Part six in our superfoods series follows the same drill: three, superbly nutritious foods are portrayed in all their glory. Packed with goodies like vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, research suggests that the following can offer benefits to health. What’s more, you can pick these items up at your local supermarket – so no foraging in the wilderness required!
In this week’s edition, we’re covering the letters M, N, O, so here goes.
Because of their nutritional profile, mushrooms are often grouped together with other veggies. Technically though, they’re the body of a fungus. In this respect, they’re similar to a fruit, because they contain ‘spores’ – which are much like regular seeds, and help the plant to survive.
There are said to be thousands of mushroom species (more than 15,000 in the UK alone), though nobody knows the exact number. Of these, several varieties are deemed inedible or poisonous, whereas others are reported to have medicinal properties. Truffles, for example – a close relative of the mushroom – is considered a gourmet delicacy. You might also find wild, porcini mushrooms as the main ingredient in risottos, owing to their unique, pungent flavour. A word of caution: don’t go picking mushrooms, as you never know what they could be.
Whilst nutritional value can vary across species, mushrooms are generally a great source of B vitamins, especially B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin) and B5 (pantothenic acid). Some scientists believe that they’re also a source of vitamin D, but it’s not clear if this is a bioavailable form. Mushrooms deliver useful quantities of potassium, copper and selenium; they also contain a substance called ergothioneine, which is said to possess antioxidant properties. On top of all this, mushrooms are low in calories and carbs, and are incredibly versatile.
If you nip to your local green grocers or supermarket, you’re likely to come across chestnut, Portobello, white, closed-cup, shitake, and button varieties of mushrooms, which you can add to omelettes, stews and soups. You can even eat mushrooms raw, in salads (just be sure to wash well first).
In order to uphold a sense of responsibility, I’m not going to mention certain, hallucinogenics – i.e. ‘magic mushrooms’ –that are indeed, part of the above family. Ooh, I just did. Oops. :)
Nori is an edible type of seaweed; most commonly, it’s known as the ‘green stuff’ used to wrap sushi, or to garnish other dishes. You can usually find it pre-packaged in dried sheets, allowing you to get creative (if that’s your thing). Whilst it’s eaten as custom in Japan, it’s still a bit unusual to us. This is a crying shame, since it’s loaded with nutrients! It also has a mild, ever-so-slightly-sweet flavour that lends well in many recipes.
Some folk can’t help but hear ‘seaweed’ and think ‘green slimy stuff that gets tangled around your ankles on the beach’. However, once you move past this, nori’s worth a try. It’s a reputable source of iodine, which can help to maintain healthy thyroid function. It’s also rich in calcium, magnesium and zinc, plus vitamin C, beta-carotene, folate (folic acid), vitamin B6, and fibre. Phew – that’s pretty impressive!
Onions belong to the Allium family, which also includes garlic, leeks and chives. They’re renowned for their eye-smarting effects, and strong odour, owing to the various organosulfur compounds they contain. Whilst seemingly sinister (have you ever rubbed your eyes when chopping onions? Don’t – just don’t), these can offer numerous other health benefits; for example, protection against oxidative damage.
Organosulfur compounds also contribute to our intake of sulphur – a vital and abundant mineral that’s involved in a multitude of biological processes. It’s required to synthesise glutathione – an important antioxidant – along with the amino acid taurine; lack of which can impact exercise performance and recovery.
Additional nutrients on offer from the humble onion include vitamin B6, potassium and manganese. Quercetin (a type of phytochemcial is also found in onions – especially red varieties). This has been shown to support lung function and help prevent free radical damage.
Onions are a staple ingredient in so many dishes - curries, stir-fries and casseroles, to name but a few!
So, there you have it – and not a ‘fun guy (fungi)’ joke in sight! :)
Look out for part seven, which will be available soon.