Mushrooms are epigeous macro-fungi and have been highly valued in many cultures because of their nutritional value and characteristic aroma and taste. Out of 3000 edible species of mushrooms only 100 are cultivated commercially, and only ten are produced on an industrial scale. Their global economic value is, nevertheless, considerable. The prime reason for the upswing in consumption is increased health benefits of mushrooms awareness. This has led to selection of foods with superior nutritional or nutraceutical benefits. In this article, we will explore the various health benefits of mushrooms and shedding light on why they should be considered as staple food in your diet.
The nutritional value and health benefits of mushrooms is established; they are rich sources of complete proteins, containing all the essential amino acids and fiber and very little fat. Mushrooms also provide significant quantities of vitamins (B1, B2, B12, C, D and E) and bioactive compounds such as unsaturated fatty acids, phenolic compounds, tocopherol, and carotenoids.
Nutritional Value and Health Benefits of Mushrooms:
1. Proteins in Mushrooms:
Protein is an important constituent of mushrooms dry matter with digestibility values as high as 72-83% and it contains all essential amino acids. The protein content of mushrooms depends on the composition of the mushrooms, size of the pileus, harvest time, and species, but ranges from 14% to 27% crude protein. In terms of the amount of crude protein, mushrooms rank below meat, but above most other foods, including milk. In general, mushrooms are very useful for vegetarian because they contain essential amino acids that are usually obtained from animal proteins. The total nitrogen content of dry mushrooms is 79% compared with 100% for an ideal protein.
2. Carbohydrates in Mushrooms:
The carbohydrate content of mushrooms represents the bulk of the fruiting bodies, accounting for 50-65% with free sugars amounting to about 11%, Mannitol, also called mushroom sugar, constitutes about 80% of the total free sugars, and a fresh mushrooms contains 0.9% Mannitol, 0.28% reducing sugar, 0.59% glycogen and 0.91% hemicellulose. Water-soluble polysaccharides of mushrooms have been shown to have some antitumor activity, and Mannitol is associated with improved brain function.
3. Fats in Mushrooms:
Mushrooms contain very little fat compared with Carbohydrates and proteins, ranging from 1% to 5%. The fats present in mushrooms fruiting bodies are dominated by unsaturated fatty acids rich in linolenic acid, which is an essential fatty acid.
4. Vitamins in Mushrooms:
Mushrooms are an excellent source of some vitamins, particularly the B vitamins, and wild mushrooms contain much more vitamin D2 than dark cultivated mushrooms. Mushrooms also contain a small amount of vitamin C.
5. Minerals in Mushrooms:
The fruiting bodies of mushrooms contain high levels of minerals including potassium, phosphorus, sodium, calcium and magnesium as well as copper, zinc, iron, molybdenum and cadmium. K, P, Na and Mg constitute 55-70% of the total ash content of mushrooms while potassium alone forms 45% of the total ash. Mushrooms have been found to accumulate heavy metals including cadmium, lead, arsenic, copper, nickel, silver, chromium and mercury. The mineral properties vary according to the species, age and the diameter of the fruiting body as well as the type of the substratum. The minerals content of wild mushrooms have been found to be higher than cultivated mushrooms.
6. Therapeutic Value and Health Benefits of Mushrooms:
Mushrooms have been used in healthcare for treating age-old common diseases to present-day more complex conditions.
Mushrooms possess antiallergic, anti-cholesterol, antitumor and anticancer properties. The antitumor effects of hot water extracts from several mushrooms has been observed where the main active components are polysaccharides. It is also reported that mushrooms cure epilepsy, and help with wounds, skin diseases, heart ailments, rheumatoid arthritis and cholera besides intermittent fevers, diaphoresis, diarrhea, dysentery, colds, anesthesia, liver disease, gall bladder disease and they are used as vermicides.
Mushrooms health supplements, marketed in the form of powders, capsules or tablets are made from dried fruiting bodies, extracts of mycelium, biomass or extracts from liquid fermentation. Waxy cap mushrooms extracts (Hygrocybe coccinea) inhibit sarcoma and immunoceticals, isolated from more than 30 mushroom species, have been shown to have anticancer action in animals.
7. Antioxidant Activity of Mushrooms:
Mushrooms are rich sources of antioxidant properties. Many spices of mushrooms have also been found to be potent immune enhancers, enhancing the immune response to neoplastic changes.
8. Gut Health and Digestive Benefits of Mushrooms:
Consuming 1% of the total dietary intake of white mushrooms (equivalent to 75g fresh weight) in a restricted diet increased gut bacterial diversity. In two different models of gastrointestinal injury are improved by mushrooms consumption, including weight gain and colonic length, and reduce hyperplasia and immune infiltrates in the colon histopathology.
9. Immunity Booster:
Dietary mushrooms have been reported to improve immune system and thus improve the activity of natural killer cells, which are an important component of the innate immune system responsible for antiviral and anti-tumor defense.
10. Brain Health and Cognitive Function:
Studies have shown that mushrooms are not only beneficial for body but also for your brain. Mushrooms contain compounds like hericenones and erinacines, which have been linked to improved memory and cognitive function. The antioxidant properties present in mushrooms help to protect brain cells from oxidative stress, potentially reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
Role of Mushrooms in Diet:
Since antiquity, man has hunted for the wild mushrooms and higher fungi have been treated as a food due to their unique palatability and flavors. They are low in calories, but contain high amounts of vegetable protein, specially chitin. Mushrooms consists of two main parts, the mycelium and the fruity body (sporocarp). The mycelium consists of a tree-like structure (hyphae), which remains buried under the soil or substrate. The mycelium absorbs nutrients while the hyphae form mycelia, which in turn forms the fruit (sporocarp) structure on the surface when atmospheric conditions, particularly humidity, are favorable. The spore-producing tissue is called the hymenium. Mushrooms vary in size, color, texture and structure, which favors spore formation. The cap is called the cuticle and varies among mushrooms species; it may be sticky or slimy. The stalk is the stem-like structure on which the cap is mounted and varies in length depending on the species.
Mushrooms have assumed greater importance in the diets of both rural and urban dwellers due to numerous health benefits of mushrooms. The success in utilizing plant proteins as ingredients depends largely on the beneficial qualities they impart to foods, which by extension, depend on their functional properties. The functionality of plant protein has been reported to be dependent on the chemical characteristics inherent in the seed. Some mushrooms extracts are used as a component for soups and teas to boost the immune system. Consumption is also associated with reduced risk of cancer and heart diseases.
As you now know the various health benefits of mushrooms, you can incorporate mushrooms with various recipes, from creamy mushrooms risotto to flavorful mushroom stir-fry, to enjoy the health benefits of mushrooms. If you can not consume mushrooms regularly, mushrooms supplements are a convenient way to have mushrooms in your daily life.
Poisonous Wild Mushrooms:
Some mushrooms are poisonous and symptoms range from mild gastrointestinal discomfort to death. For example, a wild species of mushrooms, Amanita Phalloides, famously known as the ‘death cap’, contains amatoxins that cause severe gastroenteritis and hepatic necrosis. The toxin of Psilocybe Semilanceata is a potent hallucinogens; anxiety and peripheral sympathomimetic symptoms may follow ingestion. Another spices, Amanita Pantherina (panther cap) may cause severe anxiety and agitation, hallucinations, and peripheral anticholinergic symptoms.
The most common reason for poisoning is misidentification or close resemblance of edible mushroom spices to toxic mushrooms. Thus, an expert should inspect mushrooms before consumption. Most importantly, there are no antidotes for mushroom poisoning and symptoms can only be treated in hospital, and may still be fatal. It is worth nothing that:
- Symptoms can appear after 12 hours or longer following consumption.
- Toxins will remain in the system and continue to cause harm, meaning raw samples should be retained for identification.
- While casual handling of poisonous mushrooms is not problematic, these should not be mixed with edible mushrooms if harmful contamination of foods is to be avoided.
- Some people are allergic to edible mushrooms.
Beyond being a tasty garnish for meals, mushrooms are a nutritional powerhouse that can strengthen your immune system, improve digestion, improve mental health, help you lose weight and even prevent cancer. Include mushrooms in your daily diet on a regular basis to get the full health benefits of mushrooms. Just appreciate flavors and health benefits of mushrooms right now.
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