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Anyone for Mushrooms?
Photo: Dirk Ziegener
Mushrooms have been very popular for many centuries. They have been used both as food and for medicinal purposes. Of the 14,000 mushrooms, only about 3,000 are edible, while 700 have known medicinal properties. In addition, less than one percent are poisonous.

Mushrooms are enjoyed for their flavor and texture. Their flavor normally intensifies during cooking, and their texture holds up well to usual cooking methods, including stir-frying and sautéing. It is popular to add mushrooms to soups and salads, or to use them as an appetizer. They also add an appealing touch to vegetable-based casseroles and stews.

Mushrooms contain about 80 to 90 percent water, and are very low in calories (only 100 cal/ounce). They have very little sodium and fat, and a high content of dietary fiber. Hence, they are an ideal food for persons following a weight management program or a diet for hypertensives.

Mushrooms are an excellent source of potassium, a mineral that helps lower elevated blood pressure and reduces the risk of stroke. Mushrooms are a rich source of selenium. Selenium is an antioxidant that works with vitamin E to protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. In the Baltimore study on Aging, men with the lowest blood selenium levels were 4 to 5 times more likely to have prostate cancer compared to those with the highest selenium levels.

Protective Effects

The most commonly consumed mushroom in the United States is Agaricus bisporus or the white button mushroom. An extract of white button mushrooms can decrease cell proliferation and decreased tumor size in a dose-dependent manner. Recent findings show that white button mushrooms possess substances that reduce the risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer. The protective effect of mushrooms can be seen with a daily intake of about 100 grams (3.5 ozs).

Shiitake mushrooms have been used for centuries by the Chinese and Japanese to treat colds and flu. Lentinan, a beta-glucan isolated from the fruiting body of shiitake mushrooms, appears to stimulate the immune system, help fight infection, and demonstrates anti-tumor activity.

Many people enjoy going to the woods to pick their own mushrooms. However, identifying mushrooms can be a real challenge. The color, shape and size of the fruiting body can vary tremendously. It is important to properly identify mushrooms, so that one can avoid collecting a poisonous species.

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By Winston J. Craig, R.D. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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