There are a whopping 300 different edible species of mushrooms, each with a unique shape, texture, and distinguishing nutritional strength. Among the most popular types that are grown commercially are the crimini, white button, porcino, portobello, oyster and shiitake mushrooms. They are the unsung heroes among fungus!
Mushrooms contain a variety of nutrients and a number of valuable trace elements such as selenium and zinc. While the quantities that we need are small, these minerals can affect significant change in the body. Unlike a multivitamin, the trace nutrients found in mushrooms come from plant-based compounds known as phytochemicals, often also referred to as antioxidants. These compounds set the stage for what these happy fungi can do for our health.
It's hard to imagine that 20 calories worth of anything offers much nutrition, yet a half-cup serving of crimini or shiitake mushrooms does exactly that. For 20 calories, and zero fat, you get more than 30 percent of your daily recommendation of selenium, and 25 percent of your daily recommended allowance for Vitamin B2. You'll also receive 20 percent of your daily copper and multiple other nutrients such as phosphorus and potassium in smaller quantities.
The nutritional icing on mushrooms is that they also provide 2.5 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein. Cataloging the nutrition inside a single serving of mushrooms is just the beginning. These trace nutrients can affect the severity of an existing condition, boost your immune system and reduce the risk of future health problems.
Immune Boosting Power
Mushrooms provide tremendous support for the immune system because of their beta-glucan, which are naturally occurring sugars that are found in the cell walls of fungi and other types of bacteria. The reishi mushroom, in particular has been shown to have antiviral effects and helps to protect us against colds and sickness. Portobello and oyster mushrooms can also stimulate the production of interferon, which stimulates the immune system.
Glucose & Cholesterol
Scientists have long touted the heart-healthy benefits of eating antioxidant-rich foods, and mushrooms are surely included. A 2010 Australian study conducted at the University of Western Sydney and later published in Nutrition Research fed rats 200 milligrams of white button mushroom powder every day for three weeks. After the three-week experiment, rats whose daily diet included white button mushrooms had 29 percent lower plasma glucose concentrations and 39 percent lower triglyceride concentrations [II]. The decreased glucose levels among rats also indicates the impact of mushrooms on controlling diabetes by lowering overall blood sugar.
Reduced Cancer Risk
Cancer-fighting compounds have been extracted from shiitake mushrooms for years, but only recently have scientists learned that other types can also help fight off cancerous cells. A 2001 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that women at risk for hormone-dependent breast cancer could reduce their risk by including white button mushrooms in their diet. An enzyme in the mushrooms effectively reduces the risk of cancer by lowering excess estrogen levels. The study also concluded that a diet high in mushrooms was a healthy food choice for women of all ages, but particularly those who were postmenopausal [I].
First off, it's useful to know that mushrooms absorb and concentrate whatever it is they grown in or on. This means that they can uptake things like heavy metals, pesticides and water pollutants. Therefore, it's important to choose organic varieties.
Now, in terms of how to eat them, it's easy enough to sprinkle half a cup of raw mushrooms onto you salad to receive numerous health benefits....but there are so many other fun ways to enjoy them!
- Lay several slices of your favorite mushroom inside an omelet before folding it in half.
- Scramble a handful of chopped mushrooms with your eggs in a frying pan.
- Frittatas, souffles and crust-less quiches are also fabulous ways to incorporate any mushroom.
- A thick, grilled, seasoned portobello served with a salad will satiate a craving for an unhealthy burger! The chewy dense texture of portobello mushrooms lets them withstand glazing and grilling without losing firmness or moisture.
- Grind 1 cup of white button mushrooms in a food processor and mix them into an egg salad or potato salad.
- Sauté mushrooms in extra-virgin olive oil and serve them over chicken or fish in a white wine sauce.
- Layer several slices of porcino mushrooms inside a meatloaf. Their ridged thickness adds texture to any dish while enhancing the taste.
Here are a few other fabulous dinner recipe options:
- Baby Bok Choy with Oyster Mushrooms and Garlic Sauté
- Filet Mignon with Shitake Mushrooms and White Wine Sauce
- Herbed Wild Rice Stuffing with Mushrooms and Onions
- Crab Stuffed Mushrooms
If your current diet doesn't include mushrooms, integrate them slowly. Start by including them in a few meals each week, and eventually one meal every day. Your whole body with express its thanks!
[I] Grube BJ, Eng ET, Kao YC, Kwon A, Chen S. "White button mushroom phytochemicals inhibit aromatase activity and breast cancer cell proliferation". Journal of Nutrition. December 2001; 131(12):3288-93. Web. June. 2016. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11739882>.
[II] Jeong SC, Jeong YT, Yang BK, Islam R, Koyyalamudi SR, Pang G, Cho KY, Song CH. "White button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) lowers blood glucose and cholesterol levels in diabetic and hypercholesterolemic rats". Nutrition Research. January 2010; 30(1):49-56. Web. June. 2016. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20116660>.