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Mushrooms: What's Edible, Medicinal, and Psychedelic

What to know about the health benefits -- and risks -- of mushrooms.

Common Mushrooms continued...

For those who don't like bananas, consider the Portobello mushroom. It has more potassium and fewer calories, says Nolan, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Criminis are particularly high in vitamin B12, which is good news for vegetarians, Nolan says, because that's a vitamin more often found in animal products. In general, mushrooms are a decent source of B vitamins. They are also cholesterol free and very low in fat.

White mushrooms are also an increasingly good source of vitamin D because growers are exposing their crops to small amounts of ultraviolet light, which increases their D content dramatically, Nolan says.

"They are good for low levels of vitamin D, which is almost epidemic," Nolan says. "I happen to love mushrooms... they are not at the top of the list of superfoods, but they should be."

Again, it is important that you cook mushrooms thoroughly, and not simply in order to break down small amounts of natural toxins.

"The cell walls of mushrooms are tough, making it difficult for the digestive system to get to all the nutrients inside them," Weil writes. "Mushrooms often contain chemical compounds that can interfere with digestion and nutrient absorption -- sufficient cooking breaks down the tough cell walls, inactivates the anti-digestive elements, and destroys many toxins. It also makes mushrooms taste much better."

Mushrooms at the Store, the Farmers Market, and in the Wild

When shopping for fresh mushrooms, look for ones that are unspotted and free of slime. Nolan says that the nutritional content of mushrooms can vary greatly depending on where they are grown.

Supermarkets source their produce from a variety of sellers, so the mushrooms available this week may be from a different area as those offered last week. She advises her clients to shop at farmers markets when they can, buying from the same farmers each time. That way, they'll know they come from the same soil each time.

Some people may prefer to find their own mushrooms out in the wilderness.

"Foraging is definitely more popular these days," says 'Wildman' Steve Brill, who has been leading groups on gathering trips throughout New York State and the Northeast for nearly 30 years.

Brill credits the Internet, which has allowed information sharing among enthusiasts to flourish and spread. Yahoo groups, like Forage Ahead and NortheastMushrooms, as well as Facebook pages and meetup.com groups have brought people together to discuss and hunt their favorite mushrooms.

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