Your Healthy Ingredients

Edible Fungi: The Healthy Food

By: Sam He (M.Sc.)  [Asia Pacific Farm's Director of R&D]

(Click here for original article written in Chinese)

The saying “the more delicate the better” used in Chinese diet culture goes all the way back to the ancient days, which perhaps means the constant improvement made by people in food selection and cooking methods and techniques. However, more and more people now focus on how to keep the nutritive value of the food when they cook, with “delicacy” being second in mind. As a result, the concept of “healthy food” has now become a popular topic of concern in modern life.

Talking about healthy food, fungus is one of the ten main healthy foods highly praised by nutritionists. Perhaps some people may not be familiar with the word “fungus”, but believe it or not, we almost get in touch with them everyday in our diet. For example, the alcohol we drink, the soy sauce we use to cook, the bread and steamed bun we eat, all of these are products of fungal fermentation. However, the fungi used to make these products are those which are either single cell or filiform, so people usually can not see them with the naked eye. Actually, as one kind of healthy food, the fungus we are talking about here is different from the single-celled or filiform ones. They are another kind of fungus with the common name: mushroom.

Before the Qin dynasty, Chinese had recognized mushrooms as a kind of food. China was also the first country that cultivated mushrooms in the world. However, the west also knew about mushrooms quite early too. It is said that around 3 century B.C., some athletes in the ancient Olympia games ate mushrooms to help build up their strength. However, edible mushrooms are praised as a kind of healthy food today based on scientific analysis of their nutritive composition.

As everyone knows, in order to get a healthy body, people need enough protein in their diet. Protein is composed of 20 amino acids. 8 of the 20 are called essential amino acids, which can not be synthesized by the human body itself. If a particular kind of food has a high content of protein but not comprised of a lot of the essential amino acids, then that food is not considered as a perfect source of protein. For instance, grain usually has none or few lysine (Lys), beans usually have none or few tryptophan (Trp) and methionine (Met), but mushrooms usually contain all of these 8 essential amino acids and the average content of protein in mushroom is also higher than that in almost all of other vegetables. Hence, mushrooms are also called “vegetable meat”.

Usually, fat is considered as a substance which can cause diseases of the heart and blood vessel. Therefore, when people eat meat, they want the lean; when people drink milk, they want skimmed, etc. But you do not need to worry about eating mushrooms. This is because the average rate of fat in mushrooms is only 4%, and its composition is different from that of animal fat. Animal fat contains a large number of saturated fatty acid which is harmful to the human body. However, the fat in mushrooms is mainly unsaturated—its average rate is 72%, and can be as high as 85%— and that is what the human body requires to develop itself. This is one of the important reasons that mushroom is considered as a healthy food.

In modern concept, vitamins are necessary for a healthy body. Mushrooms contain various vitamins such as VB1, VB2, VB5, VC and VD2. There are also some other vitamins such as VA, VB6, VB12, VK, biotin and folic acid depending on the type of mushroom. This makes mushrooms a natural food with a good source of vitamins.

Recently, some substances that prevent tumors, improve immunity and cure other diseases have been found in edible mushrooms. The following is a chart that shows the medicinal functions of some edible mushrooms:

Edible mushrooms are also a good source of mineral nutrition. For example, they include potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and iron. Among these edible mushrooms, Shiitake mushrooms belong to the alkaline food group because of its high content of potassium, which also makes it a good neutralizer to balance the acid from eating meat. Phosphorus could be helpful for recovering and improving the function of the brain; Iron has the effect to enrich the blood, and calcium can strengthen the bones of the body. It goes without saying that all of these will benefit the development and growth of the human body.

Cellulose is also considered a beneficial component of the food. The content of cellulose in mushrooms are quite rich, although in varying amounts in different mushrooms; the range is from 4% to as high as 27%. As a result, people can also get cellulose supplement from eating mushrooms.

From what you have read above, you would agree to the conclusion that edible mushrooms are good healthy and medical foods with high quality and content of protein, low content of fat but with high quality of rich mineral elements and cellulose. Its nutritional function is so balanced that it is praised “the top of all vegetables”.