September is National Mushroom and National Cholesterol Education Month

We continue to commemorate mushrooms during the month of September; however, the ninth month of the year is also host to National Cholesterol Education Month and National Self Improvement month (no kidding).

Over twenty years ago, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) launched the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) in order to help reduce illness and death from coronary heart disease (CHD) by reducing the percent of Americans with high blood cholesterol.

About 65 million Americans have high blood cholesterol. It is a serious condition that increases the risk for heart disease. The higher your cholesterol level, the greater the risk. Lowering cholesterol levels that are too high lessens your risk for developing heart disease and reduces the chance of having a heart attack or dying of heart disease.

We know that eating too much fatty foods such as cheese, fatty meats, high-fat fast foods, junk foods and specifically trans fats can elevate cholesterol levels so much so that congress passed a law earlier this year (http://www.fda.gov/menulabeling) requiring restaurant chains to post product ingredients so that savvy consumers can be informed about their food choices.

High cholesterol can occur at any age with younger and younger children diagnosed with elevated lipids levels. About 90% of children with high cholesterol level have a parent who also has high cholesterol.

So what do mushrooms have to do with National Cholesterol Month?

For starters, mushrooms can be good substitutes for meat in a recipe. Mushrooms are cholesterol-free, contain no saturated fat and most importantly, the unique umami properties contribute significant flavor and a feeling of satisfaction, especially when the mushrooms are cooked long enough or at high heat to develop and intensify the flavor.

For a low-fat option, cook the mushrooms with spray vegetable oil, broth or wine instead of butter to keep fat at a minimum without compromising on taste. Check out the recipes on this site for some really great options.

Another interesting component mushrooms naturally contain, specifically the King Oyster (King Trumpet) mushrooms, is lovastatin. Lovastatin is a member of the drug class of statins, used for lowering cholesterol and so preventing cardiovascular disease. About one-in-seven Americans take medication to reduce cholesterol levels, which in turn lower the risk for stroke and heart attack.

Preliminary research has demonstrated that the King Trumpet mushroom significantly reduced cholesterol levels in animals. Also, beta-glucans found in many mushrooms, including Maitake species, may also have a lipid lowering effect. While it’s too soon to know for sure if mushrooms have the same effect in humans, it’s encouraging to know that food that tastes good may actually be good for you.

For more ideas about how to lower cholesterol levels check out the NHLBI website (http://www.nhlbi.ni.gov/) for specific recommendations.

Remember, September is a good time to get your blood cholesterol checked (especially before the holiday season begins) and take steps to lower it if it is too high. Enjoying Hokto mushrooms on a regular basis can help!