In ancient Egypt mushrooms were reserved for royalty, and ancient Romans thought mushrooms conferred strength to warriors, according to the Oregon State University Extension Service. Of the 300 edible species, 10 are currently grown commercially. Use mushrooms to add distinct flavor and a range of nutritional and health benefits to some of your favorite dishes.
White button mushrooms, such as crimini, commonly found in grocery stores and salad bars, help remove excess estrogen from circulation, making them helpful for preventing breast cancer. A tissue culture study published in the November 2010 issue of the journal “Experimental Biology and Medicine” found that white button mushrooms, along with four other varieties of common and specialty mushrooms, significantly suppressed breast cancer cell growth and reproduction. However, further studies are needed to confirm these preliminary results.
Mushrooms are a good source of chitin and beta-glucan, fibers that lower cholesterol and improve cardiovascular health. A laboratory animal study published in the 2012 issue of the “International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms” found that pink oyster mushrooms reduced total cholesterol, triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol and prevented arterial plaque formation. Further studies are needed to confirm these preliminary results. A compound in shiitake mushrooms, called critadenine, helps the liver process cholesterol.
Beta-glucan in mushrooms provides protection against colds, flu and other viruses. The reishi mushroom was found to improve recovery time in herpes patients in a study published in the November 2007 issue of the “Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.” Reishi may exert its antiviral effects by interfering with attachment of viruses to host cells, according to researchers of a study published in the January 2005 issue of the “Journal of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.” Shiitake, portobello, oyster and reishi mushrooms contain a polysaccharide molecule called lentinan that stimulates production of interferon, which stimulates the immune system .
Vitamins and Minerals
Crimini mushrooms are among the only natural food sources of vitamin D, and mushrooms are one of the few foods that contain germanium, a trace mineral that helps your body use oxygen efficiently and prevents against damaging effects of free radicals. Many mushrooms are also good sources of selenium, an antioxidant mineral, as well as copper, niacin, potassium and phosphorous. Additionally, mushrooms provide protein, vitamin C and iron. Because their cells walls are undigestible unless exposed to heat, you must cook mushrooms to get their nutritional benefits.
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