The goodness of mushrooms

April 6, 2008

Mention “mushrooms” and what comes to mind? Their fabulous taste and texture? Well there’s more to mushrooms than the pleasure of sitting down to a meaty Portabella sandwich, a mixed-mushroom omelet or a steak topped with sautéed white mushrooms. These oh-so-edible fungi also deserve attention for their unique contributions to a healthful diet.

Often grouped with vegetables, mushrooms provide many of the nutritional attributes of produce, as well as attributes more commonly found in meat, beans or grains. Mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free and very low in sodium, yet they provide several nutrients, including riboflavin, niacin and selenium, which are typically found in animal foods or grains.

Mushrooms are the only natural fresh vegetable or fruit with vitamin D; a serving of 4-5 white button mushrooms provides 15 IU. Preliminary research suggests that the ultraviolet light found in sunlight may boost levels of vitamin D in mushrooms. The natural process of “enriching” mushrooms by briefly exposing mushrooms grown in the dark to light for 5 minutes may boost existing vitamin D levels from 15 IU (4 percent of Daily Value) to as much as 100 percent of the Daily Value (400 IU).

For thousands of years, Eastern cultures have revered mushrooms’ health benefits. Studies conducted over the past two decades—mostly in Asia—have suggested mushrooms or substances in mushrooms may aid the immune system.

Minerals in mushrooms

The focus on the nutritional value of brightly colored fruits and vegetables has unintentionally left mushrooms in the dark. Mushrooms provide a similar number of nutrients as brightly colored fruits and vegetables.

  • Selenium is a mineral that works as an antioxidant to protect body cells from damage that might lead to heart disease, some cancers and other diseases of aging. It also has been found to be important for the immune system and fertility in men. Many foods of animal origin and grains are good sources of selenium, but mushrooms are among the richest sources of selenium in the produce aisle and provide 8-22 mcg per serving. This is good news for vegetarians, whose sources of selenium are limited.
  • Ergothioneine is a naturally occurring antioxidant that also may help protect the body’s cells. Mushrooms provide 2.8-4.9 mg of ergothioneine per serving of white, portabella or crimini mushrooms.
  • Copper helps make red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. Copper also helps keep bones and nerves healthy.
  • Potassium is an important mineral many people do not get enough of. It aids in the maintenance of normal fluid and mineral balance, which helps control blood pressure. It also plays a role in making sure nerves and muscles, including the heart, function properly. Mushrooms have 267- 407 mg of potassium per serving, which is 9 percent of the Daily Value.

Vitamins in mushrooms

Mushrooms are one of the few natural sources of vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bones and teeth. One serving of 4-5 mushrooms provides 15 IU of this important nutrient, which many people do not get enough of. Factors affecting your vitamin D intake include your age, skin color, where you live and whether you use sunscreen or not.

Mushrooms are also a good source of the B vitamins riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3) and pantothenic acid (B5). These vitamins help break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates so they can be used for energy.

Mushrooms can be an important source of B-vitamins for people who don’t eat meat. One serving of crimini mushrooms provides nearly one-quarter of the Daily Value for riboflavin, and mushrooms are one of the best plant-based sources of niacin around.

  • Pantothenic acid helps with the production of hormones and also plays an important role in the nervous system.
  • Riboflavin helps maintain healthy red blood cells.
  • Niacin promotes healthy skin and makes sure the digestive and nervous systems function properly.

Mushroom How-tos

How to Select:

  • Purchase mushrooms that are firm with a fresh, smooth appearance
  • Surfaces should be dry, but not dried out, and appear plump
  • A closed veil under the cap indicates a delicate flavor, while an open veil and exposed gills mean a richer flavor

How to Store:

  • Mushrooms keep for up to a week in the refrigerator
  • Keep mushrooms in original packaging until ready to use
  • Once opened, store mushrooms in a porous paper bag for a prolonged shelf-life
  • Avoid storing in airtight containers—they cause condensation, which quickens spoilage
  • Fresh mushrooms should never be frozen, but frozen sautéed mushrooms will keep for up to one month

How to Clean:

  • Brush off any dirt with a damp paper towel or fingers
  • Rinse fresh mushrooms only briefly under running water and pat dry with a paper towel. Never soak them, as they absorb moisture
  • Trim the end of the stem before using

How to Sauté:

Sautéing is an easy way to cook whole, sliced, chopped or halved mushrooms. Follow these steps:

Brush pan with oil or butter and heat on high. Add a single layer of mushrooms; turn once when mushrooms become red-brown on one side. Cook until other side turns the same color, remove from heat and season to taste

How to Roast:

Preheat oven to 450°. Brush mushrooms with oil and place on a shallow baking pan in oven, stirring occasionally until brown, about 20 minutes. Use about one tablespoon of oil for each eight ounces of mushrooms

How to Grill or Broil:

Grilling or broiling is preferable for larger-capped mushrooms, like Portabellas and shiitakes. Lightly brush caps and stems with oil to keep them moist and season with salt and pepper. Grill or broil 4 to 6 inches from heat source for 4 to 6 minutes on each side, brushing once or twice. Try brushing with your favorite dressing or sauce instead of oil.



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