Let mushrooms be thy medicine.

Let mushrooms be thy medicine.

The father of medicine, Hippocrates once said "Let food be thy medicine". Sound advice indeed! It is hard to argue with, for if eating is essential to life, then correct eating is essential to the quality of that life.

When speaking of medicine, then the role of food in healing is significant. None can be more so than mushrooms, as they contain some of the most powerful natural medicinal ingredients on the planet! What a pleasure, then, that eating mushrooms is nothing like taking medicine, as they are without a doubt a true culinary delight!

An article published in the British Guardian newspaper makes the important point that mushrooms contain unusually high levels of two very important antioxidants (ergothioneine and glutathione) which scientists believe may help to protect the body against the maladies of old age, such as cancer, coronary heart disease and Alzheimer's disease. Ergothioneine appears to have a very specific role in protecting your DNA from oxidative damage, while glutathione is important for successful detoxification of heavy metals and other contaminants.

According to Robert Beelman, a Professor Emeritus of food science and a director of Penn State Center for Plant and Mushroom Products for Health: "Countries that have more ergothioneine in their diets, countries like France and Italy, also have lower incidences of neurodegenerative diseases, while people in countries like the United States, which has low amounts of ergothioneine in the diet, have a higher probability of diseases like Parkinson's Disease and Alzheimer's.Now, whether that's just a correlation or causative, we don't know. But, it's something to look into, especially because the difference between the countries with low rates of neurodegenerative diseases is about 3 milligrams per day, which is about five button mushrooms each day."

Professor Beelman went on to make an important point that "while all edible mushrooms have beneficial properties, some are more potent than others".
Without a doubt, mushrooms are the highest dietary source of these two antioxidants taken together - and some types are really packed with both of them! "When it comes to the antioxidants ergothioneine and glutathione, wild ceps (Boletus edulis4), commonly referred to as porcini mushrooms, contain the highest amounts."

Beelman and colleagues at Penn State measured levels of these two antioxidants in 13 different species of mushrooms, and wild Porcini mushrooms were the clear winner. That said, even the white button mushroom contains more of these antioxidants than most other foods. They also found that mushrooms high in glutathione are also high in ergothioneine, so the two appear to be correlated.The good news is that ergothioneine and glutathione are heat stable so cooking your mushrooms does not significantly affect their health benefits.

So, now that we have established that the porcini is, from a health perspective, the king among mushrooms, we can also celebrate the fact that it is a wonderfully flavoursome and a delicious ingredient that adds a strong nutty flavor to most dishes. It is no wonder, therefore, that it is a firm favourite among gourmet chefs and it is considered to be second only to truffles in their gourmet status. It takes 1kg of dried Porcini mushrooms to produce 100g of Pure Porcini Powder (as is sold by The Great Cape). This mushroom powder is worth scaling high peaks and crossing dry desserts to acquire, such is its' potency to transform virtually any dish into a gourmet delight.  Personally, we at The Great Cape have added it to soup bases, risottos, cream-based pasta sauces and casseroles. We have also developed a wonderful steak powder/rub, that in addition to Pure Porcini Powder includes rosemary, black pepper and thyme. This will make your next dinner party a masterchef delight. We have even sprinkled Pure Porcini Powder over baked potatoes, melted it into hot butter and drizzled it over popcorn for a gourmet umami snack that is unlike anything else you may have tasted!

Apart from the gourmet benefits, the list of additional health benefits that mushrooms provide is extensive - they contain a number of compounds that modulate and strengthen immune function. This is a very good single reason as to why they are so beneficial for preventing and treating cancer. Immune-regulating compounds, include not only vitamin D, but also long-chain polysaccharides, which have a variety of beneficial properties, including:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Hypoglycemic
  • Anti-ulcer
  • Anti-tumorigenic
  • Immunostimulating

Mushrooms contain a number of other unique nutrients that many do not get enough of in their diet - such as the B vitamins like riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid, as well as copper which is one of the few metallic elements accompanied by amino and fatty acids that are essential to human health.

Since your body can't synthesize copper, your diet must supply it regularly. Copper deficiency can be a factor in the development of coronary heart disease. Other bioactive and medicinal compounds include terpenoids, steroids, phenols and all of the essential amino acids (they're especially good sources of lysine and leucine).

In closing, start now taking control of your health - choose wisely when it comes to what you eat. In so doing, you can quite literally "Let food be thy medicine"!

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