Mushrooms belong to the fungi kingdom and aren't technically plants and have been used for centuries throughout Asia, the Egyptians believed eating mushrooms brought long life. They are one of the most health-promoting foods on the planet. But, before I continue with my obsession with the health benefits of mushrooms, remember eating wild mushrooms that are toxic to humans can cause illness and sometimes even death. So, unless you are trained, only eat the mushrooms that are cultivated under appropriate conditions. Now, let's continue with the edible mushroom obsession …
I encourage you to eat a diet that is a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables, as they say, eat the rainbow! And I would usually suggest that food lacking in colour may also lack the intensity of beneficial nutrients. Well … mushrooms break that rule, and I am a fan of breaking the rules. An estimated 50% of mushrooms are considered "functional foods", meaning that beyond providing us with essential nutrients, they have a potentially positive effect on health. You could think of them as mini pharmaceutical factories producing hundreds of different constituents with miraculous biological properties. And while there are scientific studies that demonstrate how effective mushrooms may be in curing disease (which excites the pants off me!), we need to be mindful of bio-individuality. Also not allow ourselves to get too excited in the expectation that if we 'eat enough mushrooms, will it cure my disease?' Dr Kat Arney of Cancer Research UK states, "It doesn't really work that way because you don't know about the dose, you don't know whether by eating something it's bio-available – meaning it can get from the inside of your tummy into your bloodstream and into the tumour in a dose that's actually relevant. That's the trouble."
However, we cannot deny the proven nutritional profile of mushrooms, and when combined with eating fruits and vegetables of all kinds, they can reduce the risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.
Mushrooms like carrots, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkin, green beans, and zucchini are high in antioxidants. Super crucial as antioxidants are our natural soldier chemicals that fight the free radical compounds. This helps the promotion of healthy, glowing skin and assists in the battle of killing off cells that potentially lead to cancer.
Selenium, (also an antioxidant) is not found in most fruits and vegetables but can be found in mushrooms. Selenium assists in liver enzyme function, also help prevent inflammation and improve immune response.
It is best to eat mushrooms cooked to avoid toxins, however, placing freshly sliced mushrooms in the sun increases their Vitamin D content. Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium (mushrooms themselves are a source of calcium), and the promotion of bone growth. Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to heart disease, depression and weight gain. Mushrooms are the only vegan, non-fortified dietary source of vitamin D. There are other minerals that may be difficult to consume on a vegan diet including selenium, potassium (an electrolyte, helps kidney, muscles and nervous function), copper (contributes to iron absorption, immune function, healthy bones, blood vessels and nerves), iron (for oxygenation of the blood), and phosphorous (involved in the body's energy production, works with calcium for bone production, necessary in the structural role of nucleic acids and cell membranes). These are all present in mushrooms.
The fibre, potassium and vitamin C (also an antioxidant) content in mushrooms helps with our heart health. Mushrooms contain two types of dietary fibres beta-glucans and chitin, and these reduce appetite and increase satiety. Consuming mushrooms will make you feel fuller longer and reduce your caloric intake, assisting in weight management.
Beta-glucan is a type of dietary fibre found in the cell walls of mushrooms and stimulates the immune system. Side note, while beta-glucans are safe for most people, they do stimulate immune function. If you have an autoimmune disease, there may be risks. The stem of the Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) mushroom is a good source of beta-glucans, 3 grams of beta-glucans per day can lower blood cholesterol (LDL) levels by 5%. Beta-glucans have also been the subject of extensive studies that suggest the improvement of insulin resistance and reducing the risk of obesity. Sufficient fibre in your diet will help improve digestion and lower blood sugar levels.
B vitamins are integral to body functions and essential for a healthy brain and are richly found in mushrooms. Thiamine (B1), niacin (B3) riboflavin (B2), pantothenic acid (B5), folate (B9) help convert our food into fuel and form red blood cells. Choline is a recently discovered nutrient that is not considered a vitamin or a mineral and is often grouped with vitamin B. Choline helps with memory, muscle movement, fat transport (in fact not enough choline may result in a fat build up in your liver), metabolism, cell messaging, DNA synthesis, cell structure and more. And you guessed it … Mushrooms contain choline.
How good are mushrooms! Do you understand the obsession to slice, dice, chop, grill, sauté, stuff and roast mushrooms? Some days I even ditch the coffee for mushroom powder.
Although they are one of my favourite ‘health foods’ it is our overall eating patterns that are going to impact good health and disease prevention. Therefore ensure that you eat a diet with a variety of whole foods rather than concentrating on a specific food as the answer to good health.
I hope you are feeling inspired to add mushrooms into your day! Add mushrooms to your soups, omelettes, breakfast scrambles, sandwiches, wraps or drinks. Here are the links to three simple, tasty go-to mushroom recipes, Breakfast Veggie Hash, Portobello 'Open Sandwich', and Mushroom Artichoke & Caper Risotto.
What are your thoughts on mushrooms related to health? Share your answer and your favourite mushrooms recipes in the comments below.
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