If you're like most home chefs, mushrooms are an afterthought. You might drop them on a salad or perhaps use them as a garnish for your meat dishes. But mushrooms are a healthy, nutrient-rich food that are worth making a regular part of your meal plan. You'll get a good dose of vitamins and cut your daily calorie count.
Health benefits of mushrooms
They say you should "eat green," but mushrooms are one healthy vegetable that ranges from brown to gray. Don't be put off — you can get a good daily dose of vitamin D from this sun-shy fungus. You'll also get an energy burst from mushrooms' B-vitamin content. Selenium, copper and potassium are essential to health and hard to come by in a regular diet; mushrooms are a good source of these nutrients.
There is evidence that mushrooms boost your immune system and lower cancer risk. Mushrooms work to regulate estrogen levels, possibly reducing the chance of breast cancer, and the vegetable's selenium content helps prevent chronic disease. Replacing beef in pasta or chili with mushrooms can save 400 calories per serving.
Different mushroom varieties
So are all mushrooms created equal? Dr. Andrew Weil at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine says no. Dr. Weil prefers more exotic varieties like shiitake, enoki, maitake and oyster. Shiitake helps lower cholesterol and boosts immunity; all four may protect against cancer. But don't neglect other types, as each kind of mushroom has good properties. Portobello mushrooms, for example, are particularly high in potassium, containing more per serving than one banana.
How to prepare mushrooms for maximum nutrition
Not only do mushrooms retain their nutrients when cooked, but Weil recommends cooking to get rid of toxins and ease digestion. Cooking breaks down the mushrooms' walls so the body can better absorb the nutrients. Of course, you should take care when you're preparing mushrooms not to add extra fat and calories. If you sauté them in butter, limit the amount you're putting in the pan.
Quick recipe ideas
Mushrooms are easy to cook and taste great whether served for breakfast or dinner. Clean your mushrooms using a toothbrush or damp paper towel. Mushrooms absorb water, so it's best not to soak them — just give them a quick rinse.
Here are some ideas of how to cook mushrooms to get your nutrient fix:
- Place sautéed mushrooms on the bottom of a ramekin, top with eggs and bake in the oven at 350 degrees.
- Toss mushrooms in oil and roast in the oven at 400 degrees; serve with herbs.
- Grill mushrooms on a skewer or directly over heat.
- Stuff mushroom caps with garlic and bread crumbs, bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.
One additional benefit of mushrooms is their versatility. There's a mushroom for every taste, so why not find a variety that suits you and helps you meet your health goals?