Emphasis on Flavorful Foods with Nutritional Benefits
The standard American diet (also known as SAD) is typically high in processed foods, which tend to be high in saturated and hydrogenated fats, high in sugar and salt and low in complex carbohydrates and fiber. Two emerging food trends in the US have been identified as a demand for more nutritious food and food with flavor. The latest food trends include get back to basics with meals that are quick, but with an emphasis on flavor and also offering superior nutritional value.
Food with Health Benefits – Functional Foods
While there’s no formal definition for “functional food,” the meaning typically includes foods that provide a health-promoting or disease-preventing property beyond the basic function of supplying vitamins and minerals. For example, tomatoes contain the “phyto-nutrient” (plant compound) known as lycopene associated with a lower risk for prostate cancer. So tomatoes could be referred to as a functional food for men with increased risk for prostate cancer. Functional foods definition has been extended to include processed foods or foods and beverages fortified with health-promoting additives, such as calcium enriched orange juice (to lower risk for osteoporosis). Fermented foods with live cultures are also included in the functional food category with probiotic benefits.
So foods that naturally contain health-promoting compounds, foods that have nutrients added AND foods that are free of allergens (gluten, egg, corn, etc.) are all considered to be food with special health benefits. For example, foods that are gluten-free (a protein found in wheat, rye and other grains) and do not contain known allergens are included in the foods with health benefits trend.
Mushrooms offer unique health-promoting properties and can easily be included in the “foods with benefits category.” For example, mushrooms uniquely provide a natural source of vitamin D and are the only “plant” to make that claim. Ounce per ounce, mushroom species pack quite the phytochemical punch—containing compounds that may reduce risk for cancer and improve immune function.
The King Trumpet contains high amounts of ergothioneine, a naturally occurring antioxidant amino acid. L-ergothioneine has a very high ORAC value (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) and is concentrated in organs exposed to high oxidative stress such as the kidneys, liver, and eyes. Antioxidants such as L-ergothioneine may help reduce the risk of chronic disease by providing cellular protection against free radical damage. While all mushrooms contain some ergothioneine, specialty mushrooms such as King Trumpet and Maitake (hen of the woods) contain higher amounts than shitake or white button varieties. A standard 3 ounce serving can contain up to 13mg. As with most phytochemicals, levels of ergothioneine do not decrease during cooking.
The King Trumpet mushroom also contains statins such as lovastatin which has been shown to significantly reduce cholesterol levels in rats. Beta-glucans found in many mushrooms may also have a lipid lowering effect. Mushrooms are the leading source of the essential antioxidant selenium in the produce aisle. Antioxidants, like selenium, protect body cells from damage that might lead to chronic diseases. They help to support the immune system, as well.
The Maitake mushroom is especially high in antioxidants such as ascorbic acid, tocopherols, phenolic compounds, carotenoids and L-ergothioneine. Maitake contains compounds that helping to support immune system function and possesses anti-tumor activity. The beta-D-glucan present in Maitake, King Trumpet and all the Hokto varieties have been studied as a potential aid for prevention and treatment of cancer. Additional health benefits from Maitake might include better glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes and possibly also helpful in lowering blood pressure. Hokto’s White Beech and Brown Beech mushroom are also high is antioxidants such as L-ergothionine, vitamin D and fiber. Mushrooms are definitely a great tasting food that contributes health benefits.
Food with Flavor – Umami
Another food trend is increased demand for flavor. If you’ve read any of the earlier blogs, you’ll recall mentioning of positive feedback from the San Diego County Fair audience regarding Hokto mushroom’s flavor. All mushrooms are a rich source of umami, (pronounced oo-MAH-mee), the fifth basic taste after sweet, salty, bitter and sour. Hokto mushrooms offer incredible flavor that develops during cooking to provide a savory flavor unlike the other basic food tastes. Derived from the Japanese word, umai, meaning “delicious”, umami is usually described as a savory, brothy, rich or meaty taste sensation. Umami contributes a satisfying sense of flavor and full-bodied taste with distinctive qualities of aroma and mouthfeel to meals without the use of meat. The more umami present in food, the more flavorful it will be. The darker the mushroom the more umami it contains. Cooking at high heat, such as sautéing or grilling, or for longer periods as in cooking soup or broth, will intensify and develop the mushroom flavor.
Make Mushrooms Part of Your 5-A-Day Plan
Neither a vegetable, nor a fruit, mushrooms may contribute significantly to a plant-based diet high in nutrients, including phytochemicals. And while exotic mushrooms may be new to some –all contribute unique qualities in terms of flavor, texture and possible health benefits. Enjoy eating healthy!