There are 14,000 species of which 3,000 are edible. Seven hundred of these have known medicinal properties. Less than 1% are known to be poisonous.
The common type is Agaricus bisporus or the white button mushroom. A. bisporus has two other forms- Crimini or brown mushrooms and Portabella mushrooms. Shitake, maitake, and reishi are other types. A. bisporus contains a carcinogens called hydrazines that is destroyed by moderate heat when cooking. Perhaps eating them raw is not such a good idea? However, in most of these cases, you have to eat a ton of them.
- They are extremely low in calories (about 44 in a cup).
- They are also very low in fat, sodium, and relatively high in fiber (3 grams/cup).
- They are an excellent source of potassium, which makes them a good choice along with their low sodium content (for those with hypertension. A one-cup serving provides about 400-500 mg. of potassium
- They also make a form of vitamin D or D2 when exposed to UV light.
- They also are a great source of selenium, an antioxidant that works with vitamin E. One study found that men with the lowest levels of selenium in their blood were 4 to 5 times more likely to have prostate cancer compared to those with the highest levels.
- They have smaller amounts of niacin, riboflavin, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, zinc, copper, and iron.
- They have about 8 g. of carbohydrate in 1 cup and provide 3 g. of protein.
All three common types have compounds that inhibit the activity of aromatase, an enzyme involved in estrogen production and 5-alpha reductase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is a potent androgen in males that plays a role in the development and exacerbation of benign prostatic hyperplasia as well as prostate cancer. This inhibition makes them breast and prostate cancer fighters.
Shitake mushrooms have been used by the Chinese and Japanese to treat colds and flu. They contain a beta-glucan called lentinan that appears to stimulate the immune system, fight infections and may have anti-tumor effects.
Mushrooms can add their own flavor or take on the flavor of other foods. They can be added to stews, soups, sauces, sautéed, or stuffed as appetizers. They are found in supermarkets year round. Identifying your own mushrooms in the woods is a definite challenge. Most people know that it’s not worth the risk of of picking a poisonous species. When I lived in New Hampshire, I will never forget how a whole family died from eating poisonous mushrooms found in the woods in back of their house. But cheers for the edible types.