Mushrooms: Health Benefits

Mushrooms, though classified as vegetables in the food world, are not technically plants. They belong to the fungi kingdom and although they are not vegetables, mushrooms provide several important nutrients.

It’s common knowledge that the key to getting enough vitamins and minerals in the diet is to eat a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables – the more color, the better. However, this philosophy tends to leave mushrooms in the dark. In many cases, if a food lacks color, it also, in turn, lacks necessary nutrients. However, mushrooms – which are commonly white – prove quite the contrary.

Possible health benefits of consuming mushrooms

Mushrooms
Mushrooms, though classified as vegetables in the food world, are not technically plants. They belong to the fungi kingdom.

Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.

Countless studies have suggested that increasing consumption of naturally-grown foods like mushrooms decreases the risk of obesity and overall mortality, diabetes, heart disease and promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, and overall lower weight.

1) Cancer

Mushrooms contain just as high an antioxidant capacity as carrots, tomatoes, green and red peppers, pumpkins, green beans, and zucchini.

Selenium is a mineral that is not present in most fruits and vegetables but can be found in mushrooms. It plays a role in liver enzyme function and helps detoxify some cancer-causing compounds in the body. Additionally, selenium prevents inflammation and also decreases tumor growth rates.

The vitamin D in mushrooms has also been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells by contributing to the regulation of the cell growth cycle. The folate in mushrooms plays an important role in DNA synthesis and repair, thus preventing the formation of cancer cells from mutations in the DNA.

2) Diabetes

Studies have shown that type 1 diabetics who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetics may have improved blood sugar, lipids, and insulin levels. One cup of grilled portabella mushrooms and one cup of stir-fried shiitake mushrooms both provide about 3 grams of fiber.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 21-25 g/day for women and 30-38 g/day for men.

3) Heart health

The fiber, potassium and vitamin C content in mushrooms all contribute to cardiovascular health. Potassium and sodium work together in the body to help regulate blood pressure. Consuming mushrooms, which are high in potassium and low in sodium helps to lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.

Additionally, an intake of 3 grams of beta-glucans per day can lower blood cholesterol levels by 5%.

4) Immunity

Selenium has also been found to improve immune response to infection by stimulating the production of killer T-cells. The beta-glucan fibers found in the cell walls of mushrooms stimulate the immune system to fight cancer cells and prevent tumors from forming.

5) Weight management and satiety

Dietary fiber plays an important role in weight management by functioning as a “bulking agent” in the digestive system. Mushrooms contain two types of dietary fibers in their cell walls: beta-glucans and chitin which increase satiety and reduce appetite, making you feel fuller longer and thereby lowering your overall calorie intake.

Nutritional profile of mushrooms

Mushrooms are naturally low in sodium, fat, cholesterol, and calories and have often been referred to as “functional foods.” In addition to providing basic nutrition, they help prevent chronic disease due to the presence of antioxidants and beneficial dietary fibers such as chitin and beta-glucans.

One cup of chopped or sliced raw white mushrooms contains 15 calories, 0 grams of fat, 2.2 grams of protein, 2.3 grams of carbohydrate (including 0.7 grams of fiber and 1.4 grams of sugar). Although there are a large variety of mushrooms available, most provide the same amount of the same nutrients per serving, regardless of their shape or size.

Mushrooms are rich in B vitamins such as riboflavin, folate, thiamine, pantothenic acid, and niacin. They are also the only vegan, non-fortified dietary source of vitamin D. Mushrooms also provide several minerals that may be difficult to obtain in the diet, such as selenium, potassium, copper, iron, and phosphorus.

Beta-glucans are a type of fiber that is found in the cell walls of many types of mushrooms. Recently, beta-glucans have been the subject of extensive studies that have examined their role in improving insulin resistance and blood cholesterol levels, lowering the risk of obesity and providing an immunity boost.

How to incorporate more mushrooms into your diet

When buying mushrooms at the market, chose ones that are firm, dry, and unbruised. Avoid mushrooms that appear slimy or withered. Store mushrooms in the refrigerator and do not wash or trim them until ready for use.

Stuffed mushrooms
Make stuffed portabella mushrooms by filling them with your favorite ingredients and baking.

Quick tips:

  • Sauté any type of mushroom with onions for a quick and tasty side dish
  • Add raw sliced crimini mushrooms or white mushrooms to top any salad
  • Make stuffed portabella mushrooms by filling them with your favorite ingredients and baking
  • Add sliced mushrooms to omelets, breakfast scrambles and quiches
  • Grill portabella mushrooms and use them on sandwiches or in wraps.

Potential health risks of consuming mushrooms

Although wild mushrooms have been part of the human diet for several centuries, uncultivated wild mushrooms may pose a risk to those unable to distinguish between those safe and dangerous for consumption.

Eating wild mushrooms that are toxic to humans can cause severe illness and sometimes even death. Studies have also shown that some wild mushrooms contain high levels of heavy metals and other harmful chemicals.

In order to avoid these dangers, it is best to consume mushrooms that have been cultivated under appropriate conditions.

Consuming beta-glucans is believed to be safe for most people. However, since beta-glucans are capable of stimulating immune function, this may be a risk for those with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, asthma, and multiple sclerosis. Researchers have yet to conclude whether or not large amounts of beta-glucan intake has any negative effects on those suffering from these conditions.

It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.

Advertisements

Spicy Mushroom Stir Fry Recipe with a Savory Twist

If you want a fast and delicious vegan dinner tonight, try this Indian-inspired spicy mushroom stir fry with garlic, black pepper, and chives. I found the recipe on One Green Planet but modified it slightly to use organic ingredients. It’s a great vegan side dish that goes well with just about anything and, best of all, it only takes 10 minutes to prepare.

Spicy Mushroom Stir Fry Recipe

Prep time: 2 minutes
Cook time: 8 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
Serves: 2-3

Equipment

Mushroom stir fry nutrition facts.

  • Sauté pan
  • Large roasting pan
  • Garlic slicer or shredder

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp organic cooking oil of your choice
  • 1/2 tsp organic mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp organic cumin seeds
  • 1 or 2 organic red chilies, crushed
  • 1 medium-sized organic red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves organic garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups organic baby Bella mushrooms, thickly sliced or quartered
  • Himalayan crystal salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground organic black pepper
  • 2 tsp organic cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tsp organic chives, chopped
  • Juice of one half organic lime

Directions

  1. Heat oil on medium heat for 1 minute in a sauté pan.
  2. Add mustard seeds and cumin seeds to the pan. Cook until the mustard seeds begin to crackle.
  3. Add red chilies and red onions. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes or until the onions wilt and begin to crisp at the edges.
  4. Stir in mushrooms and cook for another 4 minutes.
  5. Add Himalayan crystal salt, black pepper, cilantro, and chives. Mix well.
  6. Squeeze in lime juice and serve.

Interesting Facts About Mushrooms

  • If you read the nutritional information on a package of mushrooms, you’ll notice that some contain vitamin D and some don’t. When exposed to sunlight, mushrooms produce an active form of vitamin D. Most commercially grown mushrooms are raised indoors, in the dark, and lack the nutrient. Some growers expose their mushrooms to artificial ultraviolet light to induce vitamin D synthesis.
  • Mushrooms are the only plant source of vitamin D. Meat is the only other food source of vitamin D.
  • Mushrooms contain the same form of vitamin B-12 as meat.
  • Mushrooms have umami—a meaty, savory flavor and one of the five basic tastes. If you have a craving for meat and salt, try a mushroom dish. It might satisfy those cravings.
  • Mushrooms are a terrific source of copper, potassium, folate, and niacin (B3).
  • Foraging for mushrooms in the wilderness, also known as mushroom hunting, is fun but it’s important to exercise caution. Many poisonous mushrooms are nearly identical to safe varieties.

Lentils: Health Benefits

Lentils are a high protein, high fiber member of the legume family. Like a mini version of a bean, lentils grow in pods and can be found in red, brown, black, and green varieties.

Lentils are relatively quick and easy to prepare when compared to other dried beans, and their low cost makes them an accessible form of high-quality protein for many people around the world.

Fast facts on lentils

Here are some key points about lentils. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

  • Lentils are an excellent natural source of folate
  • One cup of lentils provides almost half your daily recommended intake of manganese
  • Evidence suggests that lentils protect heart health
  • Lentils are an easy to prepare and versatile ingredient
  • They are also a relatively low-cost ingredient
[Selection of lentil types]
Lentils are an excellent source of dietary folate.

Nutritional breakdown of lentils

One cup of cooked lentils contains:

  • 230 calories
  • 18 grams of protein
  • 1 gram of fat
  • 40 grams of carbohydrates (including 16 grams of fiber and 4 grams of sugar)

That same 1 cup serving provides the following proportion of your daily intake:

  • 90 percent of folate
  • 37 percent of iron
  • 49 percent of manganese
  • 36 percent of phosphorus
  • 22 percent of thiamin
  • 21 percent of potassium
  • 18 percent of vitamin B6

Lentils are also a source of riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium.

Possible health benefits of consuming lentils

Consuming plant-based foods of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.

Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like lentils decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and overall mortality while promoting a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, and overall lower weight.

Heart health

The fiber, folic acid, and potassium in lentils all support heart health. According to the American Heart Association, increased fiber intake can reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels beyond what can be achieved by a diet low in saturated and trans fats alone.

Not only is fiber associated with a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, but also with a slower progression of the disease in high-risk individuals.

Lentils add essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber to the diet, while also providing protein and sustenance to replace meat in meals. When meat, a major source of saturated and trans fats in the diet, is replaced with a higher fiber food like lentils, the risk for heart disease is further decreased. The United States Surgeon General has recommended lowering meat consumption by 15 percent.

The potassium, calcium, and magnesium in lentils have been found to decrease blood pressure naturally. Fewer than 2 percent of US adults currently meet the daily 4,700 mg recommendation for potassium.

Pregnancy

Folate is critical for the prevention of birth defects and has been shown to cut the chances of early delivery by 50 percent or more if consumed for at least a year before pregnancy.

The Center for Disease Control recommends consuming 400 micrograms of folic acid every day specifically for women of childbearing years. One cup of lentils provides almost 90 percent of your folate needs for the entire day.

Cancer

Selenium is a mineral found in lentils that are not present in most other foods. Selenium prevents inflammation, decreases tumor growth rates, and improves immune response to infection by stimulating the production of killer T-cells. It also plays a role in liver enzyme function and helps detoxify some cancer-causing compounds in the body.

The fiber in lentils is also associated with a lowered risk of colorectal cancer.

Fighting fatigue

Iron deficiency is a common cause of fatigue. Women aged 18-50 are particularly susceptible to iron deficiency. Not getting enough iron in your diet can affect how efficiently your body uses energy. Lentils are a great non-heme source of iron and contain over 1/3 of your daily iron needs in one cup (cooked).

Digestion, regularity, and satiety

Adequate fiber intake is commonly recognized as an important factor in weight loss by functioning as a “bulking agent” in the digestive system. The fiber in the diet helps to increase satiety and reduce appetite, making you feel fuller for longer with the goal of lowering your overall calorie intake.

The high fiber in lentils also helps to prevent constipation and promote regularity for a healthy digestive tract.

How to incorporate more lentils into your diet

Unlike dried beans, lentils do not require soaking. Rinse away any dirt from the lentils and discard any damaged lentils or foreign material. Place the lentils into a pot and add 2 cups of water for every cup of lentils.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer to desired tenderness, typically about 15 to 20 minutes. One cup of dried lentils will yield 2-2 ½ cups of cooked lentils.

There are four main types of lentils:

  • Brown lentils are the least expensive and soften the most upon cooking; they are best used in soups in stews.
  • Green lentils have a nuttier flavor. They stay firm when cooked and make a great salad or taco toppers.
  • Red lentils have a more mild taste and cook the fastest. They are typically used in Indian dals and purees.
  • Black lentils, also known as beluga lentils for their resemblance to caviar when cooked.

Quick tips:

  • Add lentils to any soup or stew recipe to add extra nutrients and fiber
  • Precook lentils and keep in your refrigerator for a quick protein source
  • Use lentils in place of beans in any recipe
  • Make a lentil dip by smashing cooked lentils with a fork and adding garlic, onion, chili powder, and chopped tomatoes
  • Be on the lookout for new snacks like lentil-based crackers, chips, or crisps

Potential health risks of consuming lentils

It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with a variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.

Consuming large amounts of fiber may cause flatulence. Be sure to drink plenty of liquids as you increase your fiber intake. Do not try to get all of your fiber at one time, get a small amount at each meal or snack.

Gradually increase your fiber intake for 1 or 2 months to help prevent digestive discomfort as your body adjusts to the change. Increasing fiber intake without adequate fluid intake could lead to constipation.