Recently, a patient asked what nutritional value mushrooms had to offer. It's a question I get asked often so I'm sharing our conversation here today!

First and foremost, mushrooms offer the one-two punch of flavor and filler. In other words, mushrooms have the ability to add volume to a dish with few calories and nominal fat. The many varieties of mushrooms (see below) add an unmatched flavor, texture, and mouth feel from appetizer to main dish.

Now the fiber lover in me has to mention the relatively low fiber content of mushrooms compared to other veggies, but that's no reason to ignore them. What they lack in fiber, mushrooms make up in minerals (potassium, copper, zinc, etc.), B vitamins, and even some vitamin D. Better yet, these nutrients in mushrooms are rather durable in cooking as little is lost from their raw form during sauteing or grilling.

Beyond nutritional benefits, mushrooms go the extra mile by enhancing immune system function. Research published recently in the Journal of Nutritionshowed, in both cell cultures and animal studies, that white button mushrooms (which represent 90 percent of mushrooms consumed in the U.S.) enhance T-cell activity (the infection fighters) and promoted the production of other immune cells. In other words, dietary supplementation with the mushrooms not only increased the number of infection fighting cells, but also their individual fighting power. Eating foods to support this function is key to fighting sickness. Now that's a functional food!

In addition to the table below, various edible varieties include chanterelle, enoki, oyster, morel, and porcini mushrooms. Here are my favorites...enjoy!

Type Common Name Description Tanya's Tasty Tips
Agaricus White button mushrooms White, round; size varies, but typically golf ball size Widely available, inexpensive and versatile (great sliced on salads, or cooked in other dishes)
Crimini Brown or Italian brown Beige to dark brown A great substitute for white button mushrooms to provide more intense "earthy" flavor
Portabella Portabella/

Portabello

Light brown, very large (think hamburger size in diameter) These are mature crimini mushrooms! Great meaty flavor and texture. Delicious sliced or whole, sauteed or grilled.
Shiitake Chinese mushrooms, Oak mushrooms Brown in color with broad umbrella shaped caps Rich flavor; similar to portabella texture when cooked. These are best when cooked, especially sauteing or baking.
Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD is a nutritionist and founder of www.Skinnyandthecity.com. She is also the creator of The F-Factor DietaC/, an innovative nutritional program she has used for more than ten years to provide hundreds of her clients with all the tools they need to achieve easy weight loss and maintenance, improved health and well-being. For more information log onto www.FFactorDiet.com.

Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.

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