Mushrooms: A True “Superfood” The term “Superfood” is tossed around a lot these days in advertising, newspapers and magazines. But just what is a “Superfood”? There is no universally agreed upon definition. Certainly there is no official or scientific definition of the term. Some so-called superfoods are promoted as having almost magical health-promoting properties. These claims may be used to justify higher pricing of these food items. Some dieticians take issue with this hype and claim that it may be misleading to consumers. “The term ‘superfood’ is at best meaningless and at worst harmful,” states Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St. George’s hospital in London. Other dieticians take a more moderate position on the use of the term. Various regulating agencies have begun to weigh in on the issue. In fact, in the European Union, legislation bans the use of the term superfood unless it is accompanied by a specific authorized health claim that explains to consumers just why the product is so good for their health 1. So, just what sort of nutrition and health promoting properties would qualify a food to be called a “Superfood”? Recently, several dieticians were asked how they would define a superfood 2. Although there was no complete agreement among the dieticians, it has been suggested that in order for a food to belong in the “Superfood” category, it should have the following characteristics. 1. Be minimally processed without nutrient enriching 2. Have nutritional benefits not seen in other foods commonly eaten in its class 3. Have at least 20% of the recommended Daily Value (DV) of two or more essential nutrients in a normal serving 4. Have a high nutrient density compared to its calorie content 5. Provide a concentrated, complex, high-quality supply of essential nutrients without increasing the consumption of sodium, saturated fat or other compounds linked to poor health 6. Provide other bioactive compounds such as antioxidants 7. Have research linking the food to a potential reduced risk of long-term diseases 8. Be easily available and affordable Based on these criteria, mushrooms would undisputedly qualify as a true superfood. ● Although mushrooms should be cooked in order to make them easier to digest and to increase the bioavailability of health-promoting factors, they require no other processing. They are a natural food product with no added synthetic nutrients. ●Being neither a fruit nor a vegetable, mushrooms essentially belong to a class of their own. They provide both macro and micronutrients in amounts not usually found in vegetables and, in many respects; mushrooms have more similarities to meat than to vegetables. Additionally, they contribute the savory “Umami” flavor dimension (the “fifth taste sensation) to dishes. ● Depending on the species of mushroom and its method of cultivation, a single serving of mushrooms may provide more than 20% of the recommended Daily Value of Vitamin D, Vitamin B2, niacin, copper and selenium. They can also be good sources of potassium, dietary fiber and Vitamin B1. ● Mushrooms are very low in calories and contain significant amounts of dietary fiber making them an ideal diet food.
● Although mushrooms may not score as high in ORAC values (a test tube estimation of antioxidant potential) as some berries and tropical fruits, mushrooms contain significant amounts of powerful antioxidants such as L-ergothioneine and selenomethione. ● Mushrooms provide a dense and complex array of nutrients without adding fat, cholesterol or sodium to the diet. ● Regarding research linking specific foods to the reduced risk of long-term diseases, mushrooms are without equal. There are literally thousands of scientific research studies that have built upon over 3,000 years of Traditional Medicine experience with the healing properties of mushrooms. Mushrooms have been shown to possess powerful anti-tumor, anti-cancer, anti-mutagenic, antiviral and anti-bacterial properties. They are known to be strong modulators of the human immune system and have been used not only to strengthen our immune system’s action against attacks of infectious agents, but also have been proven to be useful in treating autoimmune disorders such as allergies, asthma, arthritis and some types of diabetes. ● Common button mushrooms are available in every produce department and, in recent years, previously “rare and exotic” species such as Maitake, King Trumpet and Beech mushrooms are becoming available nation-wide at affordable prices. Thus, while many foods have been hyped as being superfoods based upon poorly defined and substantiated claims, by all measures, mushrooms are a true “Superfood”. - SF References: 1. “Superfood ‘ban’ comes into effect.” BBC News. June 29, 2007 2. Glenn Cardwell. “Australia: What is a superfood?”, Mushrooms and Health Global Initiative Bulletin, August 2009, Issue #7, page 4. .