Nutritional Value and Health Benefits of Mushrooms

Mushrooms have been enjoyed for thousands of years all over the world. Including molds and yeasts, there are over 50,000 different types of mushrooms; however, only about 20 species are fit for human consumption. These types come in different sizes, appearances, shapes, colors, and nutrient profiles. While most are found in the wild, people have begun growing mushrooms in their homes for easier access to these fungi.

Mushrooms are known as a superfood, and to some people, an exotic ingredient. There are numerous ways they can be prepared, but some cooking methods retain more nutrients than others - and mushrooms are full of health benefits that should be taken advantage of.

The Health Benefits of Mushrooms

Cancer-fighting Properties

One of the biggest known benefits of mushrooms is their cancer-fighting prowess. According to research published in the experimental Biology and Medicine Journal, mushrooms significantly suppress the proliferation of breast cancer cells. Most edible varieties have chemoprotective properties against cancers like acute leukemia, gastric cancer, pancreatic cancer, uterine cervical cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, prostate cancer, and breast cancer.

The main mushroom species that are beneficial in fighting cancer are mannentake, maitake, shiitake, and cordyceps. These extracts contain a polysaccharide known as beta-glucan that is known to have anti-cancer properties. Besides that, shiitake has an anti-tumor compound known as lentinan, which has been found to slow down the growth of tumors in cancer patients. While they should not be the only form of treatment, mushrooms can help extend the lifespan of a cancer patient.

Immune System Booster

Mushrooms also have potent immunomodulating properties, which means they have the power to regulate the immune system. The beta-glucans found in most mushroom extracts can activate immunological cells, such as macrophages. When your immune cells are activated, they can recognize foreign, disease-causing cells. Subsequently, a higher level of response is created in your body and leads to a greater general resistance to diseases.

Reduce Bad Cholesterol

Generally, mushrooms do not contain cholesterol. Instead, they contain a high amount of fiber, specifically chitin, which reduces cholesterol in the body. Studies have shown that mushrooms can treat hypercholesterolemia due to their ability to reduce Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. There are also phytoproteins in mushrooms that are responsible for removing cholesterol buildup in blood vessels.

Great Source of Vitamins B and D

While the sun is the best source of natural vitamin D, many people do not receive sufficient sunlight to provide them with this essential vitamin. Mushrooms are one of the few foods that contain vitamin D, so regularly including them in your diet can help you to reach the recommended amount. In addition, they have high levels of B vitamins such as pantothenic acid, niacin, and riboflavin. Pantothenic acid is essential in the nervous system and hormone production. Niacin helps in the metabolism of macronutrients, while riboflavin is vital in fat metabolism and energy production.

Balances Insulin Production

Mushrooms are rich in prebiotics, which are substances that enhance the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the gut. This results in the balancing of insulin production, which is crucial for people with diabetes. Indirectly, mushrooms can also help diabetic patients by maintaining low cholesterol levels and boosting their immune system.

Regulates Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the world. Studies show that the high intake of high sodium is a major cause of hypertension, and that potassium is an important element in fighting high blood pressure. Mushrooms have high potassium content and are low in sodium, and are perfect for adding to your diet to help regulate blood pressure.

Maintains Bone Health

Shiitake and maitake are two mushroom varieties known for improving bone health. They achieve this by balancing the process of bone formation and resorption. In addition, mushrooms are rich in calcium, which is a vital element in strengthening bones. This, together with high vitamin D3 content, makes mushrooms a perfect food for maintaining your musculoskeletal system and reducing the risks of developing bone diseases such as bone degeneration, joint pain, and osteoporosis.

Anti-inflammatory Properties

The antioxidants ergothioneine and glutathione can be found in mushrooms and have powerful anti-inflammatory effects in the body. They repair cells that are damaged by chronic diseases such as cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, arthritis, and obesity, among others. Selenium is also found in mushrooms, and it is a potent antioxidant. These properties in mushrooms aid in treating chronic inflammatory disease.

Anti-aging Power

The antioxidants in mushrooms can help to slow the aging process and can potentially help you live longer. These substances protect body cells from damage while ensuring the quick repair of the damaged ones. They also fight free radicals, which may accelerate aging. Among the edible species, porcini mushroom has the highest amount of antioxidants.

Protects the Heart

Vitamin C, potassium, and fiber in mushrooms contribute to heart health. Beta-glucan is a soluble fiber in the mushroom that helps to regulate cholesterol in the blood. Together with the fiber chitin, it helps to clear plaque buildup in blood vessels. This means a better flow of blood along arteries and veins, which is good for your heart. Vitamin C neutralizes radicals that speed up atherosclerosis and subsequently cause the development of coronary heart disease (CHD). The potassium found in mushrooms also helps to prevent cardiovascular diseases by keeping blood pressure in check.

Boosts Brain Function

Studies have shown that eating mushrooms regularly can help to improve your brain health. The antioxidants and other bioactive compounds in mushrooms have neuroprotective qualities that protect brain cells from damage and degeneration. This reduces the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI has been associated with the development of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Good brain health also results in overall better memory and comprehension.

Aids in Digestion

Mushrooms are natural prebiotics, which means they help to populate the good bacteria in the gut that aid in digestion. They also help in maintaining a good balance of useful gut bacteria such as bifidobacterium and acidophilus. Besides that, mushrooms are high in fiber, which is essential in digestion.

How to Prepare and Cook Mushrooms

Mushrooms have a significant amount of vitamins (B vitamins, C, D, and E), amino acids, proteins, fiber, antioxidants, and minerals like potassium, selenium, and zinc. All these components have incredible health benefits, but some of them are sensitive to heat. Antioxidants are particularly affected by high temperatures during cooking. It is important to cook your mushrooms the correct way to preserve their nutritional content.

According to research, the healthiest way to cook mushrooms is by grilling or microwaving. Other culinary treatments such as deep-frying, shallow frying, and boiling have been shown to reduce the nutritional value of the fungus significantly. This is due to the leaching of valuable antioxidants and proteins in oil or water.

The best way to retain the texture, taste, and nutritional properties of mushrooms is to microwave or grill them. Researchers have found out that these two cooking methods preserve antioxidants and polyphenols and can even increase their activity considerably. Since there is minimal use of oil, nutrients will not be lost through leaching.

Microwaving Mushrooms

While retaining all the nutrients your body needs, microwaving mushrooms is a quick and easy method of cooking, and it produces mouthwatering results.

  1. Clean your mushrooms by wiping them gently with a piece of cloth or paper towel.
  2. Cut off the stems and slice into small pieces if you wish to.
  3. Place the mushrooms in a microwave-safe bowl.
  4. Cook the mushrooms for two to three minutes.
  5. Remove the bowl and stir the mushrooms gently.
  6. If they are still not tender, cook them for another 30 seconds and make sure all the liquid has evaporated.
  7. Transfer to another bowl or dinner plate. Add a pinch of salt, some olive oil, or butter and season it with balsamic vinegar, marsala sauce, or black pepper.

Grilling Mushrooms

Grilling is another great delicious option for retaining the important nutrients in mushrooms. Here's a guide to help you in grilling your mushrooms:

  1. The size
    Mushrooms tend to shrink when heated. Therefore, cutting them into small pieces might not be the best option when grilling since they might get lost in the grill. Portobello mushrooms are the best to grill due to their large size that doesn't shrink significantly when placed in the heat. Small to medium-sized mushrooms are best grilled on skewers. Brush them with olive oil and keep turning them to prevent them from sticking to the skewer. Grill tiny or sliced mushrooms in foil packets or a grilling basket.
  2. Cleaning and preparing
    Remove dust and debris from the mushrooms with a clean cloth or paper towel. Avoid using running water since the mushrooms will absorb the water. Cut off the stem in part or as a whole if it will get in the way of your cooking.
  3. Marinating and flavoring
    You can marinate the mushrooms a day or several hours before grilling them. Make sure the marinade is oil-based to lock in moisture. If you don't marinate them, you can season them while grilling. Prepare a mixture of salt, garlic, and olive oil and brush it on the mushrooms while grilling.
  4. Grilling period
    Mushrooms grilled in foil packets should be ready in 20 to 25 minutes. Marinated mushrooms cook for 15 to 20 minutes.


Tips for Growing and Harvesting Mushrooms

Mushrooms are versatile, and they can be grown in small spaces such as outdoors in a backyard garden or indoors in a garage or basement. Mushrooms grow from tiny spores that are usually mixed with wood chips, straw, grain, or sawdust to provide nourishment. The mixture is called spawn.

Spawn facilitates the growth of mycelium – tiny, white, threadlike bodies. The mycelium develops into a mature mushroom. For a good harvest, you should transfer the spawn to a high-nutrient growing medium. These can be composted materials, which contain a mixture of different materials like hay grass, corn cobs, and straw.

Choosing an Environment

Mushrooms thrive in humid, cool, and dark environments, such as a basement or garage. Choose a spot that is away from direct sunlight and heat, and test the temperature of the site before you start growing the mushrooms. Different mushroom species require different temperatures for growth, so be sure to find out the ideal temperature for the variety you want to grow.

Choosing the Right Mushroom Variety

Any mushroom that grows in the wild can be produced at home, but there are several factors to consider when choosing your variety. First, think about the nutritional value you are looking for in the mushrooms. Remember that each species has a unique nutrient profile. Secondly, consider the growing requirements of your preferred variety, and make sure you can meet their environmental needs.

The Process of Growing Spawn

Growing mushrooms can be a tricky process, but anyone can do it with the right preparation and knowledge. Do lots of prior research, and follow these steps:

  1. Prepare the compost and sprinkle your spawn over it. You can also purchase a premade mushroom grow kit.
  2. Cover the spawn with a small amount of soil. Maintain the soil temperature to around 70°F using a heater and continue with this process until the mycelium starts to grow.
  3. Keep sprinkling water onto the soil and cover the tray with a damp cloth at all times.
  4. The mushrooms will be ready for harvesting within three or four weeks. To harvest them, twist or pull them gently from the substrate.
  5. Store the mushrooms immediately since they deteriorate quickly. It is advisable to store them in clean plastic paper bags or containers before keeping them in the fridge.

There is a wide range of health and nutritional benefits offered by mushrooms, as discussed above. Whether you grow them at home or purchase them individually, adding this helpful fungus to your meals can help minimize many different ailments and their effects. Remember though that you only get maximum benefits when you cook them right, preferably by grilling or microwaving them.

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