Mushrooms don’t always get the attention they deserve. Although typically treated as one, mushrooms aren’t vegetables. They’re the edible fleshy fruit of a fungus. As a result, they contain a completely different nutritional profile from their plant counterparts.
Nutrition of Mushrooms
It may come as a surprise, but mushrooms contain many beneficial nutrients and antioxidants. Rich in essential B vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid and biotin, as well as the minerals selenium, copper, potassium and phosphorus. Mushrooms that have been exposed to sunlight or UV light can generate vitamin D, making them the only whole food source of vitamin D.
There are hundreds of varieties of edible mushrooms and each one has their own unique health benefits. Mushrooms have long been used in Chinese medicine for their medicinal properties and are still used today in natural remedies.
They offer an array of health benefits:
- Boosts the Immune System: Mushrooms are most notably recognized for their immune enhancing effects. Abundant in beta-glucans, a phytochemical that aids in the stimulation of our protective immune cells (macrophages, lymphocytes, T-Cells, and natural killer cells). All necessary in regulating our immune response. Additionally, by modulating the immune system, it may also work towards alleviating overactive immune activity found in autoimmune diseases [i][ii].
- Cancer Protection: Lentinan, a naturally occurring polysaccharide in mushrooms, has been studied for its anti-tumor properties. Lentinan helps protect against cancer by inhibiting growth of cancer cells and stimulating their self-destruction.
- Cardiovascular Health: Components found in mushrooms help support heart health by lowering blood pressure and reducing cholesterol in the body. Beta-glucans are responsible for the cholesterol-lowering effects, but also help maintain and control blood glucose levels. Ergothioneine is another antioxidant found in mushrooms that offers protection against atherosclerosis [iii].
When selecting, purchase ones that are firm to the touch and have a uniform color. Mushrooms can be stored in a brown bag in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. These guys are very easy to prepare, unfortunately, many people make the mistake of soaking or rinsing them to clean. This will cause the mushrooms to absorb a lot of water. All you need to do is wipe them clean with a damp cloth. The best part, both the caps and stems are edible.
Mushrooms are hearty enough that they make for the perfect meat replacement. Try these grilled portobello mushrooms with balsamic. They’re filling enough to be enjoyed alone or add a whole grain bun and top with lettuce and tomato to make a healthy burger. You’ll feel just as satisfied, but without the added cholesterol and saturated fat typically found in traditional beef burgers.
- 6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 4 large portobello mushrooms, wiped of any dirt, washed and quickly dried, if necessary
- Preheat the grill. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a small bowl, toss the garlic cloves with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and some salt. Wrap the garlic cloves in tinfoil and place on the tray in the center of the oven. Cook until tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, 20 to 25 minutes.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the balsamic with 3/4 cup of the olive oil and the mustard.
- In a medium bowl, toss the mushrooms in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt. Place them, stem-side up, on the hottest part of the grill. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, you may see liquid starting to emerge from the stem area. Flip to the other side and cook for an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer them to a tray and place in the center of the oven. Cook until they are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, an additional 12 to 15 minutes. Season them lightly with salt.
- Remove the garlic from the oven. Squeeze the garlic pulp out from their skins and whisk it vigorously into the dressing. Arrange the mushrooms on a serving platter and top with the dressing. Serve immediately.