Mushrooms are rich in antioxidants that help the body fight free-radical damage and oxidative stress, and are without a doubt some of the most powerful natural medicines on the planet.
Multiple studies have shown them to be jam-packed with soluble fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are also incredibly versatile in cooking and are fat-free, low-calorie, low-sodium, and cholesterol-free. What more could you ask for!
Antioxidant Benefits of Mushrooms
A recent study was done on mushrooms by a team of the Penn State along with Professor Robert Beelman, a professor of food and science, and director of the Penn State Center for Plant and Mushroom products for health.
Their research found that mushrooms contain high amounts of antioxidants. In particular, two important types, ergothioneine, and glutathione – known to help neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
While the amounts of these compounds vary depending on the mushroom species, their study suggests that mushrooms are an excellent dietary source of these 2 very important antioxidants.
During their research, they found Porcini mushrooms to contain some of the highest amounts. While the more common button mushroom variety had less, it still contained high amounts compared to other food sources.
Nutritional Properties of Mushrooms
Along with the powerful antioxidants that mushrooms contain, they also have many other nutritional properties. Such as:
A type of soluble fiber that has been linked to boosting heart health and improving cholesterol. Oyster and shiitake mushrooms are particularly beneficial. Beta glucan can also help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by regulating the blood sugar.
A mineral and electrolyte that is important for the body’s metabolism. It also plays a significant role in muscle contractions, nerve pulses and heart function.
Pantothenic acid, niacin, riboflavin are the all-important B vitamins the body needs to help protect heart health and red blood cell. B vitamins keep our bodies running like a well-oiled machine, keeping our digestive system working properly, and converting food into fuel. They keep us energized during the day and help us maintain healthy skin.
Other studies have been done on one of the active medicinal compounds found in Cordyceps – a type of fungus related to mushrooms.
Cordyceps are considered to be “exotic” healers, acting as a natural cancer treatment. They are a type of parasite that grows on the back of caterpillars that live in the highest mountain regions of the world such as in the Himalayas in China.
Along with being a potent cancer drug, Cordyceps contains anti-inflammatory properties that may be helpful for those suffering from stroke damage, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.
What Types of Mushrooms Are the Best to Buy?
If you’re a mushroom lover your options are plentiful, from Portobello, Shitake, Porcini, Oyster, or White buttons, to name just a few.
The jury is still out on how many species of mushrooms there are in existence around the world. However, what we do know is that there are about 10,000 variations in North America alone. About 100 species have been studied for their health benefits.
It’s important to note that not all types are safe for consumption, as around 50-100 species found in North America are considered toxic. Foragers, be very careful when out collecting mushrooms – eating a poisonous one could land you in the hospital!
Since mushrooms are so porous, another very important factor to consider when sourcing them is to eat organically grown mushrooms as much as possible. They have the tendency to absorb everything good and bad, including water pollutants, heavy metals, and pesticides that are spread on them.
With such a variety of mushroom species on the market that are safe for our consumption, so comes a considerable variation when it comes to price. The more common type of mushroom is the button variety, it’s found pretty much everywhere and is relatively inexpensive.
Then you have the tasty Porcini mushroom known for it’s rich, nutty flavor, but also, it’s hefty price. In this case, purchasing Porcini in dried form is an excellent idea as it can be more cost-effective, and stores well in the cupboard especially for the months when they’re not in season.
How to Eat Mushrooms
Mushrooms are incredibly versatile and delicious in a variety of dishes served at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And the good news is that mushrooms retain most their important antioxidants and nutrients even after being cooked.
If you’re vegan or vegetarian you’re probably already familiar with the Portobello “burger” or “steak.” And if you’re not, why not add them to your Meatless Monday menu.
There are so many ways to prepare mushrooms, you can slice them up and add them to soups, casseroles, wraps or scrambled eggs. Or toss them into a fresh salad, sauté them, pop them on the grill, or throw them into a Sunday roast.