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Nutrient-Dense Food Spotlight: Mussels, Oysters, and Clams



I specialize my work as a dietitian and a doula on mothers who are pregnant, postpartum and in the years of motherhood with young children.


One common issue that I see often is mood dysregulation or mood disorders like depression and anxiety.


Food and nutrition is a commonly overlooked but critical aspect in supporting mothers back to wellness and balance, after birth and especially when struggling with mental illness in postpartum.


One of the foods that I recommend my clients include on their plate more often - or even trying for the first time - are bi-valve crustaceans…mussels, clams and oysters.


The reason is that these foods are nutrient dense power houses and often provide levels of nutrients that are hard to find in other foods. They are one of the most nutrient dense foods you can eat.


I LOVE anthropology and learning particularly around how nutrition plays a role in evolution and history and culture. I learned about a theory called the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis related to bi-valve crustaceans and brain growth in a course I took on nutrition psychiatry.


The theory is that early humans living near aquatic environments such as lakes, rivers, and coastlines evolved certain human traits more quickly, including larger brains.


The rationale is they had access to a nutrient rich diet which included shellfish like bi-valve crustaceans which are essential for brain development, structure and function.


These shellfish are very rich in micronutrients as they are filter feeders. Meaning they accumulate nutrients from the water they feed on and can concentrate minerals and vitamins present in their aquatic environment. This makes them potent sources of essential nutrients.


The nutrients are also really bioavailable - that means they are easy to absorb and utilize in our body. Our body doesn’t need to spend a lot of energy digesting, absorbing or doing complex conversions in the liver to use the nutrients in these foods.


For example:


Zinc - is involved in various processes related to brain health, including neurotransmitter regulation, memory formation, and neuroprotection. Adequate zinc intake is crucial for maintaining cognitive function and emotional well-being.

Selenium - an essential mineral with antioxidant properties. Selenium is important for protecting brain cells from oxidative stress and inflammation. It plays a role in maintaining cognitive function and has been linked to mood regulation.


Vitamin B12 - Oysters and mussels contain several B vitamins, including B12, B6, and folate. In very high amounts, especially when you compare it to something like chicken breast. These vitamins play a role in neurotransmitter synthesis and function. Vitamin B12, in particular, is important for maintaining nerve health and supporting cognitive processes. Deficiencies in B vitamins can lead to mood disturbances and cognitive decline.


Iron - Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue, cognitive impairment, and mood disturbances. Many mothers experience iron issues in pregnancy and postpartum. Oysters and mussels are good sources of heme iron, which is highly bioavailable and important for maintaining healthy oxygen transport in the blood and brain. They also contain a lot of other nutrients that support the absorption, utilization and mobility of iron in the body which is essential for its proper functioning.


Omega - 3 Fatty Acids like DHA and EPA - Oysters, especially those from cold waters, are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These fatty acids are critical for brain health and have been associated with improved cognitive function, reduced inflammation, and enhanced mood regulation. DHA, in particular, is a major structural component of the brain and is essential for its proper development and function. This is essential for mothers breastfeeding or if you didn’t eat a lot of fish or supplement with DHA in pregnancy.


Anti-Inflammatory Properties: The omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants found in oysters and mussels have anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation is linked to various neurological and mood disorders, so reducing inflammation through a nutrient-rich diet can positively impact brain health and mood.

Protein - Both oysters and mussels are rich in protein, which provides amino acids that are the building blocks for neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are essential for mood regulation and overall cognitive function.


Wanting to add more oysters and mussels to your meals? Try these three super simple ideas.

  1. Start with smoked canned oysters or mussels. Eat them right out of the can or put them on a cracker or seaweed with some cream cheese. Delicious!

  2. Google a simple steamed mussel recipe - there isn’t much to it other than steaming them and adding flavours like butter, garlic and wine.

  3. Try a simple recipe like clam chowder or a seafood curry.


Let me know if you’re planning on adding more bi-values crustaceans to your meals!


Warmly,


Amy

Your Dietitian Doula


P.S. - Looking for support with getting more nutrients into your body during this busy season of life with young kids?

Send me a message and we can talk about how I can help with that.


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