Although mushrooms can be found in the produce section of the grocery, they are neither a fruit nor a vegetable. Mushrooms are not technically plants and therefore officially do not contain phytonutrients (plant nutrients.) However, the benefits of mushrooms are huge. They have a great deal of nutritional value, are full of micronutrients, and we do consider them among the SuperFoods.
Mushrooms are low in carbohydrates and high in fiber. They are a good source of B-vitamins (riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and niacin), iron, and selenium. Mushrooms are naturally low in sodium and high in potassium (a 3 ounce portabello cap has more potassium than a banana). Furthermore, they have essentially no fat and no cholesterol. Mushrooms are an excellent addition to any meal due to their rich, earthy taste.
There are concerns that commonly available mushrooms like white button mushrooms, portabello mushrooms, shitakes, and creminis (actually baby portabella) contain very small amounts of a compound called agaritine. Agaritine may be carcinogenic in extremely high doses. Cooking removes the agaritine, so as a rule, try to eat mushrooms cooked. Interestingly, compounds in mushrooms are actually being studied for their natural anti-cancer effects.
The best news about mushrooms is a powerful micronutrient called ergothioneine. Ergothioneine is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory which mushrooms have in very high concentrations. Cooking actually releases this powerful nutrient from the mushroom cells. Mushrooms also have high levels of polyphenols that give them a higher antioxidant level than green pepper and zucchini.
The best advice is to include a variety of mushrooms in your diet along with a healthy mix of foods high in antioxidants and micronutrients.
Tips for Mushrooms
If you buy canned mushrooms, be careful of added sodium. Naturally mushrooms have no sodium. If you can, choose fresh or dried mushrooms.
Store mushrooms unwashed in a paper bag in the fridge. If you buy them packaged in plastic, transfer them to a paper bag or cover the tray with a paper towel.
When choosing loose mushrooms at the market, look for dry mushrooms with smooth caps, firm gills, and a fresh aroma.
Don’t soak the mushrooms in water. They are very porous and will absorb water quickly. Absorbing too much water will alter their flavor and texture.
Some argue that you shouldn’t use water to clean mushrooms, but a quick rinse and a wipe with a damp cloth will clean them up quickly. A purist would simply brush the mushrooms gently, but this takes more time and effort.
Don’t peel them.
Cut off the firm, dark areas of the stems.
Avoid eating mushrooms raw, even if they are on the salad bar that way. Since mushrooms have thick cell walls that break down with cooking, cooking unlocks more nutrients and safely degrades any trace amount of a potentially carcinogenic compound called agaritine. Finally, mushrooms are often grown on manure. While the manure is sterilized, it is always better to cook mushrooms.
There are over 70,000 types of mushrooms, but only around 250 species are edible. Don’t eat mushrooms out of your yard!
To reconstitute dried mushrooms, simmer the mushrooms in water or broth for 15 to 20 minutes. Then the mushrooms are ready to add to your favorite recipe.