In order to prove a point about a healthy food choice we dietitians often focus on what a particular food may not have, such as cholesterol or trans fats or excessive sodium.
Mushrooms can be touted for those qualities, but today I'm going to highlight the beneficial properties they do have: mushrooms have a huge potential to improve your health with a nutrient profile that includes B vitamins, potassium, selenium, copper and vitamin D.
One nutrition secret of mushrooms is their high vitamin D content. Few foods are considered good sources of vitamin D, which, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines is a nutrient lacking in the typical diet. Yet mushrooms, considered a vegetable in nutrition terms, are a good plant-based source of vitamin D. It seems mushrooms can produce vitamin D with chemical reactions energized by sunlight in the same way that people could if we lived near the equator and didn't wear sunscreen.
Since we don't live near the equator and shouldn't expose unprotected skin to sunlight, we can turn to mushrooms for a very tasty way to get more vitamin D. Five medium mushrooms (3 ounces) of portobello mushrooms can provide 94 percent of our vitamin D requirements based on a daily value of 400 International Units (IU) for adults. Maitake mushrooms, which are not as familiar, contain more vitamin D than the other varieties with 943 IU in a five mushroom portion.
Of the roughly eight commonly available mushroom varieties, the most popular, accessible and affordable is the white button mushroom. Three ounces, or five medium raw mushrooms provide 20 calories, 300 milligrams potassium and a negligible amount of fat and sodium.
Mushrooms also have umami properties, lending the fifth taste sense -- savory and meaty -- to foods they're prepared with. You can be sure any dish containing mushrooms will be quite delicious.
And, mushrooms are kind to your food budget. According to a study by the Culinary Institute of America, mushrooms can be blended with ground beef with no negative taste consequences. White button mushrooms, for example, can replace 80 percent of the ground beef in taco, lasagna or hamburger recipes, and the cost of the recipe drops to about $0.34 per four-ounce portion.
The good news doesn't stop there. A study published in the December 2013 Appetite Journal revealed lower caloric and fat intake, improved body composition and sustained weight loss among a group who ate a mushroom-based diet versus a group who ate a meat-based diet.
The versatility of mushrooms is endless. Mushrooms can be broiled, microwaved, roasted or sautéed for a side dish, grilled for a sandwich, scattered raw onto pizza or sliced into salads. Try them today in these savory tacos.
• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, is the author of "Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies" and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.