Anyone who has a cursory interest in improving their diet has probably read an article or two on superfoods. This term is used to describe foods which are considered superior when it comes to nutritional content and, therefore, often have enhanced health benefits. Nutritionists encourage people to maximize their intake of superfoods by aiming for a colorful plate of food as rich colors signify a high vitamin and antioxidant content. Unfortunately, this advice does a disservice to the humble mushroom.
With their bland appearance, mushrooms are often wrongly judged to be lacking in essential nutrients. In fact, mushrooms contain a diverse range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, some of which are difficult to find in other food sources. They are also high in fiber and low in fat, making them an ideal choice for anyone who wants to lose weight.
Why Mushrooms Are Amazingly Healthy
One of the most unique features of mushrooms is that they can provide a dietary source of vitamin D, which is crucial for the immune system and healthy bones but which can normally only be created by the body through sunlight exposure. Although mushrooms contain only trace amounts of the vitamin, exposing them to UV light for 30 to 60 minutes will trigger a process whereby chemical compounds are converted into vitamin D. The health benefits of mushrooms are therefore of particular interest to people living in Northern regions, where many people are deficient in the vitamin.
Mushrooms won't just boost your immune system by raising your vitamin D levels. Even if you choose not to leave your mushrooms outside to increase their vitamin D content, they still contain an important compound called beta-glucan. This enhances killer cell function or, in layman's terms, better enables your body to fight of disease. Shiitake mushrooms have been part of Chinese medicine for many centuries, which some scientists now believe may be due to their particularly high beta-glucan content.
Shiitake mushrooms may also be superior to other varieties if you are concerned about cholesterol as they contain phytosterols and an important compound called eritedenine. However, you shouldn't worry too much if your local food stores don't stock shiitake mushrooms. Other varieties are still a great source of fiber, which doctors recommend you increase your intake of if you want to lower your cholesterol (along with your risk of diseases such as diabetes).
Of course, getting healthy isn't just about lowering the risk of disease. For many people, it is about feeling and looking better now. Mushrooms can have a noticeable impact on your energy levels when eaten as part of a balanced diet as they contain a range of B vitamins. They are also one of the best non-animal sources of zinc and selenium, which is crucial for glowing skin and shiny hair.
Incorporating More Mushrooms Into Your Diet
Although not technically a vegetable, an 80 gram serving of mushrooms still counts as one of your five a day. This amount - which equates to around 14 button mushrooms - can seem a little daunting if mushrooms do not already form a major part of your diet. Fortunately, they are easy to incorporate into meals.
The chances are, you are already regularly eating meals which mushrooms can be added into with very little thought or effort. For example, you could add sliced button mushrooms to scrambled egg or an omelette for an easy and nutritious breakfast or lunch. They can also be added into salads, pastas, soups or casseroles.
As you get a little more adventurous, you can try experimenting with different varieties and use recipes where mushrooms form a staple ingredient. For instance, stuffed mushrooms make a delicious lunch or appetizer. Try filling portobello mushrooms with blue cheese, chives and garlic and roasting them for 10 minutes in a hot oven.
Mushrooms may not get as much attention as popular superfoods such as blueberries, but they are just as beneficial when it comes to vitamins and antioxidants. They are particularly valuable for vegans and vegetarians, who may struggle to get adequate levels of nutrients such as selenium from non-animal sources. However, almost everyone will reap the benefits of incorporating this unassuming looking but tasty food into their diets.
About the Author
Cherry Saunders is a freelance writer, who loves to cook in her spare time. Check out her site, Homekitchenfryer.com where she reviews kitchen fryers and appliances.