Penn State food scientists are reporting progress in building a better, more nutritious mushroom. Zapping edible fungi with ultraviolet light can significantly boost vitamin D levels, turning mushrooms into an even healthier food, the researchers said.
Rapid pulses of UV light increased the level of vitamin D2 in a single serving of mushrooms from practically zero to more than 100 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of 600 IUs in under a second, said Robert Beelman, director of the Penn State Center for Plant and Mushroom Products for Health. The treatment did not negatively affect the appearance or the taste of the mushrooms, he added.
Michael Kalaras, a postdoctoral fellow in food science who worked with Beelman, noted the vitamin D levels remained in the mushrooms — both whole and sliced — even after a week in storage.
"We are hoping that mushrooms that are treated with this technique could be a real benefit for human health by serving as an excellent source of vitamin D and especially as a source for persons who may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency," said Kalaras.
Mushrooms are low in calories and a good source of vegetable proteins, potassium, fiber and essential minerals, such as selenium, according to the researchers. They are also the best dietary source of ergothioneine, an antioxidant, Beelman noted.
The body naturally uses the ultraviolet light from the sun to convert cholesterol in the skin to create vitamin D, which maintains bone health and regulates the immune system. Consumers also receive vitamin D from some food products, such as enriched milk and orange juice.
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