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September is National Mushroom Month. Many recipes I prepare call for mushrooms. But rarely do I think to include them in favorites that don’t list them among the recipe ingredients. That’s a mistake. Mushrooms are beneficial in many ways and can be a part of any healthy diet.

In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, rats fed a high-fat diet showed fewer signs of atherosclerosis when researchers added portabella and shiitake mushrooms. Future studies may determine if the effect proves true in humans.

Mushrooms contain the minerals, selenium, potassium, copper, iron, and phosphorus. Some reasons to include them in the diet are because they 1) have high concentrations of the antioxidants ergothioneine and glutathione which protect cells, 2) may have some preventive effect on the neurological diseases Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, 3) may boost memory and reduce mild cognitive decline, 4) improve heart health by substituting for portions of red meats, 5) strengthen bones by converting ergosterol into vitamin D when skin is exposed to sunlight, and 6) increase energy because of rich amounts of B-vitamins which help cells convert glucose into energy.

Benefits may go beyond these assets. Mushrooms can be used freely in many dishes because of texture and flavor. But they are so much more because they are:

  • low in calories
  • fat-free and therefore cholesterol-free
  • gluten-free
  • low in sodium

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Mushrooms are fungi, but their characteristic nutrient content qualifies them to be categorized along with vegetables. The Mushroom Council states that they are wholesome, enjoyable foods that can help fill a void when we fail to eat enough vegetables.

Proponents of including mushrooms in the next Dietary Guidelines for Americans point out advantages because of their properties. These advocates support the concept of “The Blend,” the addition of mushrooms to dishes such as hamburger. Mushrooms enhance flavors due to their distinctive natural unami, and they create a more nutritious product. Such mixtures lower dietary fat and adds vegetable equivalents to the diet, especially significant for school children. Mushrooms can be a healthy asset and improve flavor in sauces, egg dishes (scrambled, omelets, quiche), salads, and meat mixtures (meatloaf, chili, burgers, etc.).

While mushrooms supply numerous nutrients for a healthy body, they are not a panacea. Studies on animals and insects look promising, but it is not a given those results will work in humans. Enjoy them for what they are ─ a delightful food to add for a healthy and tasty diet.

 

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