Mushrooms: Nature’s Hidden Gem
As a young child, and even during my college years, I never recalled eating mushrooms despite their abundance. Nor did I have any idea of the powerful nutritional components found in mushrooms until a year before the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m sad to admit that the pandemic was the first time I truly and wholeheartedly appreciated the presence of mushrooms in our food system here in the United States.
Mushrooms have existed for quite a long time, and there are a variety of mushrooms unique to different parts of the world. The American Mushroom Institute (AMI) states that “every year, the U.S. mushroom industry grows, harvests, and distributes nearly 1 billion pounds of fresh mushrooms across the country.” According to the Mushroom Council, mushrooms are commercially produced in virtually every state, with Pennsylvania accounting for approximately 60% of total U.S. production. They are always in season and grow year-round in the United States. The most common mushrooms available in stores here are baby button, beech, chanterelle, cremini, honey mushroom, Lion’s mane, maitake, oyster, portobello, reishi, shiitake, truffle, white button, and wood ear.
Joel Fuhrman, MD, the author of Super Immunity: The Essential Nutrition Guide for Boosting Your Body’s Defenses to Live Longer, Stronger, and Disease Free, dubbed mushrooms the “queen of super immunity.” According to Fuhrman, mushrooms are unique because they contain many unusual disease-fighting compounds that we are just beginning to understand. In fact, Fuhrman states in his book that “research has shown that frequent consumption of mushrooms can decrease the incidence of breast cancer by up to 60 to 70%.”
In recent years, the market for mushrooms has grown due to their affordability; low-calorie, fat-free, and gluten-free content; nutrient density; low amount of sodium; sustainability; and versatility. According to the Mushroom Council, mushrooms are the only food in the produce aisle that contains vitamin D. They are rich in riboflavin and niacin, which help provide energy by breaking down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Mushrooms also contain selenium and vitamin B6, which are important for helping the immune system function properly.
Despite the many health benefits associated with mushrooms, they are not for everyone. It is advisable to discuss your dietary needs with a certified food literacy educator, a certified health coach, a registered dietitian nutritionist, or a physician before consuming mushrooms in case you have any underlying health conditions that could pose a problem. Some mushrooms have toxins that could trigger fatal health issues. Wild mushrooms may contain high levels of heavy metals and other harmful chemicals. Fuhrman advises that as a precaution, mushrooms should always be cooked before consumption since some studies have reported toxic effects in animals from raw mushrooms. One should also avoid eating any random mushrooms that are found outside.
Mushrooms can be used by themselves or combined with other foods, such as green vegetables and onions, to make mushroom broth. They are also used as substitutes for beef or chicken. In addition, baked mushrooms can be eaten as snacks, which is great for people with diabetes because of mushrooms’ low glycemic index and low amount of carbohydrates. Their yummy umami flavor sets them apart from other chip alternatives.
Go ahead and invest in your health by prioritizing mushrooms as a consumer. They are affordable, accessible, nutritious, and nourishing!
Maryam Funmilayo is a public health researcher with an academic background in public health, health education, health promotion, and nutrition. She is fascinated with Quranic and prophetic teachings regarding food, health, nutrition, and wellness. One of her areas of research is the effect of mushroom consumption on breast cancer and fibroids in pre- and postmenopausal women.