Mushrooms Have Medicinal As Well As Culinary Value
Sharon Palmer, R.D.
A number of well-known drugs originated in the fungi kingdom, including penicillin, two statins (lovastatin and squalestatin,) and cephalasporin.
Nothing compares to the earthy fragrance and taste of mushrooms freshly sauteed in a bit of olive oil and garlic. But did you know that mushrooms are far more special than their delicious taste suggests? Neither plant nor animal, mushrooms are classified in the kingdom of fungi. But mushrooms are even more unique within the fungi kingdom, because they are the complex fruiting body of the fungal organism.
Just as a tree produces fruit to bear seeds to continue the species, so does a fungal organism produce mushrooms to carry spores to continue its own species. With thousands of mushroom species present in the world, most remain mysterious, as only 10 percent of the species have been identified.
Given their uniqueness, it's not surprising that mushrooms have piqued interest for their potential medicinal value. For thousands of years, people have treasured them for both their rich flavor and therapeutic effects. According to
A number of well-known drugs originated in the fungi kingdom, including penicillin, two statins (lovastatin and squalestatin,) and cephalasporin. And, Ganoderma lucidum (known as the "mushroom of immortality" in
"SUPER" MUSHROOMS FOR HEALTH
Naturally low in calories and fat, mushrooms only contain 18 to 28 calories per three-ounce serving, depending on the variety. What's even more important is what mushrooms contain.
Abrams reports that "In the '60s and '70s, scientists began to isolate special active constituents in mushrooms." These constituents include beta-glucans (sugar molecules), proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, trace elements and naturally-occurring plant compounds like sterols, phenols, and terponoids.
Researchers also point out that mushrooms have a number of bacteria, yeasts and molds that may hold health-promoting promise.
The study of mushrooms' health benefits has focused primarily on their anti-cancer activity, antioxidant action and immune-enhancing benefits. A few studies have looked into other potential benefits, including weight management and satiety, and reduction in levels of blood lipids and glucose. Mushroom beta-glucans may be the secret ingredient, as they appear to have immune-stimulating and cholesterol-lowering effects, as well as anti-cancer activity, according to a
Mushrooms are such a promising food that the healthy aging guru,
MUSHROOMS TAKE ON CANCER
According to Abrams, mushrooms may be especially beneficial in cancer treatment, with some varieties under study for their direct anti-cancer activity, as well as immune-enhancing response in cancer patients.
"Mushrooms are widely used as an adjuvant therapy for cancer in
AN UNLIKELY VITAMIN D SOURCE
Another reason mushrooms are on scientists' radar is because they're an excellent source of today's most buzz-worthy vitamin--vitamin D. Linked with many important health benefits, including maintaining healthy bones, teeth and muscles; cancer prevention, autoimmune disease protection, immune defense and mental health promotion, vitamin D is not easily found in many food sources.
Similar to the way in which humans absorb sunlight through the skin and convert it to vitamin D, mushrooms contain ergosterol that converts to vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Thus, these mushrooms contain high levels of vitamin D from exposure to ultraviolet light under controlled conditions.
For example, portabella mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light contain 387 International Units (97 percent Daily Value) of vitamin D per 84 gram (about three ounces) serving. The most popular mushroom in America, white or button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) contain an abundance of ergosterol, according to an
The Australian research team reported that commercial production of button mushrooms enriched with vitamin D through exposure to sunlight might be a practical approach for improving consumer health. Today, more mushroom growers are exposing their mushrooms to UV light to increase vitamin D levels.
GET COOKING WITH MUSHROOMS
Now that you know how unique they are, why not pop mushrooms into your diet more often? Many cuisines, from European to Indian to Asian, highlight a variety of delectable fungi. While Americans are most familiar with the white variety, there are many other delicious types worth tasting.
Remember that mushroom hunting in the wild is risky business, because many species are poisonous--but don't be afraid to hunt for them in your weekly supermarket or farmers market shopping expeditions.
POPULAR MUSHROOM PICKS
WHITE: The most popular variety in the U.S., this mushroom has a mild taste that blends well with most anything. Saute as a side dish; cook in pizza, pasta, burgers, soups and casseroles, or enjoy raw in salads.
CRIMINI: Similar in appearance to white mushrooms, these have a tan-to-brown cap, firmer texture, and deeper flavor. Slice them into stews, soups, pasta, stuffing, quesadillas, omelets and risottos.
PORTABELLA: A large relative of the crimini, these have tan or brown caps, measure up to six inches across, and have a deep, meaty texture and flavor. Grill, broil and roast them as an entrée (the perfect vegetarian meat alternative), side dish, or appetizer.
ENOKI: These tiny, button-capped mushrooms with long, spindly stems are mild tasting and crunchy. Try them raw in salads and sandwiches, stir them into soups, and stir-fry them with tofu and vegetables.
OYSTER: Delicately flavored with a velvety texture, oyster mushrooms can be gray, pale yellow or blue. Saute them with a small amount of butter and onions to bring out their flavor, or slice into pasta, soups or salads.
MAITAKE: Often called the "Hen of the Woods," this mushroom is fan-shaped with a woodsy taste and aroma. Saute as a side dish or use as an accompaniment for hearty entrees, soups and grain dishes.
SHIITAKE: These tan-to-dark-brown mushrooms have umbrella-shaped caps and curved stems (remove the tough stems for better texture). With a meaty texture and rich flavor, shiitake are excellent in bold stir-fries, pastas, soups, entrees and grain dishes.
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