Mushrooms benefit the glandular, cardiovascular, respiratory, and digestive immune centers.
Got Agaricus bisporus in your fridge or cupboard? It’s a large family, so if you’ve only befriended the button, keep eating. You’ll be in good fungi-friendly company. We Americans are buying and eating twice as many exotic mushrooms as we were ten years ago, according to the American Mushroom Institute. There’s plenty of payback besides just taste. There are approximately thirty-eight species of edible mushroom in North America. None of them have more than 25 calories a half cup; all of them are low in sodium and have zero fat. Some of them are far tastier than others.
The Egyptians considered the Agaricus bisporus a food fit for kings. Classical scholars have regarded mushrooms as the secret behind the Eleusinian Mysteries. In the Chinese culture, where mushrooms have been used as pharmaceuticals for centuries, they represent immortality and eccentricity (the latter because mushrooms are the only plant without leaves or flowers). There are exotic mushrooms like the portobello and the shiitake, and there are the mom-and-pop mushrooms like the button. All are rich in polysaccharides, the carbohydrate molecules that directly enhance the immune system and help lower the risk of breast cancer by inhibiting the circulation of estrogen. Mushrooms are also an excellent source of various B complex nutrients bound up with essential minerals such as potassium and selenium. Mushrooms, from the high-end shiitake to the humble button, all help lower blood pressure, fight cancer, and regulate immunity with every bite. Mushrooms also deliver a healthy dose of niacin, needed for healthy skin, healthy nerves, and good digestion.
Shiitake for Your Health. Also known as forest, Chinese dried, black, or flower mushrooms, shiitakes can be used dried or fresh. With their rich meaty flavor, they are (like the portobello) a valuable replacement for meat in meatless recipes. hTe most popular of the healing fungi, shiitakes have been used for centuries in Japan and China to treat colds and flu, poor circulation, upset stomachs, and exhaustion. They are also used as intervention for high blood pressure and heart disease, for lowering bad cholesterol, and for promoting longevity. Higher in both fiber and protein than button mushrooms, they are also useful in controlling Candidiasis (yeast infections). hTeir buttery flavor enhances broths, stir-fries, and sauces.
Mighty Maitake. Since feudal times, the crunchy, fragrant maitake mushroom has been used as a tonic to strengthen the body and improve overall immunity. Similarly, because it is classified as an adaptogen, a substance that helps the body adapt to stressors and restores equilibrium in the body, maitakes are your hot-ticket food for turning around a dozen disease states, from Lyme disease and chronic fatigue syndrome to cancer and Metabolic Syndrome X, a cluster of symptoms that put you at risk of diabetes and heart disease.
What Else Belongs in Your Mushroom Basket?
- Cremini are button fungi with an aggressive fl avor rich in energizing riboflavin.
- Enokis have a sweet crisp texture and taste best raw. Use them as a garnish, crudités, or a substitute for sprouts. They are rich in vitamin D and the vitamin B complex.
- Portobellos are actually mature cremini mushrooms, rich in potassium and delicious grilled as a meat substitute.
- Porcinis are diminutive and earthy tasting with a woodsy aroma. Niacin and potassium are their star nutrients.
Buying, Storing, and Preparing
- Cooked mushrooms are more nutritious and a safer bet. Heat makes their nutrients more available; in their raw state, mushrooms pass through your intestinal tract intact. Worse, some types, including portobello, white button, and cremini, contain hydrazines, potentially carcinogenic compounds that are destroyed by drying or cooking.
- Refrigerate in paper, not plastic. Once opened, mushrooms should be stored outside the crisper drawer in an open paper bag to prevent developing moisture.
- Choose whole, not sliced, mushrooms that are bright and not bruised; they’ll stay fresher longer. (But slightly discolored mushrooms are still nutrient-dense and can be eaten.)
- Spend the extra dollar for organic. Mushrooms grown in conventional soil can accumulate heavy metals and toxins, as well as pesticides.
- Pass up conventional canned mushrooms. Processing leaches out essential nutrients, and there is the possibility of contaminants from both the soil and the canning process.