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Ask an Expert: Do Mushrooms Have Any Nutritional Value?

Short answer: Absolutely! 

Mushrooms are both nutritious and delicious.  They are unique from other vegetables because they are fungi and not plants.  Plants use photosynthesis to manufacture their own food while fungi need to eat from their host.  There are many varieties, each with its own special flavor, texture, and nutrient profile.  Mushrooms contain several B vitamins and quite a few minerals.  They even supply some vitamin D; however only if they are exposed to ultraviolet light so leave them out on a sunny counter to increase their content.  They produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight in a similar way that our skin does.  They are very low in calories, high in fiber and protein (~37%), and an excellent source of antioxidants which help neutralize free radical damage in our bodies. 

Research has shown mushrooms to have immune boosting properties and animal studies indicate that they have anti-tumor activity.  In Japan, compounds in mushrooms are used to ease side effects from cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.   Although mushrooms have been used medicinally for thousands of years, further clinical research will be necessary to determine whether they are helpful in fighting cancer. 

Check out these mushrooms and their exceptional characteristics:

Cremini:   Often referred to as baby portabellos.  They are actually the same variety as the portobello mushrooms, only younger.  Great source of selenium, riboflavin, niacin, copper, and pantothenic acid.
 
Portobello:  This is the more mature cremini mushroom and it contains comparable nutrients.   They are great for grilling or stuffing because of their large, meaty caps.  

Shiitake:  Used in China for thousands of years and valued for their medicinal properties.  Contains compounds that support the immune system along with high levels of antioxidants.  Very good source of iron and selenium.
 
Reishi:  Originated as a health tonic in traditional Chinese medicine.  In addition to boosting the immune system and providing antioxidants, reishi mushrooms are often used to help manage stress.

Maitake:   Commonly referred to as "hen of the woods," maitake are flattened, stemless mushrooms.  They contain trace minerals and are similar to the shiitake and reishi due to their immune enhancing benefits and potential cancer treating abilities.

Chanterelles:  Their yellow to orange color indicates that they contain beta-carotene.  They have a fruity smell reminiscent of apricots and are often an ingredient in gourmet meals.  Rarely eaten raw, chanterelles are typically cooked to bring out their flavor.

Black Trumpet:  Related to chanterelles. Very difficult to find, they are funnel shaped and have no gills.  Many people say this is the most delectable mushroom!  Often dried and then reconstituted, they provide an excellent richness and depth to cooking.  

Mushrooming in the wild can be a fascinating hobby, but I would advise against gathering your own because there are a few poisonous species out there and it can be tricky to tell them from the edible ones.  Be sure to try all the different varieties in your grocery store since each is slightly different.  Enjoy the taste and the magnificent health benefits of mushrooms!

Corinne Goff is a Registered Dietitian who is absolutely passionate about food, health, and nutrition. Corinne has a BA in Psychology from Salve Regina University and a BS in Nutrition from the University of Rhode Island. As a nutritionist, her objective is to help people reach their health goals by offering a personalized holistic approach to wellness that incorporates natural foods and lifestyle changes. She works together with her clients to develop daily improvements that they feel comfortable with and that are realistic. She believes that the focus on wholesome, nutrient-rich, real food, is the greatest possible way to become healthier, have more energy, decrease chances of chronic disease, and feel your best. For more information, please visit her website at RI Nutrition Housecalls.com.

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