Raw oysters may not look very appealing and their texture is not for everyone, but they're a tasty low-fat seafood option that will help keep you in your favorite pair of skinny jeans. On the other hand, don’t go digging for oysters if you need more dietary fiber, as the small mollusks contain essentially none.
Like almost all seafood, oysters are high in protein and low in carbs. For example, 1 cup of raw wild oysters contains about 14 grams of protein and a little less than 7 grams of carbohydrates. Oysters are also excellent sources of vitamin B-12, zinc, potassium and sodium, as well as good sources of calcium and zinc. Too much sodium is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, so consult your doctor before going on an oyster feast if you have hypertension. Oysters are also low calorie, with 1 cup containing only 126 calories.
In addition to being a low-carb food, oysters are also relatively low in fat, especially compared to other high-quality protein sources such as beef and chicken. More specifically, 1 cup of raw oysters contains 4.24 grams of total fat, with a little more than 25 percent of it saturated. The same portion contains approximately 100 milligrams of cholesterol. Diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol are linked to increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. According to the American Heart Association, you should limit your saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of total daily calories -- which equates to about 15 grams on a 2,000-calorie diet -- and your cholesterol intake should be less than 300 milligrams per day if you are at low risk of heart disease. If you are at high risk, perhaps because of high LDL blood cholesterol levels or a previous heart attack, then you should aim for less than 200 milligrams of cholesterol daily.
Dietary fiber is important for keeping blood cholesterol levels in check, preventing blood sugar spikes, slowing down digestion and promoting regular bowel movements. Depending on your size and activity levels, consuming between 20 and 30 grams of dietary fiber per day is recommended. However, plain oysters are a very poor source of fiber and contain virtually none. Breaded oysters may contain a little fiber, but that depends on the type of breading you use.
If you find raw oysters lacking in flavor, consider adding some fresh lemon or a little hot sauce. Raw oysters, especially warm water varieties, carry a risk of bacterial contamination, so cooking them is likely the safest preparation. Steaming and sautéing are easy cooking methods that enhance their natural flavors. Avoid oysters that smell or taste especially strong or fishy.
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.