Mushrooms are fungi consisting of a fleshy, spore-bearing, fruiting body. Besides adding wonderfully earthy and meaty flavors to food, mushrooms also contain essential nutrients. They are a great source of phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and selenium — minerals often lacking in our diets. In addition, mushrooms contain virtually no fat or cholesterol, are an excellent source of protein and fiber, and are naturally low in sodium. Often grouped with vegetables, mushrooms provide many of the nutritional attributes of produce, as well as those more commonly found in meat, beans, or grains.
All mushrooms are a rich source of umami (pronounced oo-MAH-mee), recognized as the fifth basic taste after sweet, salt, bitter, and sour. In fact, the darker the mushroom, the more umami it has. From the Japanese word umai, meaning “delicious,” it describes a savory, broth-like, rich, or meaty flavor. It’s a satisfyingly deep, complex flavor, balancing savory notes with a full-bodied texture and distinctive aroma. For those on sodium-restricted diets, umami counterbalances salty flavors, allowing less salt to be used in a dish without compromising its flavor.
Since time immemorial, mushrooms have been valued not just for eating, but also for medicinal purposes. Pharaohs enjoyed mushrooms as a delicacy; Greeks believed they brought strength; and Chinese and Japanese cultures have recognized mushrooms’ health benefits for thousands of years. Of the more than 14,000 types of mushrooms in the world, out of which about 3,000 are edible, about 700 have known medicinal properties. Approximately 1,400 are poisonous to humans, so always source your mushrooms from a reliable vendor.
Mushrooms are full of vitamins, including vitamins B (important role to the nervous system) and D, riboflavin (for healthy blood), niacin (for healthy skin and digestion), and pantothenic acid. Pantothenic acid breaks down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, and helps with hormone production.
Some of the important minerals found in mushrooms include the following:
Selenium – this mineral works as an antioxidant. Antioxidants like selenium protect cells from damage that can lead to chronic diseases, including heart disease. It’s also important for the immune system and men’s fertility. Many animal-based foods and grains are good sources of selenium; but for vegetarians, mushrooms are among the richest sources in the produce aisle, providing 8 to 22 mcg per cup.
Ergothioneine – a naturally occurring antioxidant that helps protect the body’s cells. White, portabella, or crimini mushrooms provide 2.8 to 4.9 mg of ergothioneine per cup.
Copper – helps red blood cell production, keeps bones, nerves, and heart healthy. A cup of mushrooms provides about 20% to 40% of the RDA’s daily value.
Potassium – aids in maintaining normal fluid and mineral balances, which help control blood pressure. It helps nerves and muscles — especially heart muscle — function properly. Mushrooms have more potassium than bananas, 98 to 376 mg of potassium per half cup, which is 3% to 11% of the RDA’s daily value.
Beta-glucans – found in numerous mushroom species, this stimulates the immune system, contributes to allergy resistance, helps fight AIDS and infection, and helps with the metabolism of fats and sugars. The beta-glucans found in oyster, shiitake, and split-gill mushrooms are considered to be the most effective.
Mushrooms may be a cancer-fighting powerhouse of nutrients. Scientists have found a potential link between mushrooms and decreased tumor growth in cells and animals. Researchers now plan to begin human clinical trials to establish whether mushrooms act as aromatase inhibitors in women. White button mushrooms have been found to restrict the activity of aromatase (an enzyme involved in estrogen production), and 5-alpha-reductase (an enzyme that converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone, a major cause of hair loss). Research has suggested that white button mushrooms can reduce the risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer. Oyster mushrooms are useful in strengthening veins and relaxing tendons. While it’s too early to state conclusively, hopefully credible science-based studies that tie mushroom intake with decreased cancer risk (among other health benefits) will be published in the near future.
The kilt-wearing mushroom vendor at my farmer’s market also sells spores of various strains to grow in one’s own basement. The most beneficial types include shiitake, maitake, reishi, and cordyceps. Available in most health-food stores, mushroom extracts help stop migraine headaches (in addition to a number of other benefits), and can help with mental illnesses such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. We keep a bottle of Fungi Perfecti’s CordyChi (cordyceps and reishi) in our refrigerator just for headaches. Tablets and extracts are also readily available online. iHerb.com is a great source to check out.
Mushroom Lasagna from Sunny Yoga Kitchen
1 tbs olive oil
1 large garlic clove, grated
1 tsp minced hot pepper
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tbs tomato puree
1/2 cup water
1 brown sugar
Salt & pepper to taste
2 tbs fresh basil, minced
Heat oil in a skillet and sauté garlic and hot pepper for 5 minutes on low heat. Add tomatoes, puree, water, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes while covered.
1/2 package no cook lasagna noodles
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 cup zucchini, diced
1 tbs canola oil
1/4 cup chives & garlic flavored cream cheese
Preheat oven to F400.
Heat oil in a skillet on medium heat and sauté mushrooms, until lightly browned. Add zucchini and sauté for a few minutes. Remove from heat and add cream cheese and let it melt and blend with mushroom and zucchinis. Place Lasagna sheet in bottom of a baking dish. Spread the mushroom blend on top, then another lasagna sheet on top of that. Pour the tomato sauce over everything. Cook in oven for about 40 -50 minutes or until pasta is soft.