Raw oysters have a unique texture that you either love or hate. Although they're considered high-cholesterol foods, they provide valuable nutrients, including protein and omega-3s. Simple things, such as steaming oysters instead of frying them, can make it easier to cut calories.
Are High-Cholesterol Foods Healthy?
Cholesterol is found in animal products like meat and dairy. Shellfish, such as oysters, are no exception. A single oyster has 19.2 milligrams of cholesterol, according to the USDA.
The daily limit for cholesterol used to be 300 milligrams per day, according to a June 2018 review published in Nutrients. However, that limit was removed in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It was previously thought that eating high-cholesterol foods could increase blood cholesterol levels, but research doesn't support this claim.
If dietary cholesterol was dangerous, you'd want to limit your oyster intake. Eating just one gives you nearly 20 milligrams of cholesterol, but you're likely to eat more than that. If you consume five oysters at once, that's 100 milligrams of cholesterol — a small meal's worth.
Cholesterol is a substance that your body makes. It's important in the production of some hormones. There are two types, namely high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which are typically checked as part of your annual physical.
HDL is considered the "good" kind because it helps remove LDL cholesterol from your body and return it to the liver. LDL is considered "bad" because it can build up in your arteries and eventually cause a blockage. When your arteries are blocked, you may suffer a heart attack or stroke.
The Effects of Dietary Cholesterol
In theory, it makes sense that dietary cholesterol could raise the levels of cholesterol in your blood, thereby putting you at greater risk for heart disease. According to a research paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in August 2015, saturated and trans fats, not dietary cholesterol, might be to blame for the increase in LDL levels.
Animal products tend to be higher in saturated fat and dietary cholesterol than plant-based foods. In other words, someone with high dietary cholesterol intake probably eats a lot of saturated fat. In that case, limiting saturated fat should be a priority.
One oyster (1.6 ounces) has about 25 calories, 3 grams of protein, 1 gram of carbohydrates and less than 1 gram of fat. Of that small amount of fat, only 0.25 grams come from saturated fat. Egg cholesterol, by comparison, is 9.9 milligrams per serving (1.1 ounces).
To put that into perspective, three oysters (5 ounces) would total 0.6 grams of saturated fat. One serving of steak (5.8 ounces), on the other hand, has over 5 grams of saturated fat. That makes oysters a healthier alternative.
Benefits and Dangers of Oysters
In addition to protein and omega-3s, oysters provide a variety of nutrients your body needs to function properly. Vitamin B12 and minerals like phosphorus, potassium, zinc and magnesium are just a few to mention.
The downside is that oysters are typically served raw or fried. Eating them raw comes with the risk of food poisoning. A type of bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus is often the cause of serious oyster-related illnesses.
If you have a compromised immune system from something like cancer, HIV/AIDS or pre-existing illnesses, you're considered "high-risk" and should cook oysters before eating.
How you cook oysters matters too. Deep-fried oysters, as well as those cooked in butter, are much higher in fat than steamed or boiled varieties. Frying oysters will increase the amount of fat, including saturated fat.
Even if eating high-cholesterol foods won't negatively impact your health, fat from unhealthy cooking methods can. As with all things, moderation is key.
Is This an Emergency?
- Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference: "Risks of Eating Raw Oysters or Clams"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Restaurant, Family Style, Sirloin Steak"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Dietary Cholesterol and Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Cholesterol"
- Nutrients: "Dietary Cholesterol and the Lack of Evidence in Cardiovascular Disease"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Oysters, Raw"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Egg"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020"
- NutritionRank: Smoked Canned Oysters