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Healthy recipes > cooking & nutrition tips >

How Mushrooms Help Fight Heart Disease

By Jeanne Ambrose
Photos by Scott Little, Colleen Duffley and Mark Thomas

Scientists have found a new reason to pile more mushrooms on top of, well, everything. Common mushroom varieties, including white buttons, and their more exotic cousins have plenty of benefits that may help your heart.

Q: How do mushrooms benefit your heart?
A: Mushrooms are loaded with a potent disease-fighting antioxidant called ergothioneine, according to researchers at Pennsylvania State University. In fact, they report that specialty mushrooms, such as shiitake, oyster, or maitake (hen of the woods), contain about 40 times as much ergothioneine as wheat germ, which once was thought to be the best source of the antioxidant. Even common mushrooms, such as white buttons, portobello, and cremini, contain about 12 times more of the antioxidant than wheat germ.
Studies from Asia also suggest compounds in mushrooms, particularly maitake and shiitake, reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. They’re a good source of potassium too, which may cut the risk of high blood pressure and stroke. In fact, a 3-ounce portobello mushroom contains about as much potassium as a small banana.
Researchers say both raw and cooked forms provide cardiovascular benefits. So pile them on salads, on an antipasto platter, or over pasta.

Q: How do I keep mushrooms fresh?
A: To prevent mushrooms from spoiling, keep them dry. Upon purchase, mushrooms should be refrigerated in their original packaging, unopened, and used within a week. After the package has been opened, the remaining mushrooms should be wrapped in paper towels or placed in a paper bag. Avoid storing them in a plastic bag. 

Q: What do I do if they’re dirty?
A: Mushrooms absorb water and become soggy, so avoid soaking them. Remove dirt by wiping them with a soft brush or damp cloth or rinse quickly in cold water just before using, then pat dry.

Q: To cook or not to cook? And how?
A: While some mushrooms are terrific in their raw state, cooking often brings out the best in them. Mixing varieties when cooking is OK, but be sure to cut them in uniform chunks or slices so they will cook evenly. If using whole mushrooms, aim for mushrooms that are close in size.

  • Roasting: Preheat oven to 450°F. Clean mushrooms and place in a roasting pan or shallow baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt or salt; toss gently to coat. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring twice, until mushrooms are tender.
  • Sautéing: In a skillet, cook cleaned, sliced mushrooms in hot canola oil or olive oil over medium-high heat until mushrooms are tender. Use 1 tablespoon of oil for every 8 ounces of mushrooms. Cook shiitake mushrooms for 4 minutes; button and oyster mushrooms for 6 to 8 minutes; and maitake mushrooms, broken into clusters, for 10 to 12 minutes.
  • Grilling: Brush mushroom caps with oil (or a combination of oil and vinegar). Place on the grill rack over medium heat. Grill, uncovered, until tender, turning and brushing with oil once halfway through grilling. Sprinkle with salt and ground black pepper. For 8-ounce portobellos, cook for 8 to 10 minutes. For small mushrooms, use a grill basket and reduce cooking time.

Q: How do I choose the right mushroom for my recipe?
A: Follow this handy guide:

Enoki (en-OH-kee)—Best served raw on salads as heat tends to wilt and toughen these tiny, delicate, mild mushrooms.
Maitake (my-TAH-kay)—A meaty texture and woodsy taste makes these a good match for pasta or risotto.
Oyster—With their mild flavor, these mushrooms do best when cooked or added to soups.
Portobello—These are great on the grill and make a filling substitute for a meaty burger.
Shiitake (shee-TAH-kay)—Let the rich, earthy taste, with a hint of smokiness, take on prominence in more intensely flavored dishes.
White button—Slice this common variety for nibbling raw, dunking in a yogurt-based dip, or cooking with onions to serve alongside fish.
Continued on Page 2: Mushroom Recipes
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