Mushrooms have been seen as an almost mystical food for thousands of years. While we may no longer believe they’ll make us immortal (as the Ancient Egyptians thought), modern science is lending credence to ancient wisdom. Mushrooms are now known to be rich in vitamins and minerals – including selenium and vitamin D – and studies have suggested a host of health benefits.
How can mushrooms help me?
If you’re eating free from, mushrooms are a great addition to your diet. For vegans they give a hearty taste and are a non-animal source of B vitamins. They’re also useful if you’re avoiding gluten and with it many of the fortified cereals rich in vitamin B.
Try a meal with mushrooms for a healthier heart. Our fungal friends contain beta-glucans, which help maintain normal blood cholesterol levels. Since we don’t naturally produce beta-glucans, the only way to get the compound is in our diet.
Mushrooms could also be helpful if you’re battling the bulge. They’re low in calories, carbs, fat and sodium, but are a source of fibre and nutrients such as B vitamins, potassium and selenium. Try swapping your usual fatty burger for a Portobello mushroom burger instead. Shiitake mushrooms can stop you from snacking thanks to the satisfying umami flavor according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. But for those who prefer a less pungent flavour, maitake mushrooms are a good option. In one Japanese study the fluffy, fan-shaped mushroom – with a chicken-like taste – helped 30 overweight patients lose a significant amount over two months.
Do they have a medical benefit?
While we tend to choose button mushrooms or Portobello for our risottos and fry-ups, there are a host of more exotic fungi that are used in herbal remedies. Maitake mushrooms, popular in Chinese cookery as well as in herbal remedies, have been found to have a response on our immune system, while modern science continually links reishi mushrooms to immunity.
How do I eat them?
Mushrooms are easy to prepare and incredibly versatile. Upgrade your dumplings, spaghetti, stir-fries, fry-ups, wraps, salad, sushi and soups – in nutrients and flavour – by throwing in some shiitake, enoki or even button mushrooms. For vegetarians looking for a speedy dinner, Portobello mushrooms oven-baked with cheese (or nutritional yeast for vegans) provides a hearty, warming meal. For those with a taste for Asian cuisine, shiitake mushrooms are a good choice. Keep a bag of dried shiitake mushrooms in the cupboard and simply soak in warm water for 20 minutes before chopping off the woody stalk and throwing in a wok with coconut oil, ginger, snow peas, rice noodles and tamari (gluten-free soy sauce).