Body & Soul: Mushroom Magic

Loaded with vitamins and nutrients, this simple fleshy food is a healthy addition to your daily diet.

Mushroom lovers will say that their chanterelles, shiitakes, cremini and other fabulous fungi add earthy flavor and supple textures that enhance even the simplest of meals. Nutritionists will tell you that edible mushrooms also deliver a hearty helping of vitamins, minerals and other compounds that are beneficial to your overall health.

“Mushrooms are unique because they are the only food in the produce aisle that contains Vitamin D, which is good for bone health,” says Tara Collingwood, a registered dietitian in Winter Park. Mushrooms grown in the sun or under UV light contain significantly more Vitamin D than those grown in other environments, she says.

Mushrooms are also high in selenium, which has antioxidant properties. “Antioxidants help protect our cells from the inside out and have a strong role in disease prevention, such as heart disease and cancers,” Collingwood says. “Selenium is also good for the immune system and for prostate health in men.”

Other components of mushrooms are B vitamins, “which help to produce energy in the body,” Collingwood notes; copper and niacin, “both of which have a role in red blood cell production; and potassium, “which is good for blood pressure and the heart.”

Did we mention that ’shrooms are also low in calories and sodium? Plus, they are cholesterol-  and gluten-free. “Because mushrooms are so low in calories, you can add them to recipes as a filler,” Collingwood says.  “Some people like to grind them up and add them to ground beef to cut back on the amount of beef and increase the fiber” of meat dishes.

Although mushrooms are packed with nutrients, and scientists are investigating their impact, few trials have been conducted on humans so far. The amount of nutrients also varies by mushroom type.

“Of the 13 varieties of mushrooms tested at Penn State, porcinis were the highest in ergothioneine and glutathione,” says Stacy Bursuk, a registered dietitian in Orlando. The Penn State study, conducted by the university’s Center for Plant and Mushroom Foods for Health, was published in the journal Food Chemistry.

Ergothioneine, also known as ERGO, is an amino acid found primarily in mushrooms. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins; glutathione is an antioxidant. Both are being studied to learn what affect, if any, they have on lung inflammation as well as damage to the liver, kidneys and brain, Bursuk says.

At City of Hope cancer treatment and research center in California, scientists who are conducting a study say that using powdered white button mushrooms in tablet form produced “enticing evidence that these common fungi have the potential to treat and lower the risk of cancer,” and its scientists “are determined to explore it to the fullest.”

Lentinan, a component of shiitake mushrooms, was shown to help prolong the lives of stomach cancer patients in Japan and has been approved for the treatment of gastric cancer in that country.

Whether you’re a longtime fungi fanatic or a curious newbie to the diverse world of mushrooms, rest assured that these odd-looking edibles are good for you, especially if prepared properly. “Cooking makes more of the nutrients available for your body,” says Bursuk. “Grill, stir-fry, sauté or roast them to use less fat.”

Mushrooms: Growing Your Own

By Loraine O’Connell

Ralph Boas loves mushrooms so much that, years ago, he decided to grow his own.

“I love the taste of them, and I’d read about them,” says Boas, of Groveland. “They seemed very healthful.”

Boas’ research led him to conclude that “except for shiitakes, they’re quite complicated to grow,” he says. “You have to have a special room with air filters and a sterile environment to be able to grow a lot of mushrooms. Shiitakes are one of the few you can grow easily on just oak logs.”

Make that shiitakes and oyster mushrooms, according to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, which recommends that would-be mushroom growers buy kits.

Purchasing a mushroom cultivation kit is the easiest way to start growing your own mushrooms at home, according to the Institute. “Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) or shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) are great choices for first timers because they are delicious and are some of the easiest to grow.”

Kits are based on the type of mushrooms you want to grow and the method you prefer: logs, bags or trays. Best of all, kits come with complete instructions.

Boas wanted shiitakes and opted for a kit based on dowels, small wooden pieces that contain mushroom spores.

“You buy those little dowels and then you drill holes into oak logs and pound [the dowels] in with a rubber mallet,” Boas says. Each log needs 30-50 dowels placed in it so the spores will colonize the log.

Of course, you have to cut some logs first.

Boas cuts his to be six inches in diameter and two to three feet long.

“It’s important to the cut logs and let them rest for three to four weeks,” Boas says. “They have to be fresh, but not too fresh, not too old.”

Then he moves his logs to a shady spot, pounds in the dowels and “just waits,” he says.

In Florida, a wait of six to nine months yields a good crop.

Southeast Mushrooms, in High Springs, sells mushroom kits for bag and log cultivation.

“Our largest business is the bag culture,” says Art Shiver, president of the company. “You can grow all kinds of mushrooms indoors using bags, but log culture is what does so well [in Florida]. Because of our high heat and humidity, it’s better to do it outside. Indoors, you have to control everything from humidity to air flow to temperature.”

Growing mushrooms in trays also requires adjusting temperatures, as well as using the correct substrate, or planting medium—which can range from manure to alfalfa hay—for the mushroom variety you’re trying to grow. 

Many websites sell substrates, and UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences offers advice on tray cultivation at

The most commonly cultivated mushroom in Florida is the white button, according to the Institute.

White buttons, baby bellas and portobellos are the most popular choices among consumers who prefer buying their ‘shrooms to growing them, says Brian Hesse, general manager of Monterey Mushrooms in Zellwood.

If your fave fungus isn’t available at local farms, grocery stores or farmers markets, or if you’d just like to take matters, and mushrooms, into your own hands, there’s a grow kit just waiting for you on the Internet.

Looking for a mushroom grow kit? Check out these sites:

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