How Healthy Are Mushrooms?
Mushrooms are an essential food for health. I include them in my diet every day as they offer powerful nutritional benefits. Mushrooms offer tremendous powers to enhance our immune system function. They are a superfood; one of the most health-promoting foods on the planet. By including mushrooms among other nutrient-dense, plant-rich foods, you will make your diet extremely effective at helping to prevent chronic disease and promote your own health and longevity.
Breast Cancer Fighters
Recently, a number of antitumor agents have been identified in various mushrooms. Mushrooms contain specialized lectins, which bind to abnormal cells and cancer cells, labeling the cells for destruction by our immune system. Phytochemicals in mushrooms also enhance the activity of specialized cells that attack and destroy virus-infected and cancerous cells.
Mushrooms also contain estrogen-blockers called aromatase inhibitors. These inhibitors are attracted to breast tissue, and prevent the fatty tissue in the breast from producing estrogens that can stimulate breast cell growth and breast cancer. They also protect the sensitive tissues in the breast from being overly stimulated by estrogen, preventing cell proliferation that can lead to breast cancer. Even the most commonly eaten mushrooms, like white, cremini and Portobello, are rich in anti-aromatase activity. While it is true that cruciferous vegetables and tomatoes also contain aromatase inhibitors, the level in mushrooms is 67 percent higher than these other foods.
A True Weight-Loss Food
Even more, mushrooms have anti-obesity effects. Their chemical properties oppose insulin, which in turn helps lower blood sugar and interferes with fat deposition on the body. They also block enzymes that break down carbs into simple sugars. There was a study in which researchers gave people less meat, and more mushrooms, in place of meat. The subjects were followed for one year and researchers found that people were healthier, they lost a lot of weight, they had less diabetes, their blood pressure and cholesterol went down. All because they substituted some mushrooms in place of meat in their diet.
Mushrooms have so many benefits. Eating mushrooms offer elevated resistance to bowel infection and inflammation by increasing the diversity of healthy bacteria in the gut. This can foster protection against salmonella and Clostridium difficile bacteria. Mushrooms boost salivary and mucosal immunoglobulin A, which also may help impede infection. In other words, mushrooms are the safest way we can increase the digestive microflora and decrease harmful inflammation and eliminate pathogenic bacteria.
Variety is the Spice of Life
Eating a variety of different types of mushrooms is best. White, cremini, Portobello, oyster, shiitake, maitake, and reishi mushrooms all have anti-cancer properties. But individual types of mushrooms offer specific advantages. Some are anti-inflammatory, while others stimulate the immune system, prevent DNA damage, slow cancer cell growth, initiate programmed cancer cell death, and/or inhibit angiogenesis (the growth of blood vessels that feed cancer). Consuming mushrooms regularly can offer protection against breast, stomach and colorectal cancers. And combining mushrooms with onions, green and cruciferous vegetables, and beans creates delicious, yet powerfully protective meals.
Cook Your Mushrooms
Although mushrooms have a slew of health benefits, they are better eaten cooked. That’s because mushrooms from the Agaricus genus contain a mild carcinogen called argaritine which gasses off when heated. It is still not clear whether this compound poses a health risk, but it is better to play it safe until more is definitively known. Mushrooms from this family include the common white, brown, button, cremini, and Portobello varieties. While other types of mushrooms may not contain the compound agaritine, I recommend that all varieties be cooked to also reduce the risk of any potential contamination with microbes.