I’ve never met a mushroom I didn’t like. I love button mushrooms, portobellos, shiitakes, oysters, chanterelles, morels and many others. For me, mushrooms offer a variety of rich, savory flavors and a satisfying texture to my meals, so I look for ways to incorporate them as often as possible.
And, while mushrooms offer a wide range of nutrients that can vary from type to type, a new study found that there may be more reason than ever to love mushrooms. Even mushroom haters may want to reconsider given the exciting new findings.
New research published in the medical journal Food Chemistry found that mushrooms contain some potent therapeutic compounds known as ergothioneine and glutathione, which have been found to significantly reduce free radicals linked to heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and aging. Glutathione is also a required nutrient for a healthy liver.
Mushrooms are considered the highest food source of ergothioneine and contain abundant amounts of glutathione. High levels of ergothioneine have been found in people with the lowest incidence of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Glutathione is a potent antioxidant nutrient that helps destroy free radicals linked to aging and disease. Increasing amounts of glutathione in the diet is considered a treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune disorders, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, autism and for those suffering from environmental sensitivities. Glutathione helps ensure healthy functioning of phase 2 detoxification in the liver, which is involved in neutralizing toxins to which we’re exposed.
While all of the mushrooms tested contained these antiaging nutrients, porcini mushrooms were found to contain the highest levels of both nutrients. Button mushrooms contained the lowest concentrations of both nutrients but are still higher than other food sources so you’ll still want to include them in your diet. Interestingly, the mushrooms that had the highest levels of ergothioneine also had the highest levels of glutathione, and vice versa.
The researchers also found that cooking the mushrooms did not affect the levels of these 2 nutrients, suggesting they are heat stable. The head scientist on the study, Professor Emeritus of Food Science, Robert Beelman, also hopes that there will be future studies exploring the connection between mushrooms and brain and neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
He indicated that higher levels of ergothioneine seems to be linked to lower incidence of these brain diseases; however, it remains unclear how they are linked. Three grams of ergothioneine, or the amount found in approximately 5 button mushrooms, daily is the amount that separates countries with the lowest incidence of these brain diseases compared to those with the highest incidence.
It’s easy to add more mushrooms to your diet. Here are some of my preferred ways of using mushrooms:
– Saute mushrooms and onions in a little olive oil until soft as a delicious side dish or topping for baked potatoes.
-Saute onions, garlic, rosemary and mushrooms together until soft. Then add a slurry (mixture of water and flour) and some salt and pepper and cook until thick for a delicious mushroom gravy. Choose gluten-free flour if you have a gluten-sensitivity or allergy.
-Brush portabello mushrooms with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper and bake until soft. Use as a basis for other ingredients or as a delicious sandwich filling.
-Add a handful of shiitakes to your favorite noodle bowl for a nutritional boost.
-Throw a handful of your favorite mushrooms into whatever soups and stews you cook as a flavor and nutritional boost.
-Grind dried mushrooms into a powder and add to soups, stews, curries and other dishes as a mild thickener and flavor enhancer.
-Boil mushrooms, carrots, celery, onions and other vegetables you have on hand in a pot of water. Season with salt and you’ll have a delicious vegetable stock as the basis of a soup or to cook rice or quinoa in.