Mushroom Magic.

Mushrooms have been under-appreciated. I was an “under-appreciater” for years – ‘didn’t like their consistency or something. Now they are favorites everywhere!

As mushrooms have become more noticed and appreciated in both the culinary world and medical worlds, I have come to respect them more and enjoy eating them.

Although considered a vegetable, mushrooms are neither a plant nor animal food. They are a type of fungus that contains a substance called ergosterol, which can be transformed into vitamin D with exposure to ultraviolet light.

Long before science became aware of the actual benefits of mushrooms, traditional and folk medicine practitioners knew that they were healing and cleansing. All of the many varieties of mushrooms are low in calories, sodium, fat and cholesterol free and contain modest amounts of fiber, and a host of valuable nutrients.

Nutritional Benefits

Antioxidants help protect the body from damaging free radicals that can cause conditions like heart disease and cancer. They also provide protection from damage from aging and boost the immune system.  Mushrooms are rich in the anti-oxidant selenium.

Beta glucan is a form of soluble dietary that has been strongly linked to improving cholesterol and boosting heart health.  It can also help your body regulate blood sugar, reducing the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Oyster and shitake mushrooms are believed to have the most effective beta glucans.

B vitamins – riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic combine to help protect heart health.  Riboflavin is good for red blood cells. Niacin is good for the digestive system and for maintaining healthy skin. Pantothenic acid is good for the nervous system and helps the body to make the hormones it needs. Mushrooms are rich in these vitamins.

Copper helps the body make red blood cells, which deliver oxygen all over the body.  This mineral is also important to other body processes, such as maintaining healthy bones and nerves. Even after cooking, a 1 cup serving of mushrooms can provide about one-third of the daily recommended amount of copper.

Potassium is very important in heart, muscle, and nerve function.  There is about as much potassium in 2/3 cup of Portobello mushroom as there is in a medium-sized banana.

Mushrooms come in a variety of appearances among their more than 10,000 types, but are usually recognized by a stem, fleshy rounded cap, with gills underneath the cap.

Some are better known for their medicinal properties, and more is being learned in this regard almost daily. They are known to lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, encourage weight loss, and reduce the risk of hypertension.

For example:

  • Chaga – for immune function and antioxicant properties. See more about them here
  • Lion’ Mane – an all-natural cognitive enhancer shown to support memory and concentration
  • Reishi – a relaxation and sleep aid
  • Cordyceps – an adaptogen, not a stimulant. It helps to produce and maintain steady energy levels.

Culinary Treasures

Other varieties are better known for their taste, texture, or color in recipes, and are also nutrient-dense. Chefs recognize their ability to create savory rich flavors called umami.

Experiment with these:

  • Button – the most common and mildest tasting mushroom in the U.S.
  • Cremini (baby bells) – a young Portobello mushroom that is dark and firm
  • Enoki – long, thin white stems with small white caps
  • Maitake – a head that resembles flowering leaves
  • Morel – the cap is a spongy dimpled oblong shape
  • Oyster – a fan-shaped delicate cap
  • Porcini – a reddish-brown rounded cap with a thick cylindrical stem
  • Portobello – a large brown thick cap with rich juicy flavor that can be used as a meat substitute
  • Shiitake:- a dark brown umbrella cap with a thin, cram-colored stem.
  • Mushrooms that have been specially treated with UV light may carry a label on the front of the package noting “UV-treated” or “rich in vitamin D,” or display the exact amount of vitamin D they contain.

Enjoying Mushrooms

Make sure the mushrooms feel firm and are not moist to the touch when you buy them. They should be mold-free. They can be stored in a paper bag in the refrigerator for about five days. Brush off the dirt and rinse them lightly when you’re ready to use them.

If you’re already a fan of mushrooms, increase your nutrient profile by trying some new varieties.  If you, like I was, are “working to like them,” just begin.  Add a few to a salad or sauce, and experiment with the varieties.  There’s a mushroom for everyone!

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