The Health Benefits of Mushrooms

Mushrooms are not only delicious but good for you too.

Chefs and the dining public adore these treasures because they complement so many ingredients with their own earthy flavors and hearty textures. Many may not know about their beneficial nutritional qualities.

Those tasty fungi we love sautéed over steaks, on pizzas, in omelets or vegetable medleys offer more than taste and texture. Mushrooms bring umami to food, the fifth basic taste, along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty that is often described at meaty or savory.

However, “Mushrooms are now recognized as being a “Super Food”, having high levels of many high-quality nutrients,” said Steve Farrar, CEO of Golden Gourmet Mushrooms in San Diego.

Niacin, selenium, dietary fiber, potassium, vitamins B1, B2 and D as well as certain anti-oxidants push mushrooms into the superfood category.

Mushrooms have been successfully used in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine for centuries.

“Over the past 40 years, modern science has been trying to elucidate the active ingredients responsible for the efficacy of mushrooms. A problem in the research is that science needs to limit the number of variables in research studies,” Farrar said.

Limiting studies to one ingredient may not be an effective way to study their effects because several active ingredients in mushrooms work together.

“In other words, the whole mushroom is often greater than the sum of its parts,” Farrar concluded.

Some mushrooms are used as part of cancer treatment. Maitake mushrooms have been shown to activate macrophages, an important immune system cell. In a study patients received maitake with and without chemotherapy. Improvement was shown against leukemia, stomach and bone cancers with just maitake mushrooms.

But responses were further improved when maitake and chemotherapy were used together.

People with Type 2 diabetes may also benefit from maitake mushrooms. Japanese doctors use maitake to lower blood pressure and blood lipids to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Shiitake mushrooms lower cholesterol according to research done in Japan. They also showed shiitake to be effective against HIV, hepatitis B and some cancers.

Reishi mushrooms are beneficial for those with asthma, chronic bronchitis, liver disorders, hypertension and arthritis.

“We have many testimonials from people testifying to the positive effects of mushrooms and their health–reduced cholesterol levels, better blood sugar level control and better performance,” Farrar said.

Since consuming a blend of mushrooms the last 6 years, Farrar has not had a single flu or cold.

Mushrooms need to be cooked for health purposes.

“The cell walls of mushrooms contain chitin, a compound which is basically indigestible. The heat of cooking breaks down this compound and greatly increases the digestibility of mushrooms. Some of the medicinally active components of mushrooms are actually layered in the cell wall making the breakdown of the chitin important for assimilation,” Farrar explained.

Hokto USA grows mushrooms in a state-of-the-art facility in San Marcos, northeast of San Diego. Cultivated in environmentally controlled growing rooms, the process involves no dirt or manure.

Several species reach the consumer untouched by human hands. All mushrooms travel through a huge auto clave that shows if any bacteria have entered the soil or mushrooms themselves.

Unlike white button mushrooms that grow in compost and manure, Hokto’s mushrooms grow in mixture of pine and alder sawdust, corncob pellets, wheat bran, soybean meal and rice bran; plus water. They have more powerful digestive systems that can break down the celluloses found in wood.

“I believe that much of the health benefits to be found in mushrooms relates to the strength and activity of their digestive enzymes,” said Farrar.


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Linda Mensinga

Linda Mensinga was editor of Culinary Trends for 15 years, now a contributing writer. Researching restaurants and hotels, she interviews the best and brightest chefs, not necessarily the most famous, to learn their secrets and recipes. Their talent and dedication never cease to inspire her. 

Mrs. Mensinga is happily food obsessed and fortunate enough to be married to a chef. 

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