Ask the Doctor: Mushrooms
Question: Dear Dr. Harris, I was wondering about mushrooms. Are they a SuperFood?
Answer: Although mushrooms can be found in the produce section of the grocery, they are neither a fruit nor a vegetable. Mushrooms are not technically plants and therefore officially do not contain phytonutrients (plant nutrients.) However, mushrooms do have a great deal of nutritional value and are full of micronutrients. I love mushrooms and I’ll tell you why I consider them among the SuperFoods.
Mushrooms are low in carbohydrates and high in fiber. They are a good source of B-vitamins (riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and niacin), iron, and selenium. Mushrooms are naturally low in sodium and high in potassium (a 3 ounce portabello cap has more potassium than a banana). Furthermore, they have essentially no fat and no cholesterol. Mushrooms are an excellent addition to any meal due to their rich, earthy taste.
There are concerns that commonly available mushrooms like white button mushrooms, portabello mushrooms, shitakes, and creminis (actually baby portabella) contain very small amounts of a compound called agaritine. Agaritine may be carcinogenic in extremely high doses. Cooking removes the agaritine, so as a rule, try to eat mushrooms cooked. Interestingly, compounds in mushrooms are actually being studied for their natural anti-cancer effects.
The best news about mushrooms is a powerful micronutrient called ergothioneine. Ergothioneine is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory which mushrooms have in very high concentrations. Cooking actually releases this powerful nutrient from the mushroom cells. Mushrooms also have high levels of polyphenols that give them a higher antioxidant level than green pepper and zucchini.
The best advice is to include a variety of mushrooms in your diet along with a healthy mix of foods high in antioxidants and micronutrients.
Tips for mushrooms:
Geoffrey Harris, MD