unsaturated – types of healthy fats.
Because oysters are so rich in vitamins and minerals, they are also considered a “nutrient-dense” food.
High-protein foods help to keep you feeling full (satiety) for longer, meaning that they can form a part of weight loss programs. In fact, research shows that diets high in dietary protein contribute to the treatment of obesity and metabolic syndrome.
Conclusion: Oysters are pretty good for your health
Oysters are a type of shellfish that are a vital part of the cuisine of many cultures. For this reason, they are often the star of gastronomic experiences in restaurants around the world.
However, the perception of oysters as a “refined” food is only part of the picture; oysters also contain hundreds of components that are good for our health. From metabolic health to heart and lung health, the benefits of eating oysters are many.
However, it is vital to make a note of the origin of your oysters and that they have been properly stored. Since oysters are often sold raw, it is essential that they do not contain bacteria that could cause stomach issues.
In general, however, when you find a dependable, clean source of oysters, it is safe to consume them regularly.
When they are fresh and in season, why not try to integrate more oysters into your meals? Your body will thank you!