Greeks believed that mushrooms provided strength for warriors in battle. The Pharaohs prized mushrooms as a delicacy and the Romans regarded mushrooms as a gift from God and served them only on festive occasions, while the Chinese treasured them as a health food. Mushrooms are also used in the form of soups, salads, and sandwiches, or to use them as an appetizer. Chinese were first to cultivate black ear mushroom (Auricularia) about 1000 years ago. Paddy straw mushroom (Volvariella volvacea), Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus sojarcaju) and white button mushroom (Agaricus bisporous) are commercially cultivated mushrooms. Morels (Morchella), alsocostly mushrooms belong to Ascomycotina are collected from Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh and exported to other countries.
Composition: Mushrooms contain about 80 to 90 percent water, and are very low in calories (only 100 cal/oz). They have very little sodium and fat, and 8 to 10 percent of the dry weight is fiber. Hence, they are an ideal food for persons following a weight management program or a diet for hypertensives. Mushrooms are an excellent source of potassium, a mineral that helps lower elevated blood pressure and reduces the risk of stroke. One medium portabella mushroom has even more potassium than a banana or a glass of orange juice. One serving of mushrooms also provides about 20 to 40 percent of the daily value of copper, a mineral that has cardioprotective properties.
The health benefits of mushroom include relief from high cholesterol levels, breast cancer, prostrate cancer, and diabetes.
It also helps in weight loss, increasing immunity:
Cholesterol Levels : Mushrooms themselves provide you with lean proteins as they have zero cholesterol, fats and very low carbohydrates. The fiber and certain enzymes in them also help lower cholesterol level. Moreover, the high lean protein content in mushrooms helps burn cholesterol when they are digested.
Breast Cancer and Prostrate Cancer : Mushrooms are very effective in preventing cancer of breast and prostrate due to presence of Beta-Glucans and conjugated Linoleic Acid having anti carcinogenic effects. Out of these two, linoleic acid is particularly helpful in suppressing effects of estrogen. This estrogen is the prime reason for breast cancer in women after menopause. The Beta-Glucans, on the other hand, inhibit growth of cancerous cells in cases of prostrage cancer. The chemoprotective effect can be seen with an intake of about 100 grams (3.5 ozs) of mushrooms per day.
Diabetes :Mushrooms can be an ideal low energy diet for diabetics. They have no fats, no cholesterol, very low carbohydrates, high proteins, vitamins and minerals, a lot of water and fiber. Moreover, they contain natural insulin and enzymes which help breaking down of sugar or starch of the food. Again, they are known to contain certain compounds which help proper functioning of liver, pancreas and the other endocrinal glands, thereby promoting formation of insulin and its proper flow.
Immunity : Ergothioneine, a powerful anti oxidant present in mushrooms is very effective in giving protection from free radicals as well as boosting up immunity. Mushrooms contain natural antibiotics (similar to penicillin, which itself is extracted from mushrooms) which inhibit microbial and other fungal infections. They also help heal ulcers and ulcerous wounds and protect them from infections. A good combination of vitamins A, B-Complex and C, found in mushrooms also strengthen immune system.
Other Benefits : Mushrooms are the only vegetable and the second known source (after cod liver oil) to contain vitamin-D in edible form. They are rich in calcium (good for bones), iron (benefits in anemia), potassium (very good for lowering blood pressure), copper (anti bacterial) and selenium (very good for health of bones, teeth, nails, hair and as an anti oxidant). The best source of selenium is animal proteins. So, mushrooms can be the best choice for vegatarians to obtain selenium. A lot of fats are burnt to digest (break - down) proteins in the food, more so when the protein is accompanied by a very low carbohydrate, zero fats and cholesterol and a good amount of fiber. This is exactly what mushrooms offer.
Few Words of Caution :
Mushrooms can even kill! Most of the mushrooms are not edible, are highly poisonous and look strikingly similar to their edible counterparts. Even certain edible mushrooms can go poisonous depending upon the substance they grow on . Do not trust on the unknown vendors too.
Always trust sealed products from reputed companies or those which you grow yourself under controlled conditions after buying their seeds (called spawns) from trusted source. Because a single poisonous mushroom among others can send a whole lot of people to coma, induce severe poisoning symptoms, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, cramps, insanity or worst, can kill them.
Avoid eating discolored mushrooms or those which are different in color than the characteristic color of their species.