Mushrooms are one of my favorite veggies– except that they’re really not a vegetable at all. Mushrooms are a fungus- a plant that has no leaves, no roots, and no seeds. Mushrooms don’t have chlorophyll, vitamin A or vitamin C. But its not what they aren’t or don’t have that make mushrooms so important for a healthy diet.
Mushrooms have this wonderful meaty texture yet clock in at only 20 calories per cup which delivers a few grams of protein as well as healthy amounts of B vitamins and iron. Keep in mind that dried mushrooms lose a good deal of this nutrition. Fresh cooked mushrooms have 3X the niacin, 2X the iron and 15X the riboflavin of serving of canned mushrooms. This is not such a hardship since canned mushrooms are pretty slimy and unappealing, but dried mushrooms add great flavor. Use them for that and mix them into fresh mushrooms to get those B vitamins and minerals.
But mushrooms are more than just a low calorie source of vitamins and minerals. Reaserchers have identified anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory substances in mushrooms. In Asia, mushrooms have been used therapeutically for a wide range of of health problems including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. Some mushroom extracts are now being used as adjunctive therapy during cancer treatment. The extracts are thought to improve immunity rather than directly kill viruses, bacteria and cancer cells.
Vegetable shelves were once limited to a single type of small white button mushrooms. Now options have exploded to include the big portobello, aromatic shitake, skinny white enoki and super expensive wrinkled morels. They have distictly different tastes but the nutritional profiles are pretty much the same.
One note of caution: Wild mushrooms can be poisonous. Don’t let an over-confident foodie convince you to go mushroom hunting in a field or forest. Get your mushrooms safely in a store.
Mushrooms are used in both Eastern and Western kitchens. I love mushrooms stuffed with super nutritious spinach and calcium- packed feta cheese. They are often served as an hors d’ouvres but I like to eat a plate of them with a big salad for healthy vegetarian meal. This recipe is adapted from my new go-to cookbook “5 Easy Steps to Healthy Cooking” by Camilla Saulsbury.
Ingredients: 2 teasp of olive oil, 1 lb of white or cremini mushrooms , 1 1/4 cup chopped onions, grating of black pepper, 1 package of frozen spinach ( thawed with excess of water squeezed out), 4 oz of feta or goat cheese ( which has lower sodium)
Directions: Remove and chop the stems of the mushrooms. Heat oil in a non-stick skillet and saute the mushrooms and onions for about 10 minutes. While they are cooking, season with freshly ground pepper. When they are nicely cooked transfer to a large bowl to cool. Add spinach and cheese ( feta or goat cheese) to onion mixture. Arrange mushroom caps on rimmed baking sheet, lined with parchment. Divide spinach mixture evenly among mushrooms. Bake in preheated 350F oven for about 20 minutes.