There is often confusion as to whether mushrooms are herbs or vegetables. They are neither because they are classified as part of the fungi family. Only around 3000 of the 14 000 documented varieties of mushroom are edible. They contain a wide range of nutrients, ranging from niacin to fibre, potassium and selenium.
The potassium in mushrooms is excellent for lowering blood pressure, preventing strokes and easing cramps. Mushrooms are low in carbohydrates and contain lean proteins, which make them an ideal low energy snack for diabetics. Due to the presence of Linoleic Acid, they can also be instrumental in the prevention of both breast and prostate cancers.
Mushrooms contain Ergothioneine, which is a powerful antioxidant. They also contain natural antibiotics which are able to help inhibit fungal and microbial infections. They have been known to help heal ulcers and boost the immune system. These fungi are also an excellent food source for those wanting to lose weight, as they are composed almost entirely of water and fibre.
Their Selenium content works alongside Vitamin E to prevent the damaging effects of free radicals. Mushrooms are one of the very few foods to contain an edible form of Vitamin D. They also contain copper, calcium, riboflavin, niacin, zinc, phosphorus and pantothenic acid. Niacin works at interrupting the activity of homocysteine, which is associated with elevated cholesterol levels and an increased risk of osteoarthritis, strokes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and many other cognitive disorders. Their zinc content is essential for helping to stabilize blood sugar levels and also assists with wound healing. Copper is essential for keeping the cardiovascular system healthy.
Much of the research done has focused on the shiitake, reishi, maitake and crimini mushroom varieties. However, research has recently discovered that the common white button mushrooms have just as much cancer-fighting ingredients in them than the fancy varieties have.
While many varieties of mushroom grow wild, only people who are highly experienced in botanical identification should attempt to pick and eat these; there are some that are toxic and may be incorrectly identified. People who have a history of kidney stones and gout need to ensure that they exercise caution when eating mushrooms, as they contain purines. This is a precursor to uric acid which can be harmful in large amounts to these individuals.