I am no formal advocate when it comes to plant-based or vegan dining. In fact, I love eating meat (especially when it is coupled with a good glass of wine). Still, there are certain health benefits to occasionally choosing more foods from plant sources. Sunday, 7 March marks International Plant Power Day, encouraging us to include more plant-based foods – especially fungi – in our daily diets. Here’s why.
The benefits of eating mushrooms and other plants are scientifically proven and well-documented. For the record: I am by no means saying you should turn your life upside down and become vegan or decide to eat plant-based from this point forward. Kathy McManus, Director of the Department of Nutrition and Director of the Dietetic Internship at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and also a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA, says: “Plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns focus on foods primarily from plants. It doesn’t mean that you never eat meat or dairy. Rather, you are proportionately choosing more of your foods from plant sources.”
So, why opt for more mushrooms and other plants in your diet then?
It’s the cheaper way of staying healthy
The Permanente Journal, which aims to advance knowledge in scientific research, clinical medicine and innovative health care delivery, writes: “Research shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They may also reduce the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases.”
Rena Goldman, who writes for the peer reviewed medical and health site, Healthline, says: “You can’t go wrong with mushrooms. They are fat-free, low-sodium, low-calorie and cholesterol-free. They’re also packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals. Nutritional benefits vary depending on the type of mushroom, but overall they are a good source of antioxidants, beta glucan, B vitamins, copper and potassium.”
Antioxidant, Anti-inflammatory & anticancer effects
Mushrooms have the most remarkable medical properties. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health says: “Perhaps the more interesting properties of mushrooms are their non-nutritive plant substances – polysaccharides, indoles, polyphenols and carotenoids in which cell and animal studies have shown antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects.”
When it comes to healing the human body, the anti-inflammatory properties of fungi are hugely undervalued. Medical News Today highlights that eating a plant-based diet “may serve as a complementary therapy for many conditions that become worse with chronic inflammation.” By adding more mushrooms to your diet, you will be able to reap the benefits of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
It’s a good substitute
Mushrooms have a meaty texture and an adaptable taste, which means it’s the perfect substitute for meat. It’s also a product that is easy to find and to prepare.
According to a 2016 US-based study that used mushrooms as plant-based alternative for meat, it was found “that the most important drivers of liking were flavour and texture.” A meat and mushroom blend was highly palatable to the study’s participants.
If you’re a meat-lover and don’t want to omit meat from your diet, mushrooms are also a great companion food to meat.
Thanks to its blendability, mushrooms are a great ingredient to use in various meaty, but also meat-free dishes. Your favourite dishes can be made with a mix of equal parts meat and fresh mushrooms – think Bobotie, Lasagne or meatballs. Chop the mushrooms finely and substitute gram for gram for half the meat in whatever you are making for dinner. This lowers the calories of the dish and keeps (or even improves) the deep umami flavour most of us are so fond of.
The diverse flavours of mushrooms can expand your palate and reinvigorate your appetite. Find some recipe inspiration for plant-based burgers, pizza, buddha bowls and curries HERE.
Feed the crowds
Mushrooms are a great ingredient to use to bulk out foods and feed large amounts of people at a time. It’s perfect to add to creamy chicken bakes, stews, pie fillings or even breakfast dishes like quiches, frittatas and more.
It’s packed with fibre
There are many myths around plant-based dining, including that you may be nutrient deficient and that you will always be hungry.
Kathy McManus says that “plant-based diets offer all the necessary protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals for optimal health, and are often higher in fibre and phytonutrients.”
Nutritionists across the globe agree that mushrooms and plants are the most nutritious foods you can eat. As for hunger, vegetables and mushrooms are packed with fibre, which fills you up and keeps you fuller for longer, while generally also lowering your overall calorie intake.
A possible answer to climate change
Plants have the ability to protect and refresh the earth as they grow. Mushrooms, for one, are able to restore soil and many eco-scientists are proclaiming mushrooms as one of the answers to climate change, with commercial mushroom cultivation being a highly sustainable crop. Fungi are therefore not just good for your health, but also for the earth.
It is clear that including more mushrooms and plants in your diet can only improve your health and possibly also your budget. I challenge you to cook a plant-based meal on International Plant Power Day, share the photo and tag Suitcase & Chardonnay on social media. Let’s stay healthy together! 🙂