by Kimberly Allen, RN
Now that the holiday season is over many people are looking to lose those extra pounds they put on and looking for healthy options to add to their diet. Most people don’t think about nutrition, let alone medicine, when they think of mushrooms. They’re usually thinking about the flavor and texture mushrooms add to a wide variety of dishes. However, mushrooms have been been used for both food and medicinal purposes for thousands of years, and not just in fairy tales and cartoons. Though the Chinese and Japanese have been using mushrooms to fight diseases and boost the immune system for over 3,000 years it’s only been in recent years that the true power of mushrooms has started to be recognized in the US.
Mushrooms are loaded with vitamins and minerals including vitamins C, D, B6 and B12 as well as significant amounts of niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid. Then add calcium, iron, potassium and selenium and you’ve got most of the vitamins and minerals to help keep you healthy in one small food item. However, the benefit of mushrooms that is the most sought after is weight loss. Mushrooms are low in fat and carbohydrates so when you eat them your body burns more fat breaking down the fiber and protein. The fiber in mushrooms also helps to lower your LDL or “bad” cholesterol at the same time it also helps manage diabetes with its low carbohydrates, high protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Mushrooms also have natural insulin as well as enzymes that assist in breaking down the sugars and starches in food. They are also known to have compounds that assist in maintaining and improving the function of the pancreas and liver as well as other glands in the endocrine system.
Mushrooms have also been shown to be effective in the prevention of breast and prostrate cancer. Mushrooms contain significant amounts of Beta-glucans and linoleic acid which both have anti carcinogenic effects. The linoleic acid is also effective in limiting the effects of estrogen while the Beta-glucons interfere with the growth of cancer cells in prostrate cancer. The selenium found in mushrooms also interferes with cancer cell growth.
Mushrooms also contain a powerful anti-oxidant called ergothioneine that is great at protecting against free radicals and improving your immune system. Mushrooms also have natural antibiotics that protect against microbial and fungal infections as well as helping to heal ulcers and wounds that have become ulcerous. Mushrooms are also the only food source of vitamin D other than cod liver oil that is edible.
While mushrooms are nutritious with numerous health benefits let me be clear, they can be deadly. There are over 14,000 different mushrooms, of that only approximately 3,000 are edible. I’ve had many people tell me they love to go to the woods and pick their own mushrooms, I enjoyed picking my own mushrooms too, but I went with someone that knew what mushrooms are safe to pick. The shape, size, and color of mushrooms vary significantly making identification a challenge. Never eat any mushroom that you have picked in the woods until you have properly identified them as not poisonous. Though less than approximately 1% of mushrooms are considered poisonous many can make you sick. Eating a single, that’s only 1, poisonous mushroom can put you into a coma. It can also cause severe nausea and vomiting as well as cramps, it can even cause insanity. Never eat mushrooms that have become discolored or appear to be “spoiled”. It’s safest to buy mushrooms that are in sealed containers from reputable companies or ones that you have grown from seeds or “spawns” that you have bought from a reputable source.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.