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The Health Benefits of Mushrooms

Edible Mushrooms

Dr. Kristie Leong

If you're trying to eat healthy, there may be a simple but powerful food you're ignoring. They're not brightly colored or particularly impressive in appearance but they do pack a powerful nutritional punch. What is this mysterious food? The mushroom, of course! What exactly are the health benefits of mushrooms?

Mushrooms are a very large and diverse group. There are over 37,000 varieties, but only about a quarter of them are edible. Although you'll find them in the produce department intermixed with the fruits and vegetables, mushrooms are neither. They're actually a fungus. The beauty of these fungi is they take on the flavour of whatever they're cooked with. This makes them particularly versatile for the home chef. Plus, you don't have to feel guilty about adding these little powerhouses of nutrition to your dishes. Here are some of the diverse health benefits of mushrooms.

They're low in calories

Mushrooms have around fifteen calories per one hundred grams which makes them a real caloric bargain. This is hardly surprising since they're composed primarily of water. They're also fat free and low in carbs. With such low carbohydrate, calorie, and fat content, you can add them to your dishes without a twinge of guilt.

They may have positive effects on the immune system

Mushroom and mushroom extracts are increasingly being studied for their ability to stimulate immune function, particularly with regard to the role they may play in cancer prevention and treatment. Although much of this research is anecdotal and preliminary, many experts believe mushrooms hold promise for boosting the immune system which could have an impact on a variety of diseases.

They may play a role in breast cancer prevention

Trials are currently being conducted by the National Cancer Institute to determine whether an extract from the white button mushrooms can prevent recurrence of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. It's thought that a component of white button mushrooms may inhibit an enzyme known as aromatase which is involved in estrogen metabolism. If white button mushroom extract can successfully lower estrogen levels in breast cancer survivors, it may prevent recurrence of the disease.

They're rich in vitamins and minerals

Mushrooms are a good source of B vitamins which are important for cell metabolism as well as support of the immune system and the nervous system. They're also high in selenium which functions as an antioxidant to protect cells from damage by free radicals. And that's not all. Mushrooms are also rich in potassium, an important mineral for maintaining healthy blood pressure.

Shouldn't you be getting the health benefits of mushrooms?

With the diversity of mushrooms available and the many ways to prepare them, you can easily get the wonderful health benefits these fungi offer. Why not look for them the next time you grocery shop?

Health Disclaimer. Copyright ©2008. Dr. Kristie Leong is a family practice physician and medical writer. Published with permission.