In John Tenniel's 1865 illustrations for Lewis Caroll's "Alice in Wonderland," 3-inch-tall Alice encounters a hookah-smoking caterpillar sitting on a mushroom: "One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter," the creature tells her.
Back then, that bit of fantasy gave the homely looking mushroom a reputation as a source of magic powers.
Now, 150 years later, we know just how packed with real power such fungi are - they can grow your body's immune strength and cancer-fighting ability.
Mushrooms also deliver a good dose of vitamin D, including D-2 and D-3. They make it, like humans do, when exposed to sunlight or zapped with UV light in the controlled environment of a mushroom farm.
Three ounces of maitake mushrooms contains over 900 IU of vitamin D; three ounces of shitake, almost 130 IU. Most varieties also contain potassium, copper, riboflavin, niacin and folate, plus bioactive compounds (phenols, sterols and triterpenes) that may help control blood sugar and cholesterol levels, fight inflammation and battle infection. Crimini and
Portobello mushrooms are packed with as many antioxidants and polyphenols as carrots, green beans, red peppers and broccoli.
Try adding some to soups, stews and pasta sauces; feast on marinated and grilled Portobello "burgers"; and mix ground mushrooms with lentils, black beans and sweet potatoes for a tasty veggie burger.
Tip: To be safe (and avoid an Alice moment or worse), don't pick wild mushrooms. To reap health benefits, stick with farm-raised varieties, and eat them cooked, not raw.
© 2014 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D.
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.
© King Features Syndicate