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Fall Fungi: Mushrooms’ Surprising Health Benefits

The arrival of fall ushers in pumpkin spice lattes, great weather and mushroom season! Mushrooms are a low calorie, low fat (depending how you prepare them), and notoriously underutilized source of nutrients. They can also provide vegetarians and vegans with an alternative source of vitamins and nutrients such as iron and protein otherwise found in meat, fish or dairy.

Surprisingly though, most people are unaware of their nutritional value. It may shock you to discover that the following vitamins and minerals are found in almost all mushrooms:

Selenium:

  • antioxidant essential for immune system function
  • helps fight infections

Potassium (especially important for diets high in sodium):

  • electrolyte!
  • major player in cell, tissue and organ function (crucial for your heart)
  • osteoporosis prevention

Riboflavin (type of B vitamin):

  • necessary for muscle growth and red blood cell production
  • assits in carbohydrate breakdown, gives you energy!

Niacin (type of B vitamin):

  • important to digestive system, skin and and nerves
  • lowers bad LDL cholesterol and raises good HDL cholesterol

Vitamin D:

  • aids calcium absorption in digestive tract needed for bone growth
  • prevents autoimmune disease and cancer by boosting immune function and reducing inflammation
  • good for your skin

Though most mushrooms contain an array of nutrients, they are not all created equal. Here are a few varieties that stand out above the rest:

Enoki:

These slender eastern Asian mushrooms are packed with protein and fiber. Enoki has been the subject of research concerning its anti-cancer and immune-enhancing abilities. It’s thought to increase production of nitric oxide, which is used to combat and destroy diseased cells.

Oyster:

In addition to being rich in protein, 30% by weight, oyster mushrooms contain lovastatin, a compound that lowers cholesterol and helps reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. A study published in International Journal of Oncology also found mechanisms in oysters that inhibit breast and colon cancer cell growth without damaging healthy cells.

Shiitake:

This fungi has a long history of medicinal use, especially in relation to cardiovascular health. Shiitake mushrooms contain D-Eritadenine (DEA), a compound that promotes the absorption of cholesterol out of the bloodstream. They also contain interferon, a protein known to fight the spread of viruses and lentinan, a polysaccharide that slows tumor growth.

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