In the past, mushrooms were only famous for their gastronomic uses. From mushroom soup to mushroom risotto and as pizza topping, mushrooms make any dish healthy and savory. Emerging research, however, show that mushroom is not just a delicious food ingredient. In fact, mushrooms are gaining recognition as the next superfood.
Health buffs usually celebrate mushrooms for what they don’t contribute to your meal. For instance, mushrooms don’t contain any cholesterol or gluten, which makes mushrooms a really great food for people who are keeping a close watch on their weights. Moreover, mushrooms have low sugar, fat, cholesterol, and sodium content, which makes it ideal for dieting people. But did you know that mushrooms contain four more important nutrients? Read on to find out what these are and how you can benefit from them.
Selenium has long been established as a healthy nutrient derived from garlic. However, if you feel you need to increase your selenium intake but don’t want to eat garlic because of its strong odor, you can simply add mushrooms to your everyday meals. In fact, even if you ate 6 cloves of garlic which will give you less than 3 micrograms of selenium, it won’t come close to what you can get from half a cup of shiitake mushrooms, which will give you close to 18 micrograms of selenium.
We don’t need a lot of selenium in our daily diets, but we do need it in order for our body to function properly. In fact, selenium plays a crucial role in the body’s antioxidant processes. Many antioxidant enzymes need selenium to detoxify our body and protect us from oxidative stress. Moreover, selenium is also needed when our body needs to recycle vitamin C, which is another antioxidant.
If you don’t take enough selenium, either through supplementation or through the food you eat, it will not lead to a disease by itself, but it is associated with severe conditions. For instance, poor immune and cognitive functioning is associated with low levels of selenium. Being deficient in selenium is also linked to having higher risks of mortality.
On the other hand, if you have high levels of selenium, you will benefit from its antiviral effects. Selenium is also necessary for proper reproductive functioning. In men, when you have low levels of selenium, it can lead to abnormal sperm cells, which can then lead to low semen quality, thereby affecting fertility. Aside from its benefits on reproductive health, selenium also works with iodine to support the proper functioning of the thyroid.
#2 Vitamin D
The human body naturally produces vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight. However, for those who don’t get much sunlight exposure, supplementation with vitamin D is also an option. Aside from vitamin supplements, mushrooms are one of the best natural sources of vitamin D. Half a cup of shiitake mushrooms can give you more than 20 IUs of vitamin D.
One of the best-known benefits of vitamin D is for improved bone health. Vitamin D helps our body absorb calcium from the food we eat. It also lessens the amount of calcium that our body loses through urination. If we don’t have enough vitamin D in our bodies, it can lead to the softening or even malformation of our bones. Aside from its important role in bone health, vitamin D is also good for neuromuscular and normal immune function.
Because of recent studies linking vitamin D deficiency with various health conditions such as cancer, depression, immune system diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and decline of the musculoskeletal system, the recommendations for how much vitamin D should be consumed on a daily basis sometimes vary.
One study, for instance, recommended that adults aged 65 and above should take 800-5000 IU per day to improve musculoskeletal health. The US Office of Dietary Supplements, on the other hand, recommends 600 IU or 15 micrograms for adults aged 51-70 years.
Glutathione rose to global popularity after its skin-lightening effects were discovered. The truth is, glutathione offers so much more health benefits, and its skin whitening properties are just a bonus. An editorial in the Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal listed some of the most important health benefits of glutathione:
- Antioxidant action – neutralizes singlet oxygen and free radicals
- Supports other antioxidants – glutathione works with other antioxidant enzymes such as vitamins C and E and selenium to increase the body’s antioxidant defense system
- Mercury – glutathione is critical in removing mercury from the brain and from our cells
- Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) maintenance – glutathione is crucial in the proper functioning and maintenance of mtDNA
Aside from these health benefits, previous studies on glutathione showed that glutathione concentration in the body decreases with age and that low levels of glutathione may be associated with diseases in the lungs, liver, and the heart. It is also associated with neurodegenerative diseases. Glutathione has also been studied in relation to cancer, periodontal health, and proper immune system functioning.
Ergothioneine is an amino acid that was first found in the ergot fungus (Claviceps purpurea). It is naturally occurring but it can only be produced by certain flora such as non-yeast-like fungi, thus, mammals can only acquire the amino acid from their diet. There are only a few food types that contain ergothioneine and this includes specialty mushrooms, oat bran, and black and red beans. What’s important about ergothioneine is that it has antioxidant properties.
Aside from its antioxidant properties, health benefits of ergothioneine include cell protection as well as protection against chronic inflammatory conditions and cardiovascular diseases. Ergothioneine may also protect us from brain cell damage and ultraviolet radiation damages.
A recent study investigated the anti-inflammatory properties of ergothioneine derived from the edible mushroom Coprinus comatus and found that the amino acid is even more effective in scavenging the free radical hypobromous acid as compared to glutathione and ascorbic acid. Hypobromous acid actually causes the disintegration of red blood cells at a rate tenfold that of hypochlorous acid does, according to a study. So, by eating mushrooms that are rich in ergothioneine, we can better protect the health of our red blood cells.