Medicinal Mushrooms: Coming Out of the Dark (Part 2)

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Thanks to all who posted comments about last week’s entry on mushrooms. For many, mushrooms are probably one of those foods that are taken for granted; people figure they’re great in salads or perhaps stuffed, but most don’t stop and think about what mushrooms really have to offer. So I hope these postings will expand your horizons a little!

Last week we learned that mushrooms are naturally low in calories, fat, and sodium, and high in potassium. But that’s not all. For a long time, it was thought that mushrooms offered little else in terms of nutrition. Fortunately, we’ve since learned that mushrooms have more to offer than we thought:

Selenium. Selenium is a mineral that we need in very, very small amounts — 50 micrograms or less per day (a microgram is one thousandth of a milligram). This mineral is essentially an antioxidant, working with other nutrients, including vitamins C and E, to reduce oxidative stress in the body. (Oxidative stress is thought to be linked with some chronic diseases, including heart disease.) Selenium also helps the thyroid gland function properly. White button, crimini (baby portabella), and shiitake mushrooms are excellent sources of this mineral.

Ergothioneine. This is a good word to casually mention in conversation! Actually, ergothioneine is an amino acid that was discovered in 1909 in a fungus. It’s not made by the human body, but it’s found in cells due to dietary absorption, and it’s thought to have antioxidant properties that help to protect cells from damage.

Ergothioneine is found in liver, kidney, wheat germ, oat bran, black beans, red beans, and mushrooms. A study out of Penn State found that white button mushrooms contain 12 times more ergothioneine than wheat germ and four times as much as in chicken liver. Crimini and portabella mushrooms contain more of this antioxidant than white button mushrooms, but the exotic mushrooms, such as shiitake, oyster, and maitake, contain even more than the common varieties. And cooking mushrooms doesn’t seem to decrease the ergothioneine content, either.

B vitamins. Mushrooms contain riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), and pantothenic acid (B5). These three vitamins are part of the B complex group of vitamins, which do a number of important things in the body: they help break down carbohydrate to be used for energy, they help the body use protein and fat, and they promote the health of the hair, skin, muscles, and liver. Crimini mushrooms are a great source of riboflavin, and mushrooms in general are an excellent source of niacin (especially good news for vegetarians!).

Vitamin D. Mushrooms are a natural source of vitamin D (which we’ve looked at in previous posts). Ten white button mushrooms provide 10% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin D.

Late last year, Monterey Mushrooms, the country’s largest grower of mushrooms, launched their Sun-Bella brand of mushrooms. A serving of these mushrooms provides at least 100% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of vitamin D. The company collaborated on a research program with the USDA to develop the process that creates these mushrooms, which involves exposing the mushrooms to ultraviolet B light through a natural sun ripening process.

Copper. Like selenium, copper is a trace mineral that is essential for normal growth and development. Copper plays a role in the formation of red blood cells, helps the heart, blood vessels, and connective tissue to function properly, and is needed for bone health. The Recommended Daily Intake (RDA) for copper for adults is 900 micrograms per day. Food sources of copper include liver, oysters, sesame seeds, cashews, crimini mushrooms, soybeans, and barley. One half-cup of cooked mushrooms contains almost 400 micrograms of copper.

Phosphorus. Yet another essential mineral, phosphorus is necessary for maintaining bone structure, energy-creating reactions, and maintaining acid–base balance in the body. Adults need 700 milligrams of phosphorus per day. A serving of either crimini or portabella mushrooms provides about 10% of the Daily Value for phosphorus.

More mushroom info next week!

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