07 February 2011

Everyone loves a fungi, how mushrooms can help fight the winter blues

Each winter over 25 million Americans are negatively affected with the winter blues and blahs, which can easily be helped by eating some nutritious & delicious foods like mushrooms!

For starters, mushrooms have a meaty taste & hearty texture, making them a perfect vegan & vegetarian entrée option and are rich in the 5th taste of umami—the savory/brothy taste sensation.

Mushrooms are not a plant, which helps explain why their nutritional profile is different than that of fruits & vegetables.

Mushrooms contain vitamin D, known as the “sunshine vitamin” which helps us feel better when we’re feeling down. Vitamin D is only found in a few vegan foods, and is extremely important in maintaining low blood pressure, a healthy immune system & heart. Vitamin D is also a hormone.

It helps regulate our bone development, muscle & immune function, our insulin activity, and our calcium & phosphorus balance.

Of course getting some sun for about 20 minutes each day helps our bodies produce its own vitamin D but you can also get this vitamin is by drinking fortified soymilk, orange juice or fortified cereals.

There are two basic types of vitamin D. Ergosterol is the basic building block of vitamin D in plants, while cholesterol is the basic building block of vitamin D in humans. When ultraviolet sunlight hits the leaf of a plant, ergosterol is converted into ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) and when UV light hits our skin, a form of cholesterol in our skin cells can be converted into cholecalciferol, a form of vitamin D3. Hence the sunshine vitamin!

In addition to vitamin D, mushrooms also contain ergothioneine, an intracellular antioxidant that is believed to protect the hemoglobin in red blood cells, and monocytes (white blood cell that engulfs bacteria) against oxidation. The body does not make ergothioneine, so it can only be obtained from our food.

In a vegan diet, ergothioneine can be found in mushrooms, oat bran, wheat germ, kidney, liver, black & red beans.

Of the mushrooms that we most commonly consume, the exotic mushrooms such as siitake, oyster & hen of the woods can contain up to 13mg of ergothioneine in a 3oz serving, as opposed to the 5mg found in portabellas, criminis or white button mushrooms.

On the side of white buttons, one serving of them contains more potassium than a banana!

For more information on the health benefits of mushrooms, visit the Mushroom Council.

Kelly Beth | @veganbotanicals
Kelly Beth is a smiley vegan herbalist and wanderer, and currently resides in Boulder, Colorado with her fiancé and kitty (kitty face). She created twig & leaf botanicals, a vegan & organic herbal apothecary 3 years ago to bring healthy, plant-based alternatives to mainstream medicine and home care. Follow Kelly Beth on her blog and Facebook.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/pikaluk