“Shrooms”: Who Knew They Were So Good For You?
Shrooms, more formally known as mushrooms, are an often-overlooked vegetable. Most people only view mushrooms as a tasty addition to a salad, soup, or side dish. However, mushrooms actually contain a wealth of nutrients, and recent research highlights some of their health promoting compounds. Read on to find out what mushrooms can do for you.
NUTRITIONAL FACTS AND FIGURES
Practically all mushrooms are good sources of protein, dietary fiber, niacin, selenium, potassium, riboflavin, phosphorus, copper, and other B vitamins. Some mushroom varieties, particularly portabella mushrooms, are also good sources of vitamin D and calcium.
What else can eating shrooms do for you?
Besides being nutrient dense, mushrooms are touted for numerous potential health benefits, including:
- Boosting heart health
- Lowering the risk of some cancers
- Promoting immune function
- Warding off viruses, bacteria, and fungi (interestingly, mushrooms are fungi)
- Reducing inflammation
- Supporting the body’s detoxification mechanisms
Recently, a few studies have shed light on exactly what is in mushrooms that provides these health benefits. A recent study conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign analyzed six mushroom varieties in both the raw and cooked forms, and at various harvest times and maturity levels, for their concentrations of:
- Oligosaccharides (a prebiotic that elicits the growth of healthful bacteria in the colon)
- Beta-glucans (a compound that improves heart health)
- Chitin (a dietary fiber with cholesterol lowering properties)
The varieties tested included white button, crimini, portabella, maitake, shiitake, and enoki. While portabella mushrooms had the highest levels of all three compounds, ALL varieties contained some oligosaccharides and chitin, and all but enokis and maitakes contained beta-glucans. Since only very small amounts of these compounds appear necessary to provide cardiovascular benefits, mushrooms may play a significant role in heart as well as colon health.
In another study, investigators at the City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte, CA, evaluated the role that various vegetables may play in the prevention or treatment of breast cancer. Numerous vegetables contain naturally occurring chemicals that inhibit an enzyme known as aromatase. Aromatase is a key enzyme in the body involved in estrogen synthesis, and research suggests that inhibition of this enzyme can slow breast cancer growth. The aromatase inhibition potential of green onions, celery, bell pepper, carrots, broccoli, spinach, and several types of edible mushrooms (including portabella, crimini, and button) was evaluated in animal subjects; however only the mushroom preparations demonstrated aromatase inhibition in the tumors. The results of this study suggest that mushroom consumption may be part of an artillery defense against breast cancer.
A more recent study at Arizona State University compared the ability of five mushroom varieties (maitake, crimini, portobella, oyster, and white button) to modulate cell proliferation of human breast cancer cells. Results demonstrated that while all varieties significantly suppressed proliferation of breast cancer cells, maitake and oyster mushrooms were the most effective. Further research using human cells at the Cancer Research Laboratory at Methodist Research Institute demonstrated that a mixture of mushroom components inhibited cell proliferation and arrested the cell cycle of invasive breast cancer cells, and also suppressed metastatic behavior of these cells. These results are very promising, and provide further evidence for the relationship between eating mushrooms and defense against breast cancer.
Are there any precautions that should be taken when eating shrooms?
Yes! Do not gather mushrooms in the wild yourself. Edible varieties can easily be mistaken for deadly ones. Taking the wrong type of mushroom could cause severe health problems. For example, the shrooms some people take to cause hallucinations are dangerous, and it’s NOT likely that they will provide the above listed health benefits.
Mushrooms actually provide more health benefits than most people assume. New research has shed light on the various components of mushrooms that make them so beneficial; from promoting good colon health, to boosting heart health, and even decreasing your risk of cancer, mushrooms are a nutrient-dense food with many powerful positive traits. From portabella, to shitake, to crimini, to plain old white button, including a daily dose of mushrooms in your diet may provide you with more health benefits than expected.
2. Grube, B.J., et al. White button mushroom phytochemicals inhibit aromatase activity cell proliferation. J Nutr. 131:3288-3293, 2001.