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Mushrooms: What's Edible, Medicinal, and Psychedelic

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

“All told, it is OK to eat button mushrooms in moderation,” Weil says, “but they should always be thoroughly cooked -- broiled or grilled is best.”

Cooking may break down some of the naturally occurring toxins, he says. In fact, Weil advises against eating any mushrooms - wild or cultivated - raw.

Mushrooms offer so much that is good for you, says New York dietician Marjorie Nolan, MS, RD. They are a good source of protein as well as antioxidants such as selenium, which helps to prevent cell damage, and copper, a mineral that aids in the production of red blood cells. In fact, mushrooms are the only produce that contains significant amounts of selenium.

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.

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