Make room for mushrooms

Published 11:48 am Tuesday, December 7, 2021

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Diet and Exercise

             Today’s “unsung hero of nutrition” is the mushroom. The word “mushroom”, denotes any fungus having a fleshy, spore producing, body. Its name derivation comes from the Late Latin “mussirio”, the Old French “mousseroa”, then the Late Middle English “mushroom”. 

             Mushrooms are neither plants nor animals. They are not plants, because they don’t make their own food, through use of chlorophyll (photosynthesis). They aren’t considered animals, because animals are living organisms that have specialized sensory organs that respond rapidly and aggressively to food stimuli (you should see my buddy Lane Stott bear down on a big plate of fried seafood). Mushrooms obtain their nutrients by metabolizing or breaking down dead plant material, much the way a compost pile does.  

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             Nutritionally, mushrooms provide us some pretty amazing benefits. Mushrooms contain cancer fighting properties: A 2010 study researched 5 different types of mushrooms, including maitake, crimini, portobello, oyster, and white button. It was found that consuming these mushrooms was linked to significantly suppressing the growth of cancer cells, especially those of breast cancer. Also, shiitake mushrooms supply the compound “lentinan”.  Lentinan is a “polysaccharide” ( a type of sugar) that is associated with extending the survival rate of cancer patients. This compound does not kill cancer cells directly, but rather enhances the immune system, which helps the body fight against cancer. Lentinan also increases the effectiveness of certain medications that battle viruses and cancers. Mushrooms help fight depression in cancer patients: Almost everyone with cancer experiences psychological anxiety, depression, or other symptoms. In numerous clinical trials, cancer patients were provided “psilocybin”, a naturally occurring substance found in over 200 mushroom types. Not only did 80% of patients experience improved mood, increased optimism, and a stronger relationship with those around them, they also experienced a connection to a higher spiritual power. Additionally, at a 6 month followup, these changes were sustained in about 80% of patients who continued to show improvement in mood, relationships, and spirituality.

 Mushrooms  lower cholesterol:  Not only are mushrooms “cholesterol free”, they actually hold compounds that help lower blood cholesterol levels. By substituting mushrooms in recipes that call for meat products, you can reduce your cholesterol intake. Also, shiitake mushrooms contain a chemical compound called “eritadenine” which actually lowers blood cholesterol levels, by modifying the way some lipids (fats) are made in the liver. 4. Mushrooms boost the immune system: As mentioned before, the sugar molecule “lentinan” enhances the body’s immune system which is constantly recognizing, remembering, then eliminating, infectious intruders such as bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses. In addition to lentinan, mushrooms contain “beta-glucan”, another “immune booster” polysaccharide. Mushrooms are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber: Mushrooms are an excellent source of B vitamins, including riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), and pantothenic acid (B5). These vitamins are essential for the health of the heart, skin, red blood cells, and the nervous system. Mushrooms also supply the minerals copper, potassium, and selenium. Copper is essential for the production of red blood cells. Potassium is indeed one of the most important minerals in the body. This essential mineral helps regulate fluid balance, muscle contraction, and nerve signals. The trace mineral selenium within mushrooms is vital to lowering oxidative stress in the body, which in turn reduces inflammation and enhances immunity, thereby lowering the risk of certain chronic diseases. Selenium is an “essential” nutrient, which means the body does not produce it, so it must be obtained from the diet. Studies have also linked high blood selenium levels with a reduced risk of bladder cancer, and this mineral appears to have significant protective effects against total cancer risks, including breast and bladder cancer, especially in women. Fiber in mushrooms can help folks with type 2 diabetes lower their blood sugar levels, plus mushroom’s glycemic index is a mere 10, and it’s glycemic load is 1 so mushrooms won’t produce a rapid spike in blood sugar after consumption. The “glycemic load” of a food, is how fast a portion of that food raises blood glucose levels. One cup of portobello mushrooms provides 3 grams of fiber, making them beneficial for not only diabetics, but everyone. 

Mushrooms help  digestion: Mushrooms contain the carbohydrate “chitin”, hemicellulose, A and B glucans, mannans, xylans, and galactans. Now, you might be saying “what in the world is all that stuff?” These are sugars that act as prebiotics to stimulate the growth of microbiota or “good bacteria” in the intestines. This friendly bacteria helps you absorb energy from food, and helps your body take in nutrients. Microbiota is also crucial to the immune system, and keeps bad bacteria in check. Next week, I’ll share more interesting facts about mushrooms.

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David Crocker is a master personal trainer and nutritionist. Questions? Email David at