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Health and Fitness

The Undervalued Superfood: 11 Amazing Health Benefits Of Mushrooms

Vivian KELLY
by Vivian KELLY Published on October 15, 2014

It's National Mushroom Day - a whole 24 hours to dedicated to what many people consider a miracle food! Mushrooms have powerful effects on your health. With immune boosting properties, vitamins, fiber, and tons of ​antioxidants it's fair to say they have a lot to offer our bodies. In celebration we're here to tell you everything you need to know about the benefits of mushrooms!

Today is a great day to appreciate mushrooms, get in the know and learn about this common staple food.

Are mushrooms vegetables? Where do they grow and just how nutritious are these little guys? These are perfectly valid questions. In fact, most people mistakenly think of mushrooms as veggies and often don't realise just how powerful they can be.

So time to set the facts straight. Mushrooms are NOT vegetables. Unlike most fresh food we eat, mushrooms don't need sunlight to grow. They're actually the fruit of fungus that grows underground. And you know what they love most? MOISTURE. Lots and lots of it. Ick, we know, but don't let this put you off.

From brown and white to portobello and shiitake there are loads of different mushroom varieties you can use in your dishes and they're all equally delicious. But we're not here to talk about the different types - that's for you to discover on your own.

Here are the facts about mushrooms...

  • They're made up of 92% water
  • Science says they satisfy you more than fruit and vegetables
  • They have ZERO fat
  • They're high in vitamins and minerals
  • An 80g serving (around 14 baby button mushrooms) can count towards your 5-a-day
  • They're hella cheaper than meat!

1. They can help you lose weight

If you're trying to cut down calories in your diet without the horror of being hungry all the time then mushrooms are the way to go!

Nutrition expert and Senior Lecturer in Applied Physiology at Birmingham City University, Mel Wakeman says, "Edible mushrooms are low in calories so they can help with weight loss or maintenance. 100g provides just 40 calories yet they are reasonably rich in nutrients."

And because of their meaty texture they're great alternative to meat. But beware! Don't go too crazy with the garlic butter - mushrooms are like sponges so they will soak up all the oils and fats that they can.

2. They're a good source of selenium

But they're not just good for losing weight, they're fabulous for your skin, hair and nails too. All thanks to the beauty-loving mineral, selenium, of course.

NutriCentre nutritionist Cassandra Barns says, "Mushrooms are one of the best vegetable sources of the mineral selenium which helps keep your hair and nails healthy, and supports production of thyroid hormones that control your metabolism."

Selenium also helps​ keep your skin glowing by protecting its quality and elasticity, but don't try supplementing this mineral. If you get too much it could be harmful. The best way to get selenium is through a healthy diet (and lots of mushrooms obviously).

3. They promote healthy sperm

Trying for a baby? Get some mushrooms into your man's diet!

"Mushrooms are a good source of both zinc and selenium, two very important minerals for making healthy sperm," say Cassandra.

But if you're already pregnant, you're still in luck! Pregnant women need more folate but often times they can become deficient. The best thing to do is eat foods rich in folate which - you guessed it - includes mushrooms!

4. They're immune boosting

With winter just around the corner, right now is a good time to start stocking up on mushrooms purely for their immune boosting qualities!

Cassandra says, "Mushrooms contain substances called beta-glucans, which can support and strengthen the immune system. Those said to have the strongest effects include Shiitake mushrooms, which can be found in some supermarkets and good health food stores." Just a sprinkle of sesame seeds, chopped garlic, and a dash of soy sauce is all you need for a simple yet healthy sautéed meal!

5. They're a good source of vitamin D

Vitamin D is vital for our health. It allows the body to absorb calcium, helping to make strong bones and teeth.

But if mushrooms grow underground how in the world can they be rich in vitamin D? The answer is easy.

Mel says, "Simply unwrap your mushrooms and place them outdoors between the hours of 10am and 3pm for 30 minutes in the spring and summer months." Easy-peasy, right? Remember, mushrooms are like sponges and will easily soak up the Vitamin D from the sun!

6. They're great for your gut

If your diet is low in fiber, chances are you're feeling pretty crap. Constipation, weight gain and fatigue are only a few of the symptoms you can get when you're lacking. BUT if you're a mushroom lover you won't have to worry about this. Mushrooms are an amazing source of fiber, particularly soluble fiber.

Mel says, "Eating more soluble fiber, will help boost the numbers of good bacteria in your gut. These provide us with some nutrients (vitamins B & K), keep harmful bacteria at bay and the by-products of their action can help lower cholesterol levels and help us better manage our blood sugar levels (reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes)."

Think of mushrooms as a natural alternative to probiotics!

7. They're known as a 'miracle food'

For thousands of years mushrooms have been touted for their health benefits in Eastern countries. The Chinese and Egyptians were among the first to put their benefits to use.

Cassandra says, "The so-called ‘medicinal’ mushrooms such as reishi, maitake and Shiitake have been used in China for many years for their health-promoting properties.

​"Their traditional uses include supporting the liver, reducing blood pressure, supporting the lungs and of course strengthening the immune system."

People take advantage of these benefits in many different mushroom forms, such as Reishi Mushroom Tea, which is significantly improves your overall wellbeing in just a matter of months! It's one to try, that's for sure.

8. They help lower you cholesterol

When it comes to heart health, you can depend on the shiitake mushroom.

"They contain a unique substance called eritadenine that is mainly responsible for this effect – but they also contain beta-glucans, phytosterols and fibre which can also support healthy cholesterol levels and a healthy heart," explains Cassandra.

When preparing shiitake DO NOT to wash them. A light rinse and wipe-down them is fine, but if you douse them in water they're going to absorb the it and turn into soggy muck. ​The best thing to do is take a wet damp kitchen roll and wipe them clean. That's all it takes, ladies!

9. They're antioxidant-rich

When it comes to healthy eating we love our antioxidants, so we were thrilled to find out that mushrooms are a great source, but the best part? They have AS MANY antioxidants as vegetables do.

In fact, Mel says, "White button mushrooms appear to have more antioxidant capacity than tomatoes, green peppers and carrots." That's all the more reason to start including mushrooms in your diet more often.

"​Antioxidants help cells in the body ward off damage from dangerous oxygen molecules called free radicals. Free radicals may play a role in ageing and illnesses such as heart disease and various types of cancer." So make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need. Food is your medicine.

10. Energy boosting

Feeling tired and out of sorts? Get the spark back in your life with mushrooms!

We know. It's probably the last thing that comes to mind when you think about boosting your energy but mushrooms are actually an amazing source of all the B vitamins, AKA THE energy boosting vit.

"They are great sources of vitamins B2, B3 and B5, all of which help our body to produce energy from the foods that we eat," says Cassandra.

11. They make a great vegetarian dish

If you're vegan or vegetarian you may already know that you're at higher risk for being deficient in vitamin B12, which is mainly found in animal products. This why eating mushrooms is such a brilliant choice for you!

Cassandra says, "As well as containing good levels of zinc and selenium, which are mainly found in animal foods, mushrooms have a lovely meaty texture and are particularly filling, adding variety and taste to any vegetarian dish." Go on, get your fungi flag flying!

Are you gonna add more mushrooms to your diet now? Tweet us @wewomenCA!

If you're short on mushroom recipe ideas check out Just Add Mushrooms for loads of simple, healthy meals to enjoy all year round.

by Vivian KELLY

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