Health benefits of mushrooms

What is mushroom?

Mushroom is a fungus with a round flat head and short stem. Mushrooms are saprophytes which thrive by absorbing nutrients from decaying or dead plants or animal matters. They are organisms and can be called as plants without chlorophyll. Mushrooms however are not considered as vegetables as they are not plants technically.

There are thousands of mushroom varieties both edible and non-edible. Only some of the varieties of mushroom are popular and consumed by humans.  Mushrooms are natives of Asian countries but are now used all over the world. Shiitake, maitake and reishi are most common varieties of mushrooms.

Key health benefits of mushrooms

The health benefits of mushrooms are enormous and amazing too. One cup of Mushrooms gives only 15 calories of energy and 2.3 gm. of carbohydrate. However it is rich in B vitamins like riboflavin, folate, thiamine, pantothenic acid and niacin. They also contain selenium, potassium, iron, phosphates and copper.

Champignon and Shiitake mushrooms
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Some of the top benefits of mushroom are discussed now.

Cancer

Selenium is a very important mineral found in mushrooms. This is not available in most of the vegetables. Selenium plays a very active role in the functioning of liver enzymes and is found to detoxify some of the cancer causing compounds generated in the body. The selenium in mushrooms prevents inflammation and also reduces the growth rate of tumors.

Vitamin D present in mushrooms regulates the growth cycle of body cells and prevents the growth of cancer cells. In addition, the folate contained in mushrooms helps in DNA synthesis and the mutation of DNA cells are repaired. The anti-tumor properties in mushroom prevents breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Anemia

Mushrooms are rich in iron. The body absorbs up to 90% of the iron in mushrooms. Such iron carries oxygen from the lungs to body tissues and carries carbon dioxide from the tissues to lungs. In this process, it also increases the red blood cells thus improving the haemoglobin level in the blood. All these result in preventing anemia.

Health of bones

Calcium available in mushrooms is an essential nutrient in the formation and strengthening of bones in the body. A regular minimum required level of calcium diet is needed to ensure proper and healthy growth of bones. Otherwise, any reduction in calcium intake would result in bone related diseases like osteoporosis, joint pains and degeneration of bones.

Mushroom
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Cholesterol

Mushrooms do not contain any fat and are low in carbohydrates. They also contain lean proteins. The fiber and other enzymes in mushrooms helps to lower cholesterol levels. This is achieved by burning the fat in the body.

Diabetes

People suffering due to diabetes need low carbohydrate and high protein diets. Mushroom is a boon to diabetic patients due to their high protein and fiber content. Besides, the natural insulin in the mushroom helps to maintain the sugar levels in the blood. The enzymes in mushrooms also helps in the proper functioning of the liver. In addition, it helps in the formation and regulation of insulin.

Strengthens Immune system

Antioxidants are essential to eradicate the free radicals freely floating in the body causing significant damages and diseases. The antioxidants called Ergothioneine in mushrooms eradicates free radicals and as a result strengthens the immune system.

The natural antibiotics in mushrooms stimulates and also regulates the immune system of the body. These natural antibiotics are almost like penicillin inhibiting the microbial growth and fungal infections. It is noteworthy that penicillin itself is extracted from mushrooms.

Blood pressure control

Shiitake and Maitake mushrooms contain high level of potassium. These act as vasodilator and relaxes the blood vessels and consequently reduces the blood pressure. In addition, the copper content in the mushrooms facilitate absorption of iron.

Mushroom soup
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Weight management

Beta-glucons and chitin, the two types of dietary fiber in mushrooms act as bulking agents. They hence reduce appetite consequently preventing over eating and consequently avoid gaining weight by the body.

How to consume mushrooms?

You should not consume mushrooms in their raw form. You should cook them well. To be more elaborate, you must cook mushrooms for about five minutes or until they become light brown in colour and tender.  You should consume cooked mushrooms with little salt or by adding it to various side dishes or gravies.

Caution: As innumerable types of mushrooms are available, ensure that the mushroom is good for consumption. You cannot consume all types of mushrooms. There are many varieties of wild mushrooms containing heavy metals and other harmful chemicals. These may lead to serious illness or in some cases, even death. Hence, one has to be doubly cautious while selecting mushrooms for diet.

Kripa Sivasubramanian, MBA, earned her Master’s degree in Business. After a long stint in the Technology sector, she took up courses in natural medicine and yoga. Ms. Kripa is certified in Ayurvedic yoga for Dosha. She is also certified by Stanford University School of Medicine in Introduction to Food and Health.