Health Benefits of Mushrooms
Mushrooms have been used for thousands of years, both as food and for medicinal purposes. They are often classified as a vegetable or an herb, but they are actually fungi. While there are over 14,000 mushroom varieties, approximately 3,000 are edible, and about 700 have known medicinal properties. The Pharaohs prized mushrooms as a delicacy, and the Greeks believed that mushrooms provided strength for warriors in battle. The Romans regarded mushrooms as a gift from God and served them only on festive occasions, while the Chinese treasured them as a health food.
While medicinal mushrooms have been used in China and Japan for more than 3,000 years to boost immunity and fight diseases such as cancer, only in the last decade has their power begun to be recognized in the United States. In more scientific terms, a number of compounds in fungi have been found to stimulate the function of the immune system, inhibit tumor growth and boost intestinal flora. Particularly, mushroom substances called terpenoids help kill bacteria and viruses and exert anti-inflammatory effects, while complex chain-like sugars called polysaccharides have been shown to exert antitumor and immuno-stimulating properties.
Today, mushrooms are enjoyed for their flavor and texture. They can impart their own flavor to food or take on the flavor of other ingredients. Their flavor normally intensifies during cooking, and their texture holds up well to usual cooking methods, including stir-frying and sautéing. It is popular to add mushrooms to soups, salads, and sandwiches, or to use them as an appetizer. They also add an appealing touch to vegetable-based casseroles and stews.
Pleurotus species, such as eryngii, associated with anti-cancer activity, positive effects on the immune system, and anti-viral, antibiotic and anti-inflammatory activities. This might be due, in part, to a key active compound found in king oyster mushrooms known as beta-glucans.
King oyster mushrooms have a high antioxidant content. Antioxidants are found in foods and help to combat harmful and cancer-related chemicals known as free radicals. King oyster contains an antioxidant amino acid called ergothioneine, which is stored in higher concentration in organs exposed to oxidative stress such as the kidney, liver and the eyes.
Oyster mushrooms produce compounds known as statins. These drugs stimulate receptors in the liver to help clear low-density lipoproteins from the body. Lovastatin is a chemical specific to the king oyster mushrooms, according to TodaysDietitian.com. Lovastatin may reduce cholesterol in the blood and promote vascular health.
Mushrooms contain about 80 to 90 percent water, and are very low in calories (only 100 cal/oz). They have very little sodium, and 8 to 10 percent of the dry weight is fiber. Hence, they are an ideal food for persons following a weight management program or a diet for challenged with hypertension.
One medium Ali’i mushroom has more potassium than a banana or a glass of orange juice. One serving of mushrooms also provides about 20 to 40 percent of the daily value of copper, a mineral that has cardio protective properties.
Selenium is an antioxidant that works with vitamin E to protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals.
Male health professionals who consumed twice the recommended daily intake of selenium cut their risk of prostate cancer by 65 percent. In the Baltimore study on Aging, men with the lowest blood selenium levels were 4 to 5 times more likely to have prostate cancer compared to those with the highest selenium levels. Mushrooms have been used for centuries in China and Japan to treat colds and flu. Lentinan, a beta-glucan isolated from the fruiting body of shiitake mushrooms, appears to stimulate the immune system, to help fight infection, and demonstrates anti-tumor activity.
A serving of 4-5 oyster mushrooms provides 36 calories, 0 grams of fat and 5 grams of carbohydrates, yet is a good source for B vitamins riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid; and copper. Oyster mushrooms also contain more than 2 grams of fiber, nearly 10 percent of the Daily Value. And oyster mushrooms have nearly 3 grams of protein, 6 percent of the Daily Value.
Mushrooms are an important source of B Vitamins and proteins. They have immune system strengthening and anti-cancer properties. They are also being researched for their cholesterol-lowering and depression-fighting capabilities.