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Mushroom – Almost Perfect Food

Considered a ‘divine fruit of immortality’ during ancient times, the mushroom is served on the modern dining table for its nutritional and medicinal values. From a source of vitality to a cancer-fighting fungus, it confers health benefits that earned it the description of ‘an almost perfect food’.

Mysteriously, seemingly overnight, the mushroom emerges from the earth–a miniature umbrella unfurling without leaves, roots, or need of sunlight. Not really a vegetable, this fruiting body of an edible fungus is among the most nutritious and popular foods.

The ancient civilizations of Egypt, Rome and China knew of the importance of edible mushrooms as food. Egyptian pharaohs zealously kept the mushrooms for their own use, decreeing it was too delicate a morsel for commoners–who could eat garlic!

Despite being “an almost perfect food,” growing mushroom is still considered one of the “not too famous” business ventures in the Philippines. “But if this is tapped and one gets to know the techniques of its trade, mushroom culture could be remarkably profitable,” says the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), which promotes its cultivation throughout the country.

Cutivating mushrooms ignored
“It is regrettable that, to date, cultivating mushrooms has been almost ignored in many developing countries, even though it could contribute significantly to feeding their population, for edible mushrooms are delicious and nutritionally valuable,” deplores Jan Lelley in an article on mushroom growing.

More than 100,000 varieties of mushrooms have been discovered, of which 700 are considered edible or fit for human consumption. The most widely cultivated mushroom species are kabuting saging, tainga ng daga, shiitake, abalone, and champignon.

Kabuting saging sprouts in the wild after thunderstorms and is usually cultivated in straw beds in open fields or in portable wooden frames. Tainga ng daga is usually found growing luxuriantly on decaying trees in the forest. Shiitake is also known as the Japanese forest mushroom since it grows profusely in the forests of Japan logs of shii, a tree closely related to the oak.

Abalone is commonly known as oyster mushroom because its fleshy gills look like ears growing sideways and overlapping one another, resembling oysters. Champignon is one of the few mushroom species with international commercial importance.

There are a number of species of mushroom that are poisonous, and although some resemble certain edible species, eating them could be fatal. “Eating mushrooms gathered in the wild is risky,” experts usually caution.
Claudius II and Pope Clement VII were both killed by enemies who poisoned them with deadly mushrooms. Buddha died, according to legend, from a mushroom that grew underground. Buddha was given the mushroom by a peasant who believed it to be a delicacy.

Edible mushroom species have been found in association with 13,000 year old ruins in Chile, but the first reliable evidence of mushroom consumption dates to several hundred years BC in China. In Asia, mushrooms are favored for their earthy flavor and their therapeutic properties.

Health benefits
In fact, recent studies have confirmed that the health benefits associated with mushrooms are numerous and wide-ranging. Mushrooms are high in antioxidants, selenium, riboflavin and other healthful substances that may fight cancer, some experts claim. Research conducted at California’s Beckman Research Institute shows that mushroom cells contain mechanisms that suppress breast and prostate cancer cells.

Other research suggests that some mushroom extracts can help reduce cancer treatment side effects. When people took the mushrooms a week before they started treatment, they did appear to help with side effects of both chemotherapy and radiotherapy, including sickness and hair loss.

In Japan, a study found shiitake mushroom to be a formidable cancer fighter. In 1969, scientists at Tokyo’s National Center Research Institute isolated a polysaccharide compound from shiitake they called lentinan. In laboratory trials, lentinan caused tumors in mice to regress or vanish in 80-100 percent of the subjects. Lentinan appears “to stimulate immune-system cells to clear the body of tumor cells.” Lentinan has shown some effect on bowel cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer, ovarian cancer and lung cancer.

Eating shiitake mushroom can also lower cholesterol. Research conducted in Japan identified a specific amino acid in shiitake that helps speed up the processing of cholesterol in the liver. In a 1974 study, 40 elderly individuals and 420 young women consumed nine grams of dried shiitake or the equivalent amount of fresh shiitake (90 grams) every day for seven days. After a week, total cholesterol levels had dropped seven to 15% in the older group, and 6 to 12% in the young women.

Here are more reasons for eating shiitake mushrooms: They may also lower blood pressure in those with hypertension, lower serum cholesterol levels, increase libido, stimulate the production of interferon which has anti-viral effects, and has proven effective against hepatitis in some cases.

The abalone mushrooms are a natural source of statin drugs, specifically the isomers of lovastatin. In 2009, a case-control study of the eating habits of 2,018 woman, revealed that women who consumed mushrooms had an approximately 50 percent lower incidence of breast cancer. Women who consumed mushrooms and green tea had a 90 percent lower incidence of breast cancer.

Indeed, good health would mushroom in the community with a diet rich in mushrooms.

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