There has been a growing trend as food and dietary science make progress: the emergence of so-called superfoods. However, what does it take for a type of food to be elevated into the super tier?
As shared by UC Davis, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term "superfood" as "food that is rich in compounds considered beneficial to a person's health." To put it simply, any kind of food that has a lot of benefits that come with a serving can be considered a superfood. Bananas, for example, are rich in potassium and other vitamins and minerals that are easily digestible and can be available all year. Do note though that this particular term didn’t originate scientifically, but has been mainly used for marketing. Nowadays, there are many types of "superfoods" available but they usually come at a higher cost. In the whole foods gluten-free rack, you’ll probably see acai berries and chia seeds, which are some examples of trendier, more modern-day superfoods.
Yet despite all these, there is one superfood that has been grown, foraged, and eaten by people for centuries. It’s been hiding in plain sight all this time: mushrooms.
Allergies aside, everyone has eaten mushrooms. This class of plants known as fungi come in different variants, shapes, sizes, textures, and, to the discerning palate, taste. As varied as mushrooms are, they all have one thing in common: mushrooms are considered a superfood.
In this article, we will talk about these edible fungi’s superfood status:
Health benefits of mushrooms
Mushrooms—from the more common portobello mushrooms to the famed dried shiitake mushrooms—are cultivated and eaten in many parts of the world. But did you know that aside from providing texture to most dishes, mushrooms also contain a lot of vitamins and minerals that naturally boost your body's immune system? SciTechDailynotes that a serving of mushrooms can provide at least 20% of your daily vitamin D and vitamin B6 requirements. Mushrooms are also packed with fiber needed to maintain regular bowel movement. Don't forget the big reason why vegans and vegetarians love to add this fungi to their diets: mushrooms are low in calories but are high in protein. Best of all, they can easily mimic the texture of meat, especially the shiitake variant!
Aside from B vitamins, fiber, and protein, mushrooms also contain vitamin A for good eyesight and cancer-fighting beta-glucans and selenium. People with high blood pressure can also benefit from adding a good dose of mushrooms in their diet, as they contain potassium, a mineral that helps naturally reduce blood pressure to normal levels.
Mushrooms can be prepared in many different ways and they come in numerous forms depending on use, as well. You can easily buy canned mushrooms that are ready to add to other vegetables for a delicious dinner.
Dried shiitake mushrooms can be cooked straight or rehydrated in hot water–with the liquid doubling as a flavor-packed broth. (Just don’t find yourself eating a shiitake mushroom fresh as this may cause allergies!) Other ways to cook shiitake mushrooms include adding them to soups, mixing them with fried rice, and turning them into mushroom chips. There are also powdered variants of edible fungi for easier transportation, and they can be taken as part of dietary supplements.
Mushrooms go great in any part of your meal. They make amazing appetizers and finger food!
Ways to add mushrooms to your everyday diet
Now that you know the health benefits of mushrooms, the next question is: “How do I get this superfood from the supermarket to my plate?” Mushrooms in general are 90% water, so these fungi may look like they can fill a bag easily but, when cooked, can reduce down to almost invisibility. That’s especially true when they’re cooked down and added to soups and stews. Mushrooms have a meat-like chew to them, so they can be easily added to dishes and stir frys without you needing to go all out on the meat.
One particular mushroom of note is the portobello mushroom. These can grow up to the size of a dessert plate! Like many of its kind, there is a long list when it comes to the health benefits of portobello mushrooms. Just like its cousins, portobello mushrooms are rich in phytochemicals, B vitamins, phosphorus, selenium, and potassium. They also have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticancer benefits! Even better, people have found ways to turn the portobello mushroom into different types of amazing dishes. Chopped up and sauteed, they always have a place in vegetable stir fry, or even added to burger patties and meatloaf when chopped up finely.
If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you can even turn the whole portobello mushroom cap into a sort of burger patty! Place the portobello mushroom cap on a hot grill, brush over with your favorite barbeque sauce, flip it a few times to get those awesome char marks, and place it on a lightly toasted bun. Add your favorite burger toppings and you’ll have a hot, healthy meal with virtually no effort! The portobello mushroom cap is thick and takes on different flavors well. It can stand up to bold and spicy flavors depending on your taste. Because it's so thick, biting into a portobello mushroom burger is very similar to biting into a juicy meat patty. What's more, it's high in protein and fiber, very low in cholesterol, and is slow to digest. This makes you feel full for much longer.
How does eating mushrooms everyday contribute to a healthier lifestyle?
Mushrooms can be found in many dishes across the world. Most temperate and tropical countries have been able to cultivate mushrooms for centuries, so these fungi have naturally been added into their cuisines. Many countries, like Japan and South Korea, heavily incorporate mushrooms in their diet, along with a lot of vegetables. These countries contain the world's fittest and healthiest populations, and it's all thanks to their diet and lifestyle. The most common way for mushrooms to contribute to your healthier lifestyle is how much they can mimic the feel of meat. Animal meat, while delicious, can also be a dietary hazard if not eaten in moderation. Mushrooms are the perfect meat substitute because they are delightfully close to the feel—and for some types of mushrooms, even taste—of animal meat. No other plant or vegetable or fruit can mimic these properties like the mushroom can, so if you need to cut down on meat consumption to help with the management of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and even diabetes, then mushrooms can totally fill in for the job.
As mentioned, mushrooms contain only a few calories per serving—as little as 22 calories for a serving of portobello mushrooms, for example. That means you can add as much as you want of this superfood into your dishes and greatly decrease the amount of meat. Some mushrooms may look uglier than others, but chopping them up finely or putting all of them in a blender are easy remedies which can help if you have kids who are picky eaters. They have a slightly meaty but greatly neutral flavor, allowing you to mix them into dishes without altering the taste.
Even button mushrooms create a solid fusion with veggies like broccoli for stir-fry.
What are ideal pairings with mushrooms?
We mentioned above that mushrooms come in a variety of forms depending on use: fresh, dried, canned, or even powdered. The powdered form of mushrooms can be used in a variety of ways, such as in thickening soups or stews, or even mixed in with gravy for your roast for a full-bodied umami kick. Because they’re very flexible and forgiving when it comes to adding other flavors, you can even try masking their meatiness and just using their thickening properties in your smoothies. Aren't they versatile?
Smoothies are a great way to enjoy superfoods. Acai berries and chia seeds are superfoods that go well when blended together with plant-based milk like soy or almond. Adding a spoonful or two of powdered mushroom to the mix, plus other superfoods like spinach, kale, and yogurt can make for a delicious, filling, and refreshing smoothie that’s low in calories but high in fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and live gut microorganisms for better digestion.
Mushrooms by themselves can make a great side dish to fishier superfoods. Salmon has a lot of good fat that your body needs, and a salad of mushrooms, kale, and tomatoes with an olive oil-based salad dressing is a great assembly of superfoods in one dish that all taste delicious together.
Even just a simple omelet made with eggs, chopped mushrooms, broccoli, and spinach topped on toasted wheat bread with smoked salmon and avocado slices (that’s a mouthful!) makes for a filling breakfast that’ll definitely keep you full, energized, and healthy. You can even make that into a full meal by having a fresh berry bowl made up of chilled fresh blueberries, acai berries, and cacao nibs with a little bit of coconut or almond milk for dessert.
If you’re too busy to cook, you can still add mushrooms to your diet by having them as snacks. Mushroom chips are a healthy alternative to potato crisps and they’re just as delicious. If you haven’t tried them yet, we’ve got some flavored mushroom chips you can easily (and healthily) snack on.
Nothing like a hot mushroom stew to keep you warm in the autumn and winter months.
There are many ways to eat mushrooms and even more ways to add them into your diet without feeling like you’re depriving yourself of great-tasting ingredients. They’re very flexible in terms of preparation and cooking, and can fit more than one role in any type of dish you want to make. Highly nutritious and packed with fiber, protein, selenium, and antioxidants, they’re so easy to obtain and store in your pantry. So the next time you see some of these mighty fungi in your local grocery or supermarket, grab a bag or two of these super tasty, super flexible, and super nutritious superfood to add to your next meal! Better yet, stay stocked on mushroom crisps by ordering from The Daily Good!