Mushrooms are as delicious as they are mysteriously unique. While often thought of as a vegetable and prepared like one, mushrooms are actually fungi, a type of living organism that has no roots, leaves, flowers, or seeds. Button mushrooms have grown wild and been consumed as food by hunter-gatherers since prehistoric times. Throughout the ages mushrooms were thought to have special powers. The Egyptians believed they granted immortality. Ancient Romans called them food for the gods. And many cultures such as Russia, China, and Mexico believed that eating mushrooms gave superhuman strength. It seems they all may have been right.

The Common Mushroom

The button mushroom is the world's most commonly eaten mushroom. The names "white button," "crimini" and "portobello" all refer to the same scientific category of mushroom, Agaricus bisporus. White button varieties are typically harvested at a relatively immature stage of growth, crimini mushrooms – often referred to simply as brown mushrooms – at mid-stage and portobello mushrooms are crimini mushrooms that have been allowed to grow to full maturity. Baby bella mushrooms, mini bella mushrooms, baby portobello mushrooms and portobellini mushroom are other names for crimini mushrooms. Crimini mushrooms are an excellent source of many minerals including immune-supportive selenium, bone-building copper, heart-healthy potassium, and energy-producing phosphorus. The humble crimini mushroom just might be a super food.

The Value of Mushrooms

Crimini mushrooms provide an excellent amount of selenium, and a very good amount of zinc and manganese. All three minerals are critical antioxidant nutrients and are also required for the functioning of antioxidant enzymes. The antioxidant content of crimini mushrooms also includes some unusual antioxidant molecules. The best studied of these molecules is ergothioneine. Ergothioneine is an amino acid-like molecule that has not only been shown to have antioxidant properties but to also specifically help prevent oxidative damage to DNA (our genetic material) and proteins. In addition to providing us with these key antioxidant nutrients, mushrooms also impact our oxidative metabolism. Intake of crimini mushrooms has been studied in relationship to the activity of several oxidative enzymes. The addition of mushrooms to the diet in relatively small amounts has been shown to increase enzyme activity and to increase the cell's supply of glutathione (GSH) itself. In the minds of many researchers, GSH may be a central antioxidant in many cellular activities.

Mushrooms Aid The Cardiovascular System

Since the health of our circulatory system depends on great antioxidant protection and effective regulation of inflammation, it is not surprising to see crimini mushrooms providing impressive cardiovascular benefits. As might be expected, research studies show that crimini mushrooms can help protect us from cardiovascular disease by protecting our blood vessels from oxidative damage as well as chronic inflammation. This protection has been specifically shown with respect to the aorta--our body's largest blood vessel. Cardiovascular protection by crimini mushrooms extends beyond these antioxidant and anti-inflammatory areas, however. Research studies on laboratory animals with high blood levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides (TGs) have also shown that daily intake of crimini mushrooms over a period of 1-2 months can reduce levels of all three blood fats (total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and Tgs).

Some Simple Serving Suggestions

  • Slice raw mushrooms into any salad
  • Healthy sautéed mushrooms and onions make a great side dish
  • Add finely chopped mushrooms to a pot of tomato pasta sauce
  • After removing the stems from mushrooms, stuff them with your favorite vegetable medley or soft cheese
  • Make a classic mushroom omelet

Mushrooms And The Immune System

White blood cells play a key role in the health of our immune system, and without a healthy and balanced immune system we cannot protect ourselves from disease. In a remarkable way unique phyto-nutrients found in crimini mushrooms change the way the immune system's white blood cells go about their business. In some cases, they prevent white blood cells from becoming active when they would be better off remaining inactive. In other cases, they trigger white blood cell activity when more activity is needed. The role of a healthy immune system in helping protect us against arthritis and cardiovascular disease has been examined with a focus on dietary mushroom intake and evidence suggests that crimini mushrooms can help lower our risk of these health problems by supporting balanced activities among the white blood cells of our immune system.

Addressing The Down Side Of Mushrooms

Crimini mushrooms contain naturally occurring substances called purines. Purines are commonly found in plants, animals, and humans. In some individuals who are susceptible to purine related problems such as gout or kidney stones, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems. Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid. For this reason, individuals with kidney problems or gout may want to limit or avoid intake of purine-containing foods such as crimini mushrooms.