Is your diet writing checks that your body can’t cash? Remember our discussion about making subtle changes to your diet over time – to the reduced calorie and lower fat options? Maybe you should consider this healthy superfood alternative – Mushrooms. I know most people are aware that mushrooms provide adequate shelter from the sun – at least this is what is depicted in most episodes of The Smurfs that I watched as a kid – however, mushrooms also seem to be the ‘fabulous fungus’ that lots of people seem to neglect from their nutritional plan.
Now when I say mushrooms, I’m not talking about the poisonous mushrooms that may be located in your backyard. These types of mushrooms can be poisonous (also known as mycetism), and refers to harmful effects from ingestion of toxic substances present in a mushroom. I’m talking about the edible mushrooms, which are very nutritious and offer numerous health benefits and provide a meaty flavor and earthy texture to everything from pizza to salads. In addition, these edible delicacies aren’t calorie dense at all – at a whopping 6 calories (on average), for a whole mushroom or roughly 20 calories for a cup of diced mushrooms, you can pour these enticing morsels over any entree without having to worry about your waistline – in fact, they have the added value of making you feel fuller – quicker.
Confusing as it may be and an unusual item among our many different food sources, the mushroom is a fungus, not a plant. This means that it grows from a spore, usually in the dirt or on decaying plant material, such as a log. While it may sound strange, we’re actually more closely related to fungi than we are to any other kingdom, as we share the same pathogens of bacteria and viruses.
Often grouped with vegetables because of their caloric inadequacies, mushrooms provide many of the nutritional attributes of produce, as well as properties more normally found in meat, beans, or grains. Not only are mushrooms low in calories, they’re also fat-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free, and very low in sodium, yet they provide essential nutrients, including: selenium, (a powerful antioxidant that I will discuss in a future article), potassium, riboflavin, niacin, copper, phosphorus, vitamin C and iron. In addition, mushrooms are responsible for providing your daily dose of vitamin B, which is beneficial for converting food into energy, and it is also the only vegetable (still in the fungal category), to contain Vitamin D; imagine that. Vitamin D is the vitamin most lacked in the average American diet yet it plays an active role in the immune system.
Speaking of the immune system and the popular medical conditions that we experience here in the U.S. – beta-glucan and anti-inflammatory powers present in mushrooms provides protection against the common cold, flu and other viruses. The reishi mushroom was found to improve recovery time in herpes patients which may exert it’s antiviral effects by interfering with the attachment of viruses to host cells. Shiitake, portobello, oyster and reishi mushrooms all contain a polysaccharide molecule called ‘lentinan‘ that stimulates production of interferon, which promotes immune function by increasing the production of antiviral and other proteins that are released by cells while they are trying to protect and repair the body’s tissues.
According to the “How Stuff Works” Science blog – some mushrooms are famous for more than their taste and nutritional attributes. Also known as: ‘magic mushrooms,’ shrooms, mushies, psychedelic mushrooms, psychotropic mushrooms or psilocybin – these mushrooms offer a euphoric property that may cause differences in mood, perception and behaviors.
Mushrooms contain some of the most potent natural medicines on the planet. Of the 140,000 species of mushroom-forming fungi, science is familiar with roughly 10 percent. About 100 species of mushrooms are being studied for their health-promoting benefits. Of those hundred, about a half dozen really stand out for their ability to deliver a tremendous boost to your immune system.
‘Naturally’ – it’s important to eat only organically grown mushrooms because they absorb and concentrate whatever they grow in – good OR bad. This is what gives mushrooms their potency. Mushrooms are known to concentrate heavy metals, as well as air and water pollutants, so healthy growing conditions is a critical factor.
In addition to building a stronger immune system, mushrooms are being credited for their cancer fighting properties as well. For example, white button mushrooms such as crimini, commonly found in grocery stores and salad bars, help to remove excess estrogen from spreading, thus making them helpful for the prevention of breast cancer, or for bodybuilders that may have accumulated excess estrogen.
While white mushrooms are good for weight loss and prostate cancer prevention, (includes the button mushroom, cremini and the portobello), the white mushroom has a special carbohydrate that keeps the metabolism revved up and maintains blood sugar levels. As you know, a stronger metabolism means more burned fat, even while at rest. And if you’re predisposed to tumors, shiitake mushrooms can assist you in that battle. These flavorful yet meaty mushrooms contain lentinan which is a natural anti-tumor compound, also referenced above for it’s immune strengthening abilities.
Mushrooms are also a good source of fiber, more particular, chitin and beta-glucan, fibers that lower cholesterol and improve cardiovascular health. Latest research has found that pink oyster mushrooms assist in reducing total cholesterol, triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol and prevented arterial plaque formation. Further studies also indicated a compound in shiitake mushrooms, called critadenine, helps the liver process cholesterol.
According to “Men’s Journal” – maitake mushrooms assist with the spread of breast cancer – a half of a cup per day of maitake mushrooms is said to be able to sweep the system, find abnormal cells and cause them to self-destruct. On a slightly different note, ‘oyster mushrooms’ are being studied as a possible defense against HIV. Due to its high anti-oxidant compounds, these mushrooms can be a life saving ingredient. Lastly, the ‘porcini mushroom’ is used for anti-Inflammation. This is a meaty mushroom similar to the portabello has been used as a successful anti-inflammatory. It contains the compound ergosterol which is capable of cytotoxicity which is the process of attacking enemy cells.
Since I’ve taken a moment of my time to conduct extensive research on the topic of mushrooms, I’ve been enlightened enough to change my perspective of them completely and plan to adopt them into my list of things to buy while at the store. As a kid, I remember taking them off of my pizza because they just didn’t seem to go together, and they didn’t seem to taste well with cool whip either. I know I may be able to get most of the nutritional properties from a multivitamin however all the cancer causing benefits that are also associated with mushrooms would be neglected. This presents an obvious dilemma….hmmmm, what to do? I know, I’ll dice them up and put them in my next chicken salad smothered in some sort of low fat dressing and convince myself that I won’t taste them that way and I’ll be a lean – mean – mushroom – eating machine; there problem solved.