Most Saturday mornings I buy myself a couple of oysters, and eat them unceremoniously over the kitchen sink.
Although I adore seafood, I was never a fan of oysters. Frankly I was childishly squeamish about the idea of eating something that’s alive, even if it was a brainless mollusc, and having to swallow it whole. What’s worse? I wondered – to chew something alive, or allow it to die by being churned and dissolved by your stomach acid? The risk of food poisoning was also present in my mind.
Well apparently only philistines swallow them whole – it’s a weird affectation that appeared somehow (maybe squeamishness?) which deprives you of the joy of actually savouring them, if you are really interested in getting the most out of the experience.
Following endless blood tests I eventually discovered that I have low zinc. This is not unsurprising since I have been vegetarian from birth, until recently. But mineral deficiencies are rife for many reasons (diet high in sugar and processed food, depleted soil and modern agricultural practices) and not to be underestimated in terms of the havoc they wreak on your system. Every function and organ you can imagine from your brain to your muscles needs the correct balance of minerals to function optimally. A deficiency can manifest in countless different ways, changing from one person to the next. It may even affect you in subtle ways you barely notice.
On a separate note, this is why I decided to feed Flora meat. Having initially raised her vegetarian, as I was raised for ethical reasons, I read that the age she was then (about 18 months) was critical for establishing mineral stores. During my pregnancy I was horrendously ill, and I wonder now if the physical demands of growing a baby were too taxing for my insufficient mineral stores. I know a lot of vegetarians, but very few from birth. Even if you ate meat as a child and gave up when you were 12 you would still have had the benefit of those years when your nervous system was being formed, for example.
With mineral deficiencies thought to be a factor in MS, and MS being partly hereditary, I decided I would not make a decision that would deprive Flora of essential nutrients at this formative stage. If she decides to become a vegetarian for the reasons I was I will be pleased, in a way. However, I will try to make sure that she knows that as a vegetarian you must take great care to include the most optimal substitutes possible in your diet.
It’s a very thorny issue for me. My instinct has been to avoid flesh, as it feels almost cannibalistic to eat meat. However, I do believe what is abundantly clear, that human beings are built to eat animals and fish. Being vegetarian all these years might have had a role in my developing MS, since I have it despite the fact that no one in my family has it, and I am the only vegetarian, my mother having returned to meat when I was a teenager and my sister never having been convincingly vegetarian.
So why don’t I just take a zinc supplement? Tried it. Found they made me exhausted, and then read that actually your minerals are in a fine balance in your body. So, you can’t just eat a load of zinc tablets and be fine. First, you need to figure out why you have low zinc – are you not absorbing it properly for example – and then you need to be aware that zinc and iron are in competition, so it seems that if you dose up on zinc, you deplete your iron stores. Likewise for copper. When you eat a balanced diet your body takes what it needs. If you flood your system with synthetic supplements you need to know what you’re doing. You can only absorb so much zinc, and you must also take enough iron and copper to balance it out, and not at the same time of day. It’s a minefield.
So I researched high zinc foods. Meat is high in zinc, but the highest natural source by far is oysters. One oyster contains more than your daily requirement of zinc. But you can’t just eat ten and redress the balance. Your body will not keep absorbing minerals in one sitting. Therefore no point overdoing it. So I just eat two, to be sure.
It makes great sense to me that eating for nutrition is preferable than supplementing – when possible of course. And I have learnt to enjoy the oysters. The mistake I made was to think of them as decadent and extravagant. They’re not. They cost 79p each in the supermarket (Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, they all sell them if you go to a big one.)
When you go to a restaurant they cost a bomb because, I think, they are super annoying to open, or shuck as it’s called. I stabbed myself in the hand a few times, but now I’ve got the hang of it. Two quick oysters, crack them open over the sink, quick squeeze of lemon juice, and down the hatch, after an epicurean chew. And no food poisoning yet. Just eat them within 24h of buying, and make sure they’re tightly shut before you buy them.