I love mushrooms, all mushrooms! On one of my Dr. Oz segments I talk about the benefits of Portobello shrooms. I’m not alone. The fungi are popular the world over, and have been used for thousands of years in traditional Asian medicinal practices, as well as cuisines. Perhaps this is because mushrooms add a sense of “umami,” one of the five basic tastes along with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Best defined as “savoriness,” many people seek umami flavors in their foods because it creates a sense of gustatory satisfaction. Umami comes from glutamate, which occurs naturally in many foods including meat, fermented products, mushrooms, and aged foods. Glutamate is also the main ingredient in MSG, which people add to foods to enhance flavors. Unfortunately, glutamate in MSG serves as an excitotoxin that excites neurological cells to the point of death. When glutamate occurs in its natural form in foods, however, it is a beneficial amino acid important for learning and memory.
Health Benefits of Mushrooms
Mushrooms may be a humble fungus, but all-around they are surprisingly nutritious! They retain many of their nutrients even when cooked, so you don’t have to always eat them raw. They are low in calories and contain high levels of selenium, riboflavin, copper, niacin, tryptophan, pantothenic acid, potassium, phosphorous, zinc, manganese, thiamin, pyridoxine, and folate. They also contain iron, calcium, fiber, and magnesium in smaller amounts. A recent study1 even showed that mushrooms exposed to UVB light are rich in vitamin D (although these mushrooms have not yet received FDA approval or been placed on the market).
Reduced Risk of Breast Cancer
Findings from a study2 performed in China in 2009 showed that women consuming at least 1/3 ounce of fresh mushrooms daily had a 64 percent decreased likelihood of developing breast tumors. According to the California Breast Cancer Research Program3, this benefit arises from the presence of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is an aromatase inhibitor, as well as phytochemicals, which have anti-aromatase action. Aromatase is essential in estrogen biosynthesis, and excess estrogen production is present in the growth of breast and ovarian tumors. In fact, physicians prescribe aromatase inhibitor medications to post-menopausal women to ward off breast and ovarian cancer. Mushrooms contain this compound naturally.
Improved Immune Function
Mushrooms may also boost the immune system, according to a 2009 Arizona State University rodent study4. In a paper published in the peer-reviewed journal, BMC Immunology, researchers from Arizona State and Penn State described adding mushrooms to the diets of mice. Those rodents with a compromised immune system responded to the presence of mushrooms, better fighting off inflammation and protecting them from further illness.
Healthy Blood Lipids
Mushrooms are low in fat and high in vegetable protein and fiber. This may help control blood lipid profiles and ward off heart disease.
Low Effect on Blood Sugar
Mushrooms are low in carbohydrates and have a negligible effect on blood glucose. Controlling blood sugar can ward of type 2 diabetes, help control weight, and control symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
Mushrooms contain antioxidants, including ergothioneine5, which protects cells, fights against oxidative damage, slows aging, and protects health.
Inflammation has been linked to chronic disease, autoimmune disorders, pain, heart attack, and stroke. Mushrooms intake blocks function of pro-inflammatories that contribute to inflammation in the body.
Along with anti-inflammatory properties, mushrooms also contain significant levels of B vitamins. This can provide a protective benefit to the heart and cardiovascular system, reducing risk of heart attack and stroke.
Protection for Moms-to-Be
Mushrooms also contain folate, which is essential for women planning on getting pregnant or in early stages of pregnancy. Folate (or folic acid) prevents neural tube defects in developing fetuses.
All About Mushrooms
In order to maximize the nutrition of your shrooms, consider the following:
1. Many mushrooms (and there are thousands of varieties) are poisonous. That’s why it is best to stick with store-bought mushrooms rather than attempting to forage them for yourself.
2. Store mushrooms in a paper bag in the refrigerator. This protects the vitamin and phytonutrient contents, keeping them healthy and delicious.
3. Use a mushroom brush or paper towel to gently wipe away any dirt and debris.
4. Enjoy mushrooms raw, roast them, or lightly sauté them with garlic and a little vegetable broth or coconut oil. Because mushrooms don’t lose phytonutrients with cooking, there is no need to keep them raw to make them healthy.
5. Some people may be allergic or sensitive to mushrooms. Some believe they may also contribute to yeast overgrowth if you have a problem. If you suspect you are sensitive to mushrooms, then try eliminating them and then, after a few weeks, eating them once to see what reactions you have.
6. Mushrooms do contain purines, so if you have gout or kidney stones, you may want to avoid them.
What types of mushrooms should you try? Here are just a few of the many healthful varieties.
Shiitake mushrooms originated in China, and are commonly found in Chinese cuisine. They contain all eight essential amino acids, giving you a healthy boost of protein. They are also rich in iron, which keeps your blood healthy and oxygenated. The mushrooms are also high in fiber and low in calories, which can support weight loss. Check out my Medicinal Marinade with Shiitake and Burdock Root.
A Swedish study showed that shiitake mushrooms contain eritadenine, which reduces cholesterol in the blood. These mushrooms also contain lentinan, an immune booster and virus inhibitor that may be more powerful than certain prescription medicines. Eating shiitake mushrooms can help you fight any kind of virus, from influenza to HIV. Studies also show that lentinan promotes anti-cancer activities, keeping cancerous cells from proliferating.
Crimini, Button and Portobello
These mushrooms all come from the same family. They are low in calories and high in B vitamins. They also contain significant protein, in fact, about 1/3 of the calories in them comes from protein. Nutrients include copper, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, selenium, iron, magnesium, and vitamins C, D, and B.
Studies have also showed that these types of mushrooms are rich in ergothioneine, a powerful antioxidant that fights cellular destruction due to oxidative stress, as well as diseases like cancer.
A study published in the June 2007 Journal of Nutrition showed that eating button mushrooms increased killer t-cells, which fight pathogens as part of the immune system. A Penn State report also stated that the mushrooms may be effective for treating certain cancers, including prostate, colon, and breast cancers. In fact, according to the report, just ½ cup per day of button mushrooms can stop the growth of tumors.
Unlike other plant foods, cooking does not destroy the antioxidant levels in mushrooms, so you can lightly sauté them and still get great health benefits.
These mushrooms are high in potassium and niacin. Niacin may help reduce cholesterol levels naturally.
These delicate white mushrooms lower cholesterol and contain anti-cancer compounds.
Orange in color with a nutty flavor, chanterelles contain vitamin D, selenium, and copper, as well as beneficial fiber.
While difficult to find, these mushrooms are a good source of niacin, protein, and selenium. Try them dried and reconstitute them with a little warm water.
These lacy mushrooms cannot be eaten raw, because they contain toxins that may cause gastrointestinal upset. Cook them, and you’ll get copper, selenium, and vitamin E.
These mushrooms are used in Chinese medicine for lung and liver health.
The name “maitake” means “dancing for joy,” a name the ancient Japanese culture gave the mushrooms because they danced for joy when they saw them! Maitakes have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for more than 3,000 years. Modern research began in the 1980s in Japan, but has recently spread to North America. Research has been encouraging, suggesting these ruffled mushrooms enhance immune function, reduce blood sugar and blood pressure, encourage weight loss, and prevent and fight cancer. The mushroom’s anti cancer properties occur because they contain substances that increase cell production and activity.
What makes maitakes so healthy? Most of the benefits seem to come from beta-glucan, a polysaccharide that activates immune boosting cells like micphages and T-cells. Other health benefits of maitake mushrooms include being a good source of minerals like potassium and calcium, as well as B vitamins.
Studies into maitake mushrooms remain ongoing, including an early study at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center into the effects of beta glucan on certain cancer drugs.
These mushrooms have been used in Chinese medicine for more than 3,000 years. They have tumor inhibiting properties.
Truffles (the shroom, not the chocolate!)
These delicacies are high in protein, and contain magnesium, calcium, and potassium.
If mushrooms aren’t part of your diet, give them a try. They not only add delicious flavor, but the are chock full of the benefits that will keep you healthy.