Welcome to another blog post series of mine. This blog post series will consist in 2-3 installments and treat the topic of oysters!
I not only explain to you why oysters are an absolutely perfect choice for nutrition, I also explain why they can help solve world hunger and provide an excellent choice to increase sustainability and provide an ethical animal food that many people who have trouble eating animal protein (such as vegan or vegetarian-leaning people) will like.
Sounds boasting or overpromising?
Well, just read my entire argument and I'll hope your mind is changed!
This first blog post considers the role of shellfish in nature and nutrients of oyters. Again, it's these nutrients that make it an excellent food choice, or a "superfood" as a nowadays popular term.
The next installments of this series consider the health benefits of oysters, how to best eat them, and sustainability issues.
As always, let's start at the beginning:
"Why eat oysters, I eat plenty of healthy food?"
"I'm already eating lots of grass fed beef"
"Don't you need vegetables for vitamins and minerals?"
Sorry to break your beliefs.
Oysters have some unique health benefits that I describe in this blog post series. As you'll soon learn, oysters have an amazing density of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fatty acids.
Perhaps the best in the world...
And I know:
You may have come to read a blog post about oysters' health benefits. But health is not the only reason why that species is important...
These shellfish are very sustainable ecologically. Oysters are shellfish, bivalve molluscs to be exact.
To grasp why I'll have a look at the Earth's current food system. I'm making a bit of a detour, to show that oysters are a great solution for food sustainability. As a bonus, you'll also learn why oysters are a great guilt-free treat.
I'll start my argument by exploring the problem that ever more food needs to be grown on the same amount of space:
Right now over 7 billion people exist on this Earth. That number is poised to increase to 9-10 billion by 2050.
Almost all of that population growth occurs in developing countries--the developed world either has static or declining population levels.
If you're born into that developing world you need food. But people in that part of the world already get too little quality food. Many diets in that developing world are currently reliant on grains, rice, and tuber vegetables. Processed food also makes up a large parts of habitual intake.[1; 2]
Food quality is thus low, even though plenty of "food" is available.
If you're living in the developing world, you'll have more access to calorie-rich food than ever, even though such foods regularly contain too few vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
So if empty calories in the form of refined grains or oils (margarine) make up large parts of your diet, you will become deficient in nutrients.
Cravings are the result of nutritional deficiencies.
If you're deficient in magnesium, for example, you can start craving chocolate. Red meat cravings may signify having low zinc or iron levels. Even salt is craved by humans, because, well, your body may be low on salt.
When most people have cravings, nonetheless, they lean towards eating pizza and Oreos to resolve their them. That strategy leaves you with lots of calories but very few nutrients. Obesity in developing nations thus partially emerges because of low food quality.
So what's the solution?
Create more arable land? That way everyone can eat a high-quality diet, right?
Not so quick:
How to feed 10 billion people in 30 years? If the world proceeded with business as usual, up to 60-120% increases in crop yields are necessary.[11; 12] Meat production alone is poised to increase 40-80% over that time.[13; 14]
Sure, some projections assume that sufficient foods already exist to feed a 10-billion human population in 2050. But that assumption entails cutting down on animal protein consumption.
Lots of evidence exists that some animal foods are necessary for optimal health. So cutting down on animal foods is not a great option either.
Meat consumption is poised to increase worldwide. But it's also impossible to create more arable land in a sustainable way. Meat, when conventionally produced, thus has negative effects upon the environment.
Many people assume that food production can keep growing exponentially. The problem, however, is that the Earth is finite. Exponential growth in economic activity or food production with a finite amount of resources is mathematically impossible.
Let me give you an analogy:
When governments project 3% economic growth per year without limit, they're lying. Sure, such growth numbers occurred from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to the late-20th century. But such growth is unsustainable forever unless you'd have access to new planets and asteroids for sourcing more materials.
The same is true for increasing the food supply without limit.
Allocating more land to meat production - at least when it's conventionally raised - is not a solution either. Conventional meat production already puts a huge strain on resources, because it relies on soy, maize, and grains.
And sure, you can create more arable land on this planet.[15; 16] Brazilian rain forests will then be replaced by soy crops. And the same fate will strike its Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts as well.
Cutting this forest down to create new arable farmlands? Probably not the best long-term solution...
Current land management is equally disastrous:
Soils are destroyed because of food system that combines fertilizers, plowing, and pesticides. Plowing fields increases the risk for wind and water erosion, and negatively affects soil organisms such as insects, bacteria, and fungi.
The soils on which the food for animal feedlots was grown on is also depleted. Many of the crops produced on these fields are subsequently fed to animals in feedlots.
These animals are given antibiotics while being forced to eat foods they aren't naturally compatible with. In the best case scenario cows in feedlots eat grains and soy. In the worst case, skin, hair, and feathers plus remnants of other dead animals are added.
That feeding process creates terribly unhealthy manure which cannot be put back on the land.
Place animals in their natural habitat. Let cows eat grass, and leave chickens on pasture. Not plowing and letting herbivores such as cows and omnivores such as chickens cyclically go through fields builds soil health over time instead.
Soils literally thus gain organic matter through the years, while being able to capture more water and even CO2.
How meat was meant to be produced.
Animals in a feedlot system, on the contrary, have a terrible life. Thousands if not millions of animals are kept together and fed in feedlots. Cows and chickens are prime examples.
Feedlots are inefficient in that they require at least 3-4 pounds of soy, maize, and grains to produce 1 pound of meat. Sure, cows require more than 10 pounds of grass per day when they're on the pasture - but that food doesn't need to be shipped.
Soy, maize, and grains require fossil fuels to be mass-produced. Shipping these plant foods also necessitates fossil fuels. Managing the manure of feedlot cows also uses fossil fuels.
You get the idea...
Cows on a pasture don't require any fossil fuels nor do they produce waste - only the shipping of the end product requires fossil fuel usage.
Bottom line: the current food system is not scalable, especially not for feeding even more people on this planet. And you may also think:
So how good of a job is the current food system doing in terms of providing nutrition?
Let's find out:
It's not just people living in the developing world who are malnourished.
Just pick 10 random strangers off the street, and at least 8 will have vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Let me give some examples:
The list goes on and on. Today's food system can thus not even feed the developed world.
And there's another secret:
Malnutrition would be far worse if food fortification programs weren't in place.
Vitamin B1 (thiamine), B3 (niacin), B9 (folate), iodine, and iron are already being added to many US foods. Wheat is an example.
Other countries have even more extensive food fortification programs.
The only reason you can survive on such foods is that governments mandate the addition of nutrients to them.
To me, food fortification programs are a government's admission that the food they prescribe are inherently nutritionally deficient. In other words, if you need to add iron, iodine, B vitamins, and zinc to your food supply, then you're admitting that your citizens are eating foods that would otherwise lead to malnourishment.
But what's the solution?
No easily usable farmland is available - almost all arable land is already in use. And rain forests cannot be destroyed for more farmland either.
Transitioning 10 billion humans to a paleo or carnivore diet may thus not seem sustainable. But consider this option:
Aquaculture is hot today. The problem, however, is that the wrong type of aquaculture is hot.
Let me explain:
Many people consume farmed salmon, carp, trout, and catfish. Most of these fish are either predators (carnivores) or omnivores, thus requiring fish and crustaceans. For every pound of farmed salmon you produce it needs to be fed with one to several pounds of sardines or other small fish.
The more small fish input, the healthier the farmed fish will become - a big problem. Farmed fish are additionally riddled with antibiotics and parasites when you finally eat them.
Not all aquaculture is bad though:
Shellfish such as oysters and mussels are perfect because they feed on plankton in the water. No fish feed required:
During flood, these oysters will have access to lots of water with plankton for nutrients.
There's also plenty of room to build gigantic oyster farms. Why? 70% of the earth is made up of oceans.
Other aquatic species can be added to such farms as well.
Waterways and coastlines are nonetheless the easiest for oyster farming.
(I'll focus on farming close to the land in this section and get back to ocean farming in section five.)
So let's begin with the easy questions:
So why oysters?
Yes, oysters filter the water that's going through them 24-7. In fact, these shellfish filter up to 250 liters of water a day.
Oysters also prefer to live close to each other by growing their shell next to an existing one. That method protects oysters against predators. Eventually, these shells accumulate to millions (and even a billion) of oysters.
These millions of shells then provide a habitat for other sea creatures. Hundreds of different sea species then live oyster habitats.
Examples of creatures living there are barnacles, anchovies, herring, crab, flounder, and sea anemones:
Barnacles pictured above, sea anemones shown below:
Many birds also feast on oysters - making oysters the perfect basis tot any coastal food system.
In previous centuries, millions of oysters banded together to create what are called oyster reefs:
Oyster reef were formed by nature. Such structures containing could be miles long.
In the 19th century, millions of people worked in the oyster industry worldwide. These resources came under pressure starting in the early 20th century.
Oyster reefs were so heavily exploited that replenishment was much lower than harvest rates. By the 1940s, oyster reefs were all but gone.
Fortunately, many of these oyster reefs are now regrown with human aid. In a few decades that awesome natural phenomenon should thus have returned to this planet.
And you know what?
Oyster farming is hot. Clams and shellfish already make up two-thirds of US aquaculture production today. The future is bright for that industry:
Some time ago, a scientific report claimed that shellfish were truly unsustainable because they emitted "nitrous oxide" and "methane". Both substances are famous greenhouse gases that have been tied to climate change.[32; 34]
Those "greenhouse gases" are produced in the digestive tracts of these animals.
The problem with that assertion is that oysters also take nitrogen out of the water.[310; 311] That nitrogen they re-emit is thus already taken up from nature. The claim that oysters cause increases in temperature is implausible on yet another level:
Huge oyster reefs have been part of nature for millions of years. Such shellfish almost certainly are part of a negative feedback loop that limits their contribution to climate change.
In fact, today, oyster populations are 85% lower than 100+ years ago. 99% of oyster reefs are gone now.
Even 150 years in the past, the Chesapeake Bay and New York housed the biggest oyster reefs on this planet - those are Northern latitudes. And while oysters can also be found in the tropics and subtropics, Central America is the only place near the equator that housed huge reefs in the past.
The Americas still have the best and most plentiful oyster reefs today, together with New Zealand.
So if shellfish were a big problem, temperatures would be way higher in the 1700s and 1800s than this day.
But temperatures are not higher (if I may believe experts in the field). Of course, shellfish would not be the only variable contributing to climate change, but my argument at least makes the case that they never were a big influence to begin with.
Why? If shellfish were a huge contributor to temperatures, the Earth should have been warmer in the 18th and 19th centuries.
And hundreds of thousands and even millions of years ago, even bigger shellfish roamed the earth.[35; 36] Such shellfish were up to four times as big as today's variations. That's even more heating, if you buy the claim.
Focusing just on temperature increases due to nitrous oxide emissions by shellfish, moreover, is deceptive.
Oysters protect environments. Oyster reefs act as natural buffers to high tides at coastlines, saving inland areas from flooding. Water erosion is also countered because oysters break the tide.
Oysters thus play a major role in protecting coastlines that is ignored by scientist who claim they single-handedly warm the planet.
Watch the following video on reefs below:
The bottom line? While cultivating oysters in the ocean is a possibility, reefs do play an essential role in nature that cannot be replaced by oysters farming at the ocean.[38} The world thus needs reefs - having reefs saves lots of money on water management.
That's all you need to know about oysters' ecological role.
So let's explore those oysters in some more detail from another perspective. I'll start with a surprise: there's no one such thing as "an oyster".
Many different types exist:
Different oyster species have different geometrical shapes, tastes, preferred habitats, and more.
View a pacific oyster (Magallana gigas) below:
Pacific oysters are one of the most commonly farmed species and have a sweeter taste.
While Pacific oysters were initially only found in Asia, they have been introduced all over the world today. Pacific oysters spread because of their ease of cultivation as well as their survival in many different temperatures.
Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) are also very frequently cultivated:
Eastern oysters are also called "Atlantic oysters", and are produced en masse in the US and Mexico.
Next, there's the Ostrea edulis or the European flat oyster:
When these flat oysters are cultivated in Brittany, they're called "Belons" - one of the famous French oysters. These ones have a sharp taste...
All these different species never leave you bored. Some really weird oysters species even exist, such as the thorny oyster (Spondylus):
Those thorny oysters can be subdivided into several sub types again.
The variation in oyster species is almost endless, such as the very small Kumamoto Oysters (Crassostrea sikamea) and the Olympia oyster (Ostrea lurida), which have enormous flavor for their size.
(Olympia oysters are found around the Pacific ocean, from Mexico to Alaska.)
And it's not just the species that determines how the oysters on your plate tastes and looks. The water they're reared in and growing methods also distinguishes one Pacific oyster from the next.
So now that you understand the role of oysters in nature, as well as different oyster species, let's move to the next topic of oyster health benefits:
Oysters are getting more popular in the health scene - there's a good reason for that.
Two health experts who I've learned a lot from throughout the years, Jack Kruse and Ray Peat, both favor oyster consumption, even though they're diametrically opposed to each other on many health topics.
That's a very good sign in this case.
So let's look at what makes oysters so special. The most important thing to notice is that shellfish are one of the most nutrient dense foods on this planet...
Let me be more precise:
The biggest advantage of oysters is that they don't provide a high number of calories while still providing tons of nutrients (vitamins and minerals).
12 medium Eastern (or Atlantic) oysters only provide 96 calories.
Those calories are made up of 9 grams of protein, 9.4 grams of carbohydrate, and 2.6 gram of fat.
The proteins in oysters are also entirely made out of animal proteins, which is generally of higher quality.
Many plant foods contain anti nutrients, moreover, such as lectins, phytic acid, and oxalates, which all can dramatically lower mineral absorption from foods - depending on the circumstance.[171; 172; 173; 174]
So lets at the micro nutrients contained in these beauties:
Keep in mind that the numbers according to the RDA are on the low side of the equation. For optimal physical and brain performance your probably need more nutrients.
Let's consider the vitamins found in 12 medium-sized Atlantic oysters:*
Of course, any benefit attributed to the vitamin can also be attributed to oysters themselves.
It's also highly likely that oysters contain reasonable levels of vitamin D, E, and K, which were not tested in this sample:
*Nutritionadata was used to gather this data, under "Mollusks, oyster, eastern, farmed, raw".
Now let's look at oysters as the queen (or king) of mineral rich foods:
Additionally, several minerals can be found in oysters:*
*Nutritionadata was used to gather this data, under "Mollusks, oyster, eastern, farmed, raw".
Keep in mind that the effects described effects of vitamins and minerals are simplified- reality is more complex.
Nevertheless, notice that 12 oysters (170 grams or 7 ounces) provide a huge array of vitamins and minerals.
The story gets even more exciting though...
Remember I often talk about evolution in my blog posts,? Oysters have a special relationships to our human past:
What makes oysters special are their high quantities of brains-specific nutrients such as iron, iodine, zinc, and copper.
As 12 oysters contain fewer than 100 calories, you could eat an almost limitless number of them and still not consume as many calories as an average pizza.
One whole medium-sized pizza can contain 2,000+ calories. Those calories equal an incredible 240 oysters. A slice of pizza contains ~285 calories, equaling the calories of about 36 oysters.
And yet, by consuming that slice of pizza you'll end up with far fewer vitamins and minerals than if you were eating oysters.
Zinc, the mineral oysters are most rich in on a relative basis, is specifically linked to dopamine production in the brain.[178; 179; 180] Dopamine is required for abstract and logical thought, motivation, and assertiveness.
Before you rush to the nearest oyster restaurant though, let's talk about the possibility of contamination:
It's thus essential to always know where the oysters you're buying are coming from. The seller should be able to give you info on where the oysters were farmed. If not, don't buy.
Another problem is that oysters sometimes contain viruses.
Both viruses and heavy metals become more dangerous the less healthy you are. In poorer health, your detoxification pathways almost always work less efficiently. Viruses are obviously also harder to deal with if you're not well.
The virus problem can easily be circumvented by cooking oysters - although they're probably best eaten raw for nutritional value. Why? Cooking destroys nutrients.
So let's dig deeper into the topic of viruses...
Let's briefly consider the effects of such viruses:
Viruses and other pathogens are not restricted to the ones listed above.
To ensure maximum safety, only consume oysters that are closed.
Oyster that are naturally open by themselves are sick and dangerous to consume.
I hope I've informed you about the potential risks of eating raw shellfish. The choice remains yours...
Eat these beauties in sunlight. The light in your environment affects gut function and your microbiome. A well functioning microbiome makes you less susceptible to gut issues.
And without good food, you're also more susceptible to get sick in general...
I'd be really surprised if you got sick from oysters if you're in great health. Although it's not scientific evidence, I know plenty of people who eat tons of raw oysters multiple times a week and never get sick.
Additionally, microplastics do accumulate in oysters. Such plastics travel through the air and up in the water, finally ending up in shellfish. Fortunately, shellfish do defend themselves against the intrusion of microplastics by removing them back into the water.
The efficiency of that filtering process is not fully known yet.
Want to be most sure that your oysters are as low in microplastics as possible? There's no direct proof for this hypothesis, but buying oysters that are farmed as far away from nature as possible is probably your best bet.
So my hypothesis is that oysters grown in New York City contain more microplastics than those sourced from Alaska. Simple but effective.
Overall, I hope you're seeing that oysters have tremendous potential for offering high-quality nutrition despite some dangers.
So let's return to an earlier topic I talked about:
Recall that in the US, iron, iodine, vitamin B1, B3, and B9 (folate) are added to staple foods such as wheat.
And even with food fortification, vitamin and mineral deficiencies are horrible for people living in the developed world. The developing world is even worse.
I showed evidence that 98% of US adults are potassium deficient, at least 35% in calcium, 40% for magnesium, at least 10% for iodine, 40% for vitamin D, and a whopping 90% for vitamin E and K2.
Without food fortification, many more people would be deficient in iron or iodine.
The gist of my message is that you cannot build the pinnacle of billions of years of evolution, called the human brain, on sub-par food.
The more you're relying on tons of processed foods, the greater the risk for having vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Food fortification also demonstrates how nutrient-depleted most humanly-made foodstuffs are. Most processed foods contain a combination of refined grains, seed oils, salt, soy, and tons of other additives (natural and otherwise).
Pizza is an example...
The goal of such foods is maximum palatability - i.e. having the best taste - not supplying you with as many nutrients as possible.
And that's a shame.
A real shame...
Well, most food companies are not supplying you with food that makes you fundamentally healthier. Your body simply doesn't get what it needs. Processed food has replaced food's fundamental role as a nutrient by that of a a tool for pleasure in the last 50 years.
Most people don't eat to nourish themselves anymore but use food as a drug - a means for feeling good. What's more, processed foods are literally created in such a way to make you addicted to them.
The alternative is simple...
Eat real foods.
Fortunately, oysters are one of the original human foods and are diametrically opposed to the deprived and bare modern "nutrition".
Including oysters into your diet can move your health to the next level as well. So let's move on from nutrition to concrete health benefits.
That's it for today...
I hope I've convinced you that oysters are an excellent superfood from both a vitamin, mineral, and fatty acid point of view. Oysters can even be a great protein source for many people if they can be mass-produced.
In the next installment of this series, I'll cover the sustainability, ecology, and ethics of mass-producing and mass-consuming oysters.
Stay tuned to learn more soon...
And start eating some of these oysters! If you're inspired by this blog post and similar discussions, then read Alex's blog post about the best foods for building muscle, the problems with vegetarian and vegan diets and how to avoid them, and his open letter to vegans about animal welfare.
This is a post by Bart Wolbers. Bart finished degrees in Physical Therapy (B), Philosophy (BA and MA), Philosophy of Science and Technology (MS - with distinction), and Clinical Health Science (MS), and is currently a health consultant at Alexfergus.com.
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