Five top reasons to eat mushrooms

ee-CPMA-mushroomsAt one time, nutritionally speaking, mushrooms and their exceptionally low caloric content was their only claim to fame. They were a dieter’s best friend as they could fill you up with minimal caloric damage – provided, though, that they weren’t sautéed in a sea of butter or paired with cream in a soup.

But mushrooms are now becoming nutritional superstars as scientists discover their disease-fighting attributes including anti-cancer action, blood sugar stabilizing properties, blood pressure and cholesterol lowering, to name a few.

Mushrooms are one of the exceptions to the suggestion of going for colourful produce to reap assorted nutritional perks. Colourful is one thing mushrooms are not. They may range from almost white to a very dark brown.

An interesting less well known fact about mushrooms is that they’re not actually vegetables. For that matter, they’re not even considered to be part of the plant kingdom.  The mushroom’s biological classification is fungi but most people think of them as vegetables.

And while exotic mushrooms have been better known as offering assorted health benefits, even the ordinary button mushroom is showing itself to be a potent weapon against disease.

Exciting research is showing that these mushrooms may counter hormone-related cancers of the breast and prostate. They not only appear to decrease cell proliferation – the spread of cancer cells – but also how large the tumours may grow as well.

Other mushrooms, including shiitake, are linked to the actual death of breast cancer cells. Maitake mushrooms, a less common fungi, is also being investigated in its role in preventing colon cancer.

Here are some other interesting morsels about mushrooms:

•    At a mere 21 calories for 1 cup of raw button mushrooms, you’ll also consume  B vitamins like  pantothenic acid, niacin and folate along with minerals like potassium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, copper and selenium. In fact, they’re a caloric bargain in terms of  meeting potassium quotas with 305 milligrams per cup compared to the 362 milligrams in  a small banana with its 90 calories. Bananas are frequently the only food many think of when trying to boost their potassium consumption.

•    Mushrooms appear to stimulate the activity of various components of the immune system, including T and B cells, macrophages and natural killer cells. This may be a boon for fighting off ordinary infections but may have real potential during cancer treatment.

•    In a  study conducted in South Korea, scientists found that in study subjects who were undergoing chemotherapy and given a mushroom extract, not only did their immune system function better than those given placebos but that chemotherapy-associated side effects such as appetite, hair loss and general weakness were all improved.

•    Both exotic and button mushrooms contain an antioxidant, ergothioneine. The amounts contained, though, vary by the type of mushrooms with portabella  and crimini mushrooms beating out white ones.  The good news is that these antioxidants are heat stable, meaning that cooked or raw, mushrooms are a super source of antioxidants.

•     Mushrooms offer a variety of heart health perks including blood cholesterol lowering. In research on animals with elevated levels of cholesterol in their blood, mushrooms not only significantly reduced the artery-clogging LDL-cholesterol readings but also triglyceride levels as well.  Human research has shown similar results.

If that’s not enough to make you run out to your green grocers and load up on mushrooms, how about research showing that mushrooms are linked to blood pressure lowering in addition to better blood sugar readings in those with diabetes?

Up next: My favourite mushroom soup recipe

Are you a mushroom eater? What’s your favourite way to prepare them? Please share in the comment section below.

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Categories: Research Roundup, Superfoods, Whole Foods

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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One Comment on “Five top reasons to eat mushrooms”

  1. Pollen & Wax
    May 12, 2013 at 10:00 pm #

    Thanks for posting this! I’ve always loved the tasty umami of mushrooms and it’s very exciting to discover that foods you love are extra healthy…so often it’s the other way around 🙂

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