Mushrooms - a funny old fungus


My husband and kids won’t be within a 1m radius of a mushroom so I feel like a naughty kid secretly gorging on sweets as I sneak them in while they are off at work and school in the middle of the day.  These sit on some toasted seeded sourdough and were simply sautéed in a little olive oil, garlic, a ton of herbs, a splash of dry white wine and finished off with some chipotle chilli flakes. But they aren’t just a quick and delicious meal, oh no!  They are so very much more than that.  Whilst they aren’t the deep colours of the rainbow that we would normally associate with nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, they are rather interesting from a nutritional standpoint.  Mushrooms are one of the few plant-based sources of Vitamin D, and given that approximately 20% of the UK population have low levels of the vitamin, we should try to incorporate them in our diet when we can.

They are low in calories, carbs and fat, but contain over a dozen vitamins and minerals, particularly B vitamins. They are also surprisingly high in antioxidants like selenium and glutathione, which protect our cells from damage and reduce chronic disease and inflammation.   We hear the buzz word “antioxidant” all the time, in reference to both skincare and to foods, so let me just quickly explain what they actually are. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that can produce free radicals, which can damage cells, potentially leading to cancer development.  Antioxidants are compounds found in food that help ward off cell damage by “cleaning up” or removing the free radicals, before they can do any harm.  While the common button mushroom is high in potassium and selenium, specialty exotic mushrooms (like oyster, shiitake, maiitake and porcini) have far higher concentrations of antioxidants.  

The medicinal use of mushrooms has a very long tradition in the Asian countries that goes back hundreds of years. Certain varieties of mushrooms are being increasingly researched for their potential in protecting against cancer by protecting our cells against DNA damage but also inhibiting tumour formation.  Substances that can kill cancer cells in laboratory conditions don't necessarily turn out to be useful treatments in people, and although it’s important to be cautious about such early research, it also seems to be quite promising.