Mushrooms the Hidden Superfood

July 1, 2008

NEW ORLEANS—July 1, 2008—A load of antioxidants, nutrients and vitamins are available in the produce aisle from white and brown fungi, commonly known as mushrooms.

Several scientists addressed the health benefits of mushrooms in a session Monday at the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo in New Orleans.

Mushrooms are low in calories, cholesterol and sodium, and they provide plenty of fiber and flavor when cooked. But the big news is that they are high in antioxidants, selenium, riboflavin and other healthful substances that protect the immune system and fight cancer.

Mushrooms contain high amounts of beta-glucans, compounds that   occur in the bran of cereal grains and in yeast. These substances help to keep immune cells in a state of vigilance, guarding against disease, said Lana Zivanovic, Ph.D., with the University of Tennessee’s Department of Food Science and Technology.

Mushrooms also contain cancer-fighting substances, said Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., director of surgical research at the Beckman Research Institute in Duarte, Calif.

Chen’s lab experiments show that mushrooms’ cells contain mechanisms that suppress breast and prostate cancer cells. He is following up his lab work with clinical trials funded by the Mushroom Council. Results should be out in a year, he said.

Research is showing that mushrooms contain ergothioneine, an antioxidant that contributes to immune support and protection of the eyes, skin, liver, kidneys and bone marrow.

The substance is produced in the soil and transported through the mushroom’s roots, said Joy Dubost, Ph.D., R.D., and principal nutritionist at PepsiCo. Her studies show that stressful growing conditions can help the fungi produce more of the antioxidants.

Scientists have unearthed other mushroom benefits including robust amounts of selenium, vitamin D and potassium. White button mushrooms have more protein, potassium, copper and selenium than oyster or shitake mushrooms, said Robert Beelman, Ph.D., at Pennsylvania State University’s Department of Food Science. Whether mushrooms will be consumed more as foods or in supplements and extractions is yet to be seen. But a rich opportunity exists in the marketplace, said Zivanovic.

Sources:
Lana Zivanovic, PhD, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn., 865-974-0844, lanaz@utk.edu
Robert B. Beelman, PhD., Pennsylvania State University, professor of Food Science, 814-863-2964, rbb6@psu.edu
Schian Chen, PhD, Beckman Research Institute, 626-256-4673, Ext. 63454, schen@coh.org

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About IFT
Founded in 1939, and with world headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, USA, the Institute of Food Technologists is a not-for-profit international scientific society with 22,000 members working in food science and technology and related professions in industry, academia and government. As the society for food science and technology, IFT brings sound science to the public discussion of food issues.