There are more than 14,000 types of mushrooms. About 3,000 of those are edible, and 700 have known medicinal properties. Here’s an up close look at this surprisingly healthy food.
Mushrooms are well known for their taste, texture, and versatility. During cooking the flavor normally intensifies, so they are a savory addition to anything from soups and salads to sandwiches and pizza. In fact, mushroom extracts are increasingly being added to food supplements and health beverages.
Great Nutritional Profile
While mushrooms are commonly thought to have little nutritional value, they are actually rich in fiber (8 to 10 percent of their dry weight) and are a good source of the mineral copper and a number of B vitamins, such as riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid.
Mushrooms are ideal for people wanting to lose weight or lower their blood pressure, because they are about 80 to 90 percent water, fat free, and low in calories and sodium.
Mushrooms could also be an unexpected source of an important vitamin. Growers have discovered that exposing mushrooms to UV light for a few minutes can produce high levels of vitamin D from the ergosterol present in the mushrooms. One serving of white mushrooms would be able to provide 100 percent of the daily need of vitamin D. Humans generally lack vitamin D, especially during the winter months. This vitamin is only added to cereal, milk, soy, and other beverages.
Mushrooms have been revered by the Chinese for thousands of years both as a health food and for medicinal purposes. Recently, researchers in Japan have been studying the medicinal effects of mushrooms on the immune system, cancer, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
The food is an excellent source of potassium, a mineral that helps reduce elevated blood pressure and the risk of stroke. A serving of mushrooms provides about 20 to 30 percent of the daily need of selenium, which forms part of an antioxidant system that protects cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Research found that male health professionals who consumed twice the recommended daily intake of selenium cut their risk of prostate cancer by 65 percent. Ergothioneine, another natural antioxidant found in mushrooms, provides about 3 to 4 milligrams per serving.
The most commonly consumed mushroom in the United States is the white button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus). Similar forms are crimini mushrooms, which have a firmer texture, and portobello mushrooms, which have a meaty flavor. All three of these types of mushrooms possess anticancer substances. White button mushrooms were recently shown to reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancers, and an extract of white button mushrooms decreased cell proliferation and tumor size in a dose-dependent manner.
Many health-food stores are now selling shiitake, maitake, and reishi mushrooms. Shiitake mushrooms have been used for centuries by the Chinese to treat colds and flu. Lentinan isolated from shiitake mushrooms helps fight infections and demonstrates antitumor activity. An extract of maitake mushrooms boosts the immune system and activates white blood cells and interleukins that inhibit the growth of breast and liver tumors, while reishi mushrooms also improve immune function and suppress the growth of highly invasive breast and prostate cancer cells.
Mushrooms are a flavorful food with nutritional value and medicinal purposes.