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By Karen Alexander, Oncology Wellness Specialist


The Health Benefits of Mushrooms

People have been eating wild and cultivated mushrooms for their nutritional and medicinal benefits and unique taste since ancient times. Romans had mushrooms on the menu, and Aztecs and Egyptians considered them to be the food of the gods. They reached France in the 17th century.

The word mushroom is derived from the French word for fungi and mold. While many people assume that mushrooms are a vegetable, they are actually a fungus. You can find a broad variety at the market, but the most popular in America are the button, portabella, shiitake, cremini and cup mushrooms. The button mushroom, or Agaricus bisporus, makes up about 40 percent of the mushrooms grown around the world. 

Mushrooms are low in calories and fat, but high in protein, carbohydrates, and dietary fiber. They contain a variety of minerals and trace elements such as potassium, selenium, and copper, and vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, folates. They are thought to be the only vegetarian source of vitamin D, and are recognized for having bioactive compounds with health properties including polysaccharides like B-glucans, phenolic compounds, sterols and triterpenes. These molecules have been found to have antioxidant, immune-modulator, anti-tumor, antioxidant, antiviral, hypocholesterolemic and hypoglycaemic effects.

The best way to cook mushrooms if you want to preserve the nutritional profile and antioxidant properties is to grill or microwave them. Boiling or frying mushrooms will decrease the antioxidant activity. Frying will cause more severe nutritional loss while increasing fat and calorie content, while boiling will lose some antioxidant content but increase the total glucans content by enhancing the B-glucans fraction. This is a soluble dietary fiber that has been linked to improving cholesterol levels and heart health.

Mushrooms are very versatile. They can be eaten raw, cooked as main course, or added to soups, salads, and other sides. When buying mushrooms, look for small or medium sized ones with caps (tops) that are closed around the stem. Some caps can be open with pink or light tan gills. The surface of the cap should be white, creamy or uniform light brown. Avoid overripe mushrooms (wide-open caps and dark, discolored gills underneath). Avoid mushrooms with pitted or discolored caps. For better storage, keep them in their packages in the refrigerator. If you buy loose mushrooms, place them in a paper bag in the refrigerator. Do not tightly pack mushrooms into a plastic bag. Do not put mushrooms in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator because moisture will make then decay faster. Fresh mushrooms will last about one week.

The recipe of the week is a wonderful side for your spring cookouts, courtesy of Lean Jumpstart.  

Balsamic Grilled Mushroom Skewers

2 pounds Portobello mushrooms (sliced 1/4 inch thick or quartered)
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon thyme, chopped
½ teaspoon rosemary, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Soak 8 skewers in water for 30 minutes to prevent burning.
Mix all ingredients in a bowl with lid or put all ingredients in a Ziploc bag and shake.
Let marinate for 45 minutes.
Preheat your (charcoal) grill to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Slide the mushrooms onto skewers. (4-5 pieces per skewer)
Place the skewers on the grill, turning occasionally, for 7-8 minutes. Keep from burning by placing them over to the unlit center portion of the grill (indirect cooking) until all skewers are ready.
Season with salt and pepper according to taste and serve!

Enjoy your weekend!

Karen Alexander, BNSD, MSCN

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