Whether you pile mushrooms on top of your pizza or stuff them into a lunch wrap, these versatile veggies are not even vegetables at all. Mushrooms are beneficial fungi, with more than 2,000 edible species. These chewy foods add texture to meals, boost flavor and provide unique nutritional benefits to your plate.
In some parts of the world, mushrooms are referred to as the poor man's meat due to their hearty, meat-like texture. Replacing some of the meat in your recipes with mushrooms will save money and reduce the calories in your meals. One ounce of sliced pepperoni adds 138 calories and 12 grams of fat to your pizza. Adding 1 cup of sliced mushrooms, however, provides only 15 calories and virtually no fat.
Mushrooms are good sources of riboflavin and niacin, the B vitamins that regulate your metabolism. These edible fungi also provide potassium, an electrolyte needed for water balance, blood-pressure control and muscle contraction. Since mushrooms are not true vegetables, they have some unique nutritional characteristics. Vitamin D is an important nutrient for bone health, and mushrooms contain some natural vitamin D. Unlike regular vegetables, live mushrooms have the ability to create more vitamin D when exposed to light.
Penn State University researchers discovered that edible mushrooms, especially portobello and crimini, are excellent sources of antioxidants, beneficial substances that protect against cell damage. The vibrant pigments in fruits and vegetables are common sources of antioxidants, but mushrooms rank as high on the antioxidant scale as these colorful foods. The types of antioxidants in mushrooms may be specifically beneficial against age-related conditions, Alzheimer's disease, cancer and heart disease.
The many varieties of mushrooms offer different tastes and textures to your meals. Button mushrooms provide a mild flavor and earthy texture to pizza, side dishes and salads. For a nutty flavor, try the reddish-brown porcini mushrooms. Portobello and shiitake mushrooms have hearty flavors and can be used as meat substitutes in recipes. Use the caps of the larger portobello mushrooms as a vegetarian alternative to a burger patty. If you want to try a new variety, pick up some oyster mushrooms. These flavorful mushrooms are shaped like flower buds and are delicious and eye-appealing garnishes on top of salads.
- Fruits and Veggies More Matters: Mushrooms: Shedding Light on Their Nutritional Value
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Mushrooms, White, Raw
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Common Edible Mushrooms
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Pepperoni, Pork, Beef
- Penn State University: Mushrooms As Good an Antioxidant Source as More Colorful Veggies
- Mushroom Grower’s Handbook: Small Scale Oyster Mushroom Cultivation in Egypt
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.