The magic of mushrooms
Mushrooms are magic, and I’m not meaning in some illegal, mind-altering way. But what I have learned about mushrooms of late has kind of blown my mind. There are about 20 types of mushrooms used for culinary purposes. The absolute macronutrient content doesn’t differ too much between varieties, however the micronutrient and phytochemical content does somewhat.
Regardless, there really is a mushroom to suit everybody.
Going low carb? Not a problem. Mushrooms have between 3 and 6g of carbohydrate per 100g, depending on the variety.
Calories your thing? Then fear not: White mushrooms have just 22 calories per 100g (as do more mature brown button ones). Oyster mushrooms have 34 calories per 100g.
If it’s protein you’re keeping in check, ’shrooms also have you covered, with around 2-3g per 100g, depending on whether they are cooked or raw.
Of course, it’s not just the macronutrient make-up that is important, it’s the nutritional quality where mushrooms really shine. White button mushrooms contain vitamins and minerals which contribute not insignificant amounts to dietary intake. This includes most B vitamins — however, though they are touted for their B12 content, the type of B12 present in mushrooms is not in a biologically available form so is pretty much irrelevant. Vitamin D2, a metabolite of vitamin D found in plant sources, (animal sources contain vitamin D3) is found in reasonable levels in mushrooms.
Though you may argue with your workmates about the biological importance of D2 with regards to vitamin D status (or is that just me?), the level of D2 in the blood is still considered a good indicator of overall vitamin D status. As we head towards winter, exposure to the UVA rays, crucial to vitamin D production, is minimised. Therefore, dietary sources of vitamin D are important. Try leaving your mushrooms in the sun. It will increase their vitamin D.
Mushrooms have been used in Asian cultures for their medicinal benefits, and their health benefits have been extensively researched. Unsurprisingly, different varieties confer different health benefits.
White button mushrooms contain a substantial amount of beta glucans, a polysaccharide that, in mushrooms particularly, has been extensively studied for its anti-tumour, immune cell-modulating effects. Studies suggest consumption of mushrooms leads to a modest but important boost in immune responses that would improve anti-cancer immunity, by either upregulating our immune response against damaged cells or by having direct toxic effects to the cancer cell itself.
Shiitake mushrooms, native to Asian cuisines, contain an antioxidant which reduces the overall inflammatory response in the gut, and when clinical trials were conducted, just 120g per day over four weeks found a significant reduction in pro-inflammatory cytokines and in c-reactive protein (CRP; both of these are inflammation markers) which — when elevated — can cause damage to the villi of our small intestine.
Reishi mushrooms have been found to alter gut microbiome to a healthier profile and contain constituents that have been used medicinally as a treatment for stress and anxiety.
Cordecyps mushrooms protect our mitochondria and are used medicinally to help people recover from fatigue.
Oyster mushrooms are thought to help strengthen blood vessels and prevent plaque build-up in the artery walls, essential for heart health.
If the above isn’t enough, the garden variety white mushrooms contain the phytochemicals that are grouped under flavonoids and polyphenols. These act as either antioxidants in the body, mopping up free radicals (which damage cells), or as pro-oxidants in the body in a process known as hormesis. Though the latter might seem like a bad thing, it’s actually important to help the body strengthen its own antioxidant defences.
The best way I’ve heard hormesis explained is “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. These phytochemicals, in low doses, start a process whereby genes involved in antioxidant defence, detoxification and cellular protection are switched on. Pretty awesome, huh? I think the term “too much of a good thing” could also be used here — though I suspect you’d need to eat a truckload of mushrooms before you worry about that.
Finally, white mushrooms are one of the richest sources of dietary ergothioneine (ET), a sulphur-containing compound that helps protect our mitochondria from oxidative damage, beating out liver, kidneys and red and black beans. A transporter was recently found that regulates ET uptake in the body, and research has found cells that lack this transporter are more vulnerable to DNA damage, protein oxidation and lipid peroxidation.
Cooking with mushrooms: If you’re not a fan, try “hiding” them in burger pattie mixes. Portobellos make great replacements for burger buns and are good vehicles for toppings, as Karena and Kasey Bird show in their Mushrooms with blue cheese and thyme.
Through her subscription service of meal plans andnutritional support, nutritionist Mikki Williden helpspeople manage their diets in an interesting way, at alow cost. Find out more at mikkiwilliden.com