Oysters: Vegan on a Half Shell?


Pictured are oysters from The Breslin with dill pickle juice – unexpectedly delicious.  

Oysters remind me of my dad; he would eat a dozen at a time. He loved to go to oyster bars and watch the diligent shucking process. Yet, I never really knew about their awesome nutritional value until I started eating them myself.  Oysters are definitely having their day in the sun—they are everywhere!  

Oysters are usually associated with their aphrodisiac nature. One reason is because of their high zinc content. Zinc can boost testosterone levels, which has a positive effect on libido. Another reason, some say, is their shape and texture. I have read that Casanova used to eat oysters for breakfast. I never thought oysters were sexy but hey, whatever floats your boat!  

Highly Sustainable

Oysters are part of the mollusk family. Along with their sexy reputation, they are actually great for your health. Like clams and mussels, they are filter feeders. This means they filter up to 50 gallons of seawater per day feeding on the tiny plankton (bottom of the food chain) and micronutrients that exist naturally in the marine environment. Oysters are on the “super green list.” They are one of the top healthiest and most beneficial seafood because 95% of all consumption comes from oyster farms that help clean, benefit and support the environment in which they grow. Most oyster farming operations are very well managed and produce a sustainable product without using pesticides or GMO-grown grains.  

Good Vegan Protein Source

Yup—you heard correctly. Oysters do not have a central nervous system and are unlikely to feel pain. They do not respond to injury like other animals and can be included as an ethical source of natural vitamin B12 (a nutrient that is lacking in a vegan diet). And they pack an average of one gram of protein per shell.

Nutritional Profile  

Oysters are one of the most nutritious foods per calorie. They are an excellent source of zinc, vitamin D, vitamin B12, lean protein and healthy fats—specifically omega-3 fatty acids (DHA + EPA). One serving of oysters (equivalent to 6 medium-sized oysters or ~3 oz) is a good source of calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium. Since oysters are high in many B vitamins they are considered a good source of nutrition for cognitive health. Oysters are also low in sodium and cholesterol, 180mg and 85mg respectively. A serving is only 43 to 58 calories, dependent on the type. 

How to Choose

Taste will vary but fresh oysters should smell of sea water without being too fishy. Fresh oysters should always be on ice. My dad would always make sure the oyster was attached to the shell; for him it was a sign of freshness and confirmed that the oysters weren’t taken from a can and placed on the shell!

Some common east coast oysters are Blue Points (Long Island), Wellfleets (Cape Cod), Chincoteagues (Virginia) and Apalachicolas (Florida). I highly recommend you chew your oyster (at least a little) to allow the flavors to saturate your palate. If the taste is a little too “fishy” add a tinge of lemon, lime or fresh horseradish. The Oyster Blog has a great NYC oyster guide, including all the oyster deals

They all have different palate appeal and this is highly dependent on the salt content. East coast oysters (Atlantic) are smaller, brinier / saltier and milder than the west coast (Pacific) oysters, which have a creamier, sweeter taste. The west coast oysters also have a distinct, sharply pointed shell compared to the flatter eastern oyster.

Caution: Raw Oyster Safety

Generally, raw oysters are safe to eat but just as with the consumption of any type of raw fish or seafood, there is the possibility for food-borne illness. Shellfish are still among the most common sources of food poisoning in the U.S. every year; oysters alone are responsible for ~15 deaths per year. Food safety is a primary concern and you should order from places you trust. The biggest issue is usually refrigeration; fresh oysters should be refrigerated at <40 F. Oysters may be contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus (grows quickly in warm waters) or put you at risk for contacting hepatitis A. If someone is immunocompromised, they should not be eating anything raw.  

Would you consider oysters as part of a vegan diet?

Written and photographed by Alanna Cabrero, MS, RD 

Originally posted on NYHRC Tumblr 

Consider the Oyster. Why even strict vegans should feel comfortable eating oysters by the boatload. Slate

10 Most Underrated Health Foods. Summer Tomato

How to choose oysters. Cookthink

Edited by TCabrarr