Mushrooms are a delicacy for many and though classified as vegetables in the food world, Sylvia Chelangat, a nutritionist, says they are not technically plants.
“They belong to the fungi kingdom and while they are not vegetables, mushrooms have been valued throughout the world as both food and medicine for thousands of years. That is because they provide several important nutrients,” she shares.
While there are several mushrooms around the world, in Uganda, the indigenous type is what is locally known as obutiko obubaala. Carol Kigozi, a mother, says apart from being added to groundnuts to make a sauce among the Baganda, they also help to relieve colic in babies.
“After two of my children suffered with colic, a neighbour urged me to try them. While I was skeptical about it, the mushrooms saved me from the nightmare of dealing with yet another excessively crying baby,” she shares.
While nutritionists are not quick to buy into the allegation, other mothers vouch for the remedy.
Nonetheless, the medics agree that mushrooms are a rich source of nutrition and form a major portion of healthy foods. Other mushrooms found in Uganda include oyster mushrooms and button mushrooms.
Looking at the individual benefits of these, Chelangat says oyster mushrooms are rich in protein and B vitamins.
“From research, they have been said to help fight HIV. More to that, extracts of oyster mushrooms have a potential therapeutic/preventive effect on breast and colon cancer,” she adds.
In regards to button mushrooms, she says, the specie is believed to be effective in preventing breast and prostate cancer in both animal and human cells.
On a general outlook, David Walugembe, a nutritionist, shares that women take folic acid or folate supplements during pregnancy to boost fetal health, but mushrooms can also provide folate.
“A cup of whole, raw mushrooms contains 16.3 microgrammes (mcg) of folate. Current guidelines recommend that adults consume 400mcg of folate each day. Therefore, these would give pregnant women the needed folate amount,” he says.
Mushrooms are also rich in potassium. “This mineral aids the body in processing sodium as well as lowering blood pressure. Therefore, persons dealing with hypertension or are at risk of stroke can get many health benefits from regularly adding mushrooms to their diet,” Chelangat shares.
Mushrooms are rich in dietary fibre. “Therefore, they are important in dietary designs for type 2 diabetic patients since they provide a high satiety with less calories,” Walugembe shares. Seeing that they are low in calories, they are also great for people who desire to lose weight.
Chelangat also explains that mushrooms are a great source of the plant-based essential antioxidant known as selenium. “Antioxidants protect the body from damage that would lead to one getting chronic diseases. That is besides strengthening one’s immune system,” she shares.
For those with allergies to gluten, Chelangat says mushrooms are free of gluten. “Gluten is found in wheat and people that are allergic to it will not eat any wheat products. However, with mushrooms, you can enjoy your meal without a worry.”
David Walugembe, a nutritionist, cautions people to eat only organically grown mushrooms.
“This is because mushrooms absorb and concentrate whatever they grow in, whether it is good or bad. Mushrooms have been known to be concentrated in heavy metals, as well as air and water pollutants, so healthy growing conditions is a critical factor.”
While some mushrooms are edible, there are also poisonous ones. The common are deadly webcap, and fly agaric. These should not be consumed as they could lead to death.