Why Your Favorite Fungi Is Fabulous

In case you didn’t know, April 16 is National Day of the Mushroom making it a great time to talk about them.   Of course the best way to celebrate is not only including mushrooms in your food choices, but also becoming more familiar with why your favorite fungi is quite healthy. 

Mushroom folklore

Over 4600 years ago, mushrooms were revered as a plant of immortality by the ancient Egyptians.  Commoners were not allowed to even touch mushrooms as the pharaohs of Egypt decreed it as a food only for royalty.  Other areas and cultures around the world believed mushrooms possessed characteristics of helping to find lost objects, infusingpeople with super-human strength and ultimately leading the soul to the realm of the gods. 

Later on, France appears to be the first country to formally cultivate mushrooms and it is believed Louis XIV was the first to grow them. Today mushrooms are grown commercially in every state in the United States with Pennsylvania leading the pack at 61% of total U.S. production. 

Mushrooms’ nutritional overview

Often categorized as a vegetable since they have a similar nutritional profile as produce, mushrooms are actually a fungi.  

If the thought of eating fungi is not very appetizing, try to focus on mushrooms’ impressive nutritional offerings.  Naturally low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free, and low in sodium – what more is there to ask for?

Starting with the B vitamins, mushrooms are considered a good source.  The B vitamins aid in breaking down and releasing the energy found in protein, carbohydrates and fat.  Pantothenic acid is a B vitamin mushrooms contain helping with the production of hormones and has a role in the nervous system.  Two other B vitamins found in mushrooms are riboflavin helping to maintain healthy red blood cells and niacin which promotes healthy skin. 

Mushrooms are one of the few natural food sources of vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin.  Like humans, mushrooms naturally produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight or a sunlamp.  In humans, cholesterol helps us make vitamin D.  In mushrooms, a plant sterol called ergosterol, is converted to vitamin D when exposed to light.  As little as five minutes of ultraviolet (UV) light can produce quite a bit of vitamin D, making mushrooms a significant source of it for vegetarians and others who don’t drink milk which is fortified with vitamin D.  All mushrooms contain vitamin D but growers can manipulate the levels of vitamin D found in mushrooms by the exposure to UV light. 

A mineral mushrooms are particularly rich in is selenium providing 8-22 mcg per serving, making mushrooms one of the best sources of it in the produce aisle.   Selenium works as an antioxidant protecting body cells from damage that could lead to heart disease, some cancers, and other diseases of aging.  In addition, it keeps the immune systemhealthy and is good for fertility in men. 

Potassium is another mineral found in mushrooms  important in maintaining the fluid and electrolyte balance and helps control blood pressure.

Mushrooms also contain the mineral copper.  Copper is necessary for making red blood cells, carrying oxygen throughout the body and helps keeps bones and nerves healthy.

The antioxidant ergothioneine is abundantly foundin mushrooms and very few other fruits or vegetables have it.  We do not make ergothioneine and it can only be obtained from the diet.  This antioxidant appears to protect blood cells that transport nutrients and oxygen to body cells.  In addition, it also protects your artery lining from atherosclerosis.

Varieties of mushrooms

·         White Button

The most popular mushroom representing about 90% of mushrooms consumed in the United States.  This mushroom has about 300 mg of potassiumand 2.8 mg of the antioxidant ergothioneine and 15 IU of vitamin D.

·         Crimini

Similar in appearance to the white buttons, they are also known as baby “belles” or browns.  They are an excellent source of the antioxidant selenium and contains 4.9 mg of ergothioneine.

·         Portabella

A relative of criminis, portabellas canmeasure up to 6 inches in diameter.  Portabellas are an excellent source of the B vitamin riboflavin and a good source of potassium, phosphorus and pantothenic acid.  They contain 4.3 mg of ergothioneine.

·         Maitake

This unusual looking mushroomhas a rippling, fan-shaped appearance without caps.  They are nicknamed “Hen of the woods.”  These mushrooms provide a good source of selenium, riboflavin, niacin, and copper. 

·         Shiitake

These tan to dark brown mushrooms have a broad, umbrella-shaped cap.  They are an excellent source of selenium, and a very good source of niacin, riboflavin and copper.

·         Enoki

Another unusual looking fungi, enoki mushrooms have tiny, button-shaped caps with long spindly stems.  This mushroom is an excellent source of potassium of more than 300 mg.

·         Oyster

This smooth, trumpet shapedmushroomhas over 2 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein and is a good source of riboflavin, niacin, and copper. 

·         Wild mushrooms

   Whether morels, truffles, or chanterelles, wild mushroomlovers can have a heyday searching high and low for their favorite one.  But, beware – there are thousands of inedible and poisonous wild mushrooms to stay away from.  Seek the guidance of a trained mycologist who is a mushroom expert.  Better yet, purchase commercially grown mushrooms or the wild varieties from a reputable source. 

 Make room for mushrooms 

If you don’t already, make mushrooms a regular part of your diet.  This fungi offers so many health benefits from lowering risk of gout, protects heart health, boosts the immune system, aids in weight loss, lowers cancer risk and is great for skin and hair. 

Experiment with different recipes and flavors by visiting the power of mushrooms website for delicious and nutritious ideas on having fun with fungi. Those of you who are fungi fanatics, here is information on the National Morel Mushroom Festival where your search for mushrooms is just beginning.