I think my camp counselors owe me an apology. On the very first day of my outdoors-y camp, before we were set loose to climb trees and build forts, the counselors gathered us up to give us a brief safety lesson. Years later, I only remember two things: don't feed the raccoons, and don't pick the mushrooms because, as we were told, mushrooms were poisonous.
It took me years to realize that they were only talking about wild mushrooms (and even then, it isn't entirely accurate). When I finally did some digging on my own, I learned that mushrooms are an essential part of a healthy eating plan. Depending on the type you eat, mushrooms:
- Lower cholesterol and blood pressure
- Combat heart disease
- Strengthen your immune system
- Help prevent and fight cancer
Plus, in one study of overweight people, adding maitake mushrooms to their diets increased their weight loss by up to 13 pounds over two months!
Three of the most common mushrooms consumed in the US - button, shiitake and maitake mushrooms - are packed with antioxidants that protect your body from dangerous free radicals. Additionally, all three contain nutrients that boost your immune system by triggering the creation of immune cells that ward off and fight infection. Plus, mushrooms are high in fiber, triggering feelings of satiety and preventing overeating.
We all know the four basic tastes - bitter, sour, sweet and salty - but there's actually a fifth, umami, which generally means either meaty or savory. Mushrooms are umami (or taste umami), so they're an excellent healthy addition to nearly any dish. If you're searching for how to be healthy and have delicious meals, mushrooms add flavor and texture without also adding fat.
Here are a few tips when adding mushrooms to your daily diet.
- Switch salty and fatty snacks with button mushrooms: Small and pop-able, opting for sliced button mushrooms over your usual mid-afternoon snack is a secret among people who know how to be healthy. They're craving killers and calorie-lite. Plus, they're chock full of essential B vitamins
- Add mushrooms to your daily salad: Salads can sometimes feel insubstantial, especially when you're just getting started on a healthy eating plan. Another how to be healthy tip: Add texture and bulk by including mushrooms on your list of salad toppings.
- Toss mushrooms into soups and sauces: Even if you aren't adding mushrooms for their texture or flavor, you can still benefit from their vitamin and mineral power.
- Try, whenever possible, to buy organic: I was only half kidding about my camp counselors, they were absolutely right to warn me - especially precocious, 6 year-old me - against picking wild mushrooms. Mushrooms can soak up toxins in the area surrounding it, so make sure you buy organic.