Smorgasbord Health Column – Food Therapy – Mushrooms – The Egyptians believed they granted immortality

As a follow on from the recent series on the Weekly Grocery Shopping List of foods that contain the nutrients the body needs that contain the nutrients the body needs I am going to repeat my series from 2017 on the health benefits of some of our most common foods.

Food therapy is a broad term for the benefits to the body of a healthy, varied and nutritional diet of fresh foods.

Most of us walk through the fresh produce departments of our supermarkets without really paying much attention to the individual fruits and vegetables. This is a great pity because the vast majority of these foods have been cultivated for thousands of years, not only for their nutritional value but also for their medicinal properties. If you eat a healthy diet you are effectively practicing preventative medicine. A robust immune system, not only attacks external opportunistic pathogens, but also works to prevent rogue cells in the body from developing into serious disease.

NOTE If you are on any prescribed medication do not take yourself off it without consultation with your doctor. If you follow a healthy eating programme and lose weight and are exercising you may not need the same dose and with your doctor’s agreement you may be able to reduce or come off the medication all together.


According to the ancient Egyptians, over 4,000 years ago, eating mushrooms granted you immortality. The pharaohs even went as far as to ban commoners from eating these delicious fungi but it was probably more to guarantee that they received an ample supply. Mushrooms have played a large role in the diet of many cultures and there is evidence that 3,000 years ago certain varieties of mushrooms were used in Chinese medicine and they still play a huge role in Chinese cuisine today.

There are an estimated 20,000 varieties of mushrooms growing around the modern world, with around 2,000 being edible. Of these, over 250 types of mushroom have been recognised as being medically active or therapeutic.

More and more research is indicating that certain varieties have the overwhelming potential to cure cancer and AIDS and in Japan some of the extracts from mushrooms are already being used in mainstream medicine.

Apart from their medicinal properties, mushrooms are first and foremost an excellent food source. They are low in calories, high in B vitamins, Vitamin C, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium and zinc – and supply us with protein and fibre. They are versatile and they are easy to cook and blend with other ingredients on a daily basis. For vegetarians they provide not only protein but also the daily recommended amount of B12 a vitamin often lacking in a non-meat diet.

Mushrooms in general.


The most common mushrooms that you are likely to use in cookery are white button mushrooms and oyster mushrooms. They may not be as exotic as some of the oriental varieties but they still hold many health benefits. They are not only low in calories and fat, and therefore great if you are trying to lose weight, but they will also provide you with plenty of fibre. Even the little white mushrooms contain B vitamins, potassium and selenium and there are some interesting studies being conducted at the moment into some very important medicinal applications.

One area of research is into the phytochemical action that suppresses two enzymes, aromatase and steroid 5alpha-reductase. Aromatase converts the hormone androgen into oestrogen, an excess of which can promote the development of breast cancer. Steroid 5alpha-reductase has the same effect on testosterone, converting it to dihydrotestosterone, which has been shown to be involved in the development of prostate cancer. In the laboratory a team led by a Dr. Chen discovered that the mushroom extract suppressed the growth of both these cells.

Another property in mushrooms that is potentially very interesting is the amount of the antioxidant ergothioneine compared to the amounts in other foods such as wheatgerm and chicken livers. In fact, mushrooms can have up to 12 times as much – which means that a small serving of 5oz could provide excellent protection against oxidative damage throughout the body.

Until recently it was difficult to find some of the traditional medical mushrooms outside of specialist shops but supermarkets have begun to carry Shiitake and Maitake mushrooms. They can be a little more expensive but their benefits far outweigh the cost.

Shiitake mushrooms.

shitakeShiitake mushrooms range in colour from tan to dark brown and they have broad, umbrella shaped, caps. They feel soft and spongy when raw but when cooked they are rich tasting and meaty in texture. They are ideal as an alternative to red meat in pasta dishes as you can chop them finely and cook with a little olive oil in exactly the same way.

Shiitake’s main benefit is the ability to lower LDL cholesterol. There is a specific amino acid in the mushroom, which helps speed up the processing of cholesterol in the liver resulting in lower levels in the blood and therefore reducing the risk of heart disease.

In 1969 Japanese scientists isolated a polysaccharide (sugar) compound from Shiitake they called Lentinan. It appears that this substance stimulates the immune system cells to rid the body of tumour cells resulting in either a reduction in size or complete removal of cancerous growths. In Japan the Federal Drug Agency has licensed Lentinan as an anti-cancer drug and there is on-going research into the effect of Shiitake mushrooms and AIDS.

Maitake mushrooms

The Maitake mushroom is found in clusters of dark fronds, which are firm but supple at the base. They have a distinctive aroma and taste rich and earthy. They are great in any dish where you use mushrooms but are wonderful in a homemade stroganoff sauce served with brown rice.

They are also known as the “hen of the woods” possibly because of their shape. As with the Shiitake this mushroom has a compound that inhibits the growth of cancer cells by stimulating the immune system and in addition they have been found to lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels but this has not been proven in humans as yet.

Another area of research is diabetes and it is thought that Maitake mushrooms may have a blood sugar balancing action that may reduce the need for insulin.

Mushrooms, as with most fruit and vegetables, hold some interesting and potentially lifesaving properties as well as nutritional benefits.

Selecting and storing mushrooms

Button mushrooms should be white, plump and clean. Shiitake and Maitake mushrooms tend to be brown and slightly wrinkled but they should not have any damp, slimy spots. Keep mushrooms in a loose paper bag in the refrigerator for about a week and store dried mushrooms in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer for six months.

Use a damp cloth to clean and then either slice or chop finely and add to your favourite recipes. They are great in stir-fry vegetable dishes, soups and stews and cooked gently in a little olive oil they make a great accompaniment for steak and poultry.

One word of warning: Naturally occurring Purine in mushrooms causes an increase in the amount of uric acid in the blood. This can lead to the formation of kidney stones and also the crystals that collect in joints in the toes that result in gout. If you suffer from kidney problems or gout I suggest that you limit your intake of mushrooms to once a week. If you still experience problems then you should avoid these and other Purine-rich foods altogether.

Candida: As a yeast overgrowth it was assumed that eating fungus such as mushrooms should be avoided. However, recent research has found that it is sugars that are the problem.

Here are two recipes that I have adapted over the years that are delicious and full of mushroom goodness.

Creamy Mushroom Soup

When preparing mushrooms remember that if you wash them you need to dry as much as possible before cooking, however with soup that is not too much of a problem since you need the liquid.

To serve four people a generous supper portion or six as a starter.

  • 250gm (8oz) mushrooms (the type of mushroom will determine colour – brown mushrooms give a depth of flavour but you can use shiitake or button too.
  • 1 medium onion.
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon and rind (try freezing your lemon before grating and you get the added vitamin C from the pith)
  • 600ml (pint) of chicken or vegetable stock.
  • 200ml (1/2 pint milk) I use full fat milk to give a creamy taste but you can use semi-skimmed.
  • 1/2 teaspoon of thyme
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Pepper (a pinch)
  • A half teaspoon of pimiento dulce to add a little spice and colour.


  1. Wash and slice the mushrooms and put into a pan with the finely chopped onion and grated rind and lemon juice.
  2. Pour in the stock and milk and add the thyme and salt and pepper.
  3. Cover the pan and bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  4. Liquidise the soup and then return to the pan to reheat and check the seasoning.
  5. Serve hot with warm French bread.

Mushroom Chilli Carbonara

I love pasta although I do not eat as much carbohydrates these days as my requirement is much less than it used to be. However, we have a pasta dish with or without meat at least once a week. Here is a recipe using mushrooms and with a touch of added heat from chilli.

Serves 4 people.

  • 250gm (8oz) button, chestnut or shiitake mushrooms.
  • 300ml (1/2pint) hot water
  • 225gm (8oz) pasta of your choice – Tagliatelle or spaghetti is great especially whole wheat.
  • 1 crushed garlic clove or level teaspoon of garlic powder if you like the spice.
  • 25/30gm (just over an 1oz) butter
  • 15ml (1tbsp) Olive oil (do not worry about virgin or extra virgin for frying)
  • 1 Teaspoon dried red chilli flakes
  • 300ml (1/2 pint) single cream
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Fresh grated Parmesan cheese and some chopped fresh parsley to garnish


  1. Cook the pasta according to the preparation information on the packet, drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process.
  2. In a pan lightly sauté the garlic if you have used fresh cloves in the butter and oil.
  3. Add the mushrooms, chilli flakes and cook for about three minutes.
  4. Pour in your hot water and boil to reduce the sauce.
  5. Beat the eggs and the cream with the seasoning.
  6. Add the cooked pasta to the pan of mushrooms and then add the eggs and cream.
  7. Mix through the ingredients
  8. Reheat so that the eggs are cooked but don’t boil.
  9. Serve in a bowl with grated parmesan and chopped parsley.


For some delicious recipes that will encourage you to include mushrooms in your diet.. please head over to an earlier post where Carol Taylor shares some of her favourite dishes: Cook from Scratch with Mushrooms

©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2020

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-two years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here: My books and reviews 2020

Thank you for dropping in today and your feedback and questions are very welcome.. thanks Sally.

31 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Health Column – Food Therapy – Mushrooms – The Egyptians believed they granted immortality

  1. Mushrooms are very popular here we have many cultivated varieties plus a fair few which are foraged…Thais particularly my daughter law loves foraging for mushrooms. The fact they are healthy for you as well is a big bonus…Pressed this…Hugs xx

    Liked by 2 people

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  3. Looking for mushrooms is one of our favorite mountain sports, and they are so easy to find. One just has to bend over (ouch) and pick them up. The fields are full of them, and with a huge variety. This really hits home. Thanks so much. Hugs

    Reblogged on « Improvisation » The Art of Living

    Liked by 1 person

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