If you like mushrooms, here is some good news for you.
Scientists have discovered that some mushrooms may contain unusually high amounts of two antioxidants that could help fight aging and bolster health.
Penn State researchers have discovered that mushrooms have high amounts of the ergothioneine and glutathione, both important antioxidants, but the amounts of these compounds varied greatly between mushroom species.
“What we found is that, without a doubt, mushrooms are highest dietary source of these two antioxidants taken together, and that some types are really packed with both of them, Robert Beelman, professor emeritus of food science and director of the Penn State Center for Plant and Mushroom Products for Health said.
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Beelman said that when the body uses food to produce energy, it also causes oxidative stress because some free radicals are produced. Free radicals are oxygen atoms with unpaired electrons that cause damage to cells, proteins and even DNA as these highly reactive atoms travel through the body seeking to pair up with other electrons.
Replenishing antioxidants in the body, then, may help protect against this oxidative stress.
“There’s a theory — the free radical theory of aging — that’s been around for a long time that says when we oxidize our food to produce energy there’s a number of free radicals that are produced that are side products of that action and many of these are quite toxic,” said Beelman.
“The body has mechanisms to control most of them, including ergothioneine and glutathione, but eventually enough accrue to cause damage, which has been associated with many of the diseases of aging, like cancer, coronary heart disease and Alzheimer’s.”
Researchers tested 13species and discovered that the porcini species contain the highest amounts of ergothioneine and glutathione.
“We found that the porcini has the highest, by far, of any we tested,” said Beelman. “This species is really popular in Italy where searching for it has become a national pastime.”
The more common mushroom types, like the white button, had less of the antioxidants, but had higher amounts than most other foods, Beelman said.
Cooking mushrooms does not seem to significantly affect the compounds, Beelman said.
“Ergothioneine are very heat stable,” said Beelman.
Mushrooms, because of their mysterious biology, have attracted our interest since ancient times. How ancient people could distinguish between poisonous and edible mushrooms is not entirely clear, but ancient texts, myths and legends reveal that ancient civilizations admired, feared and even worshipped mushrooms.