As a Clinical and Sports Dietitian, and Director of CANutrition, a specialist nutrition practice that advises cancer patients, I spend my days providing guidance to others on how to eat to help progress their health, wellness and performance needs. It is my professional opinion that plant-based dietary approaches are very benefitial for the majority of my patients.
Plant-based diets, including the Mediterranean, DASH and MIND diets, have been widely researched as helping to reduce risks of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. They are also associated with healthier body weights, as well as improved gut, brain and longer-term cognitive function.
One confusing aspect of plant-based eating that I often need to clarify is that it is still okay to include small serves of red and other meats. This is an enormous relief to many patients whose spaghetti bolognese, burger and meatloaf recipes are hard-wired to them. Lean red meat in my patient's diets also adds in good quality proteins, a more absorbable iron and other essential minerals. This is important when they are recovering from cancer treatment, training hard or trying to reduce fat, not muscle weight.
The Australian Heart Foundation and Cancer council also recommend that a wholefood type plant-based diet can include up to 350-400g of red meat a week. The Australian Dietary Guidelines (2013) recommend small palm-sized portions (90-120g), included up to 2-3 times a week.
One of the best ways to bridge the smaller serves of red meat with a plant-based approach to eating is to adopt a mushroom blend approach to cooking minced type meat meals. Substituting a portion of either the beef, lamb, pork or chicken mince used in recipes with an equivalent serve of mushrooms will also further enhance the taste, health and budget benefits of the meal .
Here are 5 reasons why dietitians recommend a mushroom + mince blend:
The Blend cooking method is easy to adopt.
When trying to eat more of a plant-based diet, it is easy to feel confused or overwhelmed with what you can eat and cook. The blend cooking method is easy to adopt as it doesn’t require you to come up with a whole new repertoire of recipes. Using smaller serves of red meat and boosting the portion sizes with mushrooms, will also help your minced meals taste better, cost less to make, and be boosted with extra health benefits.
A blend of mushrooms + mince is healthier, with less fat and more nutrients.
Mushrooms have almost no kilojoules compared to red meat, so substituting some mince for mushrooms significantly lowers the overall food kilojoules or calories that you are dishing up.
Comparatively, mushrooms have 88% less calories than lean red minced meat which is good for the waistline.
- 100g of lean red mince* 710 kJ (169 calories)
- 100g of minced mushrooms 86 kJ (20 calories)
In addition, to helping to reduce red meat intake and lower the fat content of your meals, a blend of mushrooms supercharges the nutritional value. Mushrooms have been found to be rich in an exciting type of fibres - beta-glucans. Beta-glucans have been shown to help reduce cholesterol levels This potential of beta-glucans in mushrooms is being investigated by CSIRO and it is likely that a blended meal of meat and mushrooms could be the next heart foundation favourite food.
Mushrooms are also a very good source of vitamin D. Blending in a serve of mushrooms (exposed to sunlight for 15 minutes) into your spaghetti bolognaise is enough to meet your daily vitamin D requirements.
Vitamin D is a critical nutrient needed for immune health and strong bones. It was previously thought that you had to expose your skin to sunlight or take a supplement to meet your daily vitamin D needs.
Vitamin D in mushrooms (exposed to sunlight for 15 minutes) = 1000IU of vitamin D (equivalent in vitamin D supplement)
Blending mushrooms with mince reduces the amount of salt needed.
There are not too many whole foods or ingredients that can be used to fill the shoes of the meaty type tastes in dishes like bolognaise, meat loaf, burgers and alike. Mushrooms however have an umami flavour, which results in their ability to mimic the taste of meat naturally.
This was put to the test by the US Mushroom Council in a consumer acceptance study of both adults and children (eating blended beef burgers at school). A study from The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and University of California-Davis showed that a traditional mincemeat recipe (like a favourite burger) prepared with a mushroom and meat blend could enhance the overall flavour - due to double the impact of the umami flavour.
This umami flavour was also proven to reduce the amount of salt need in dishes.
In both research studies, participants did not notice any significant differences in the taste of their meals. Many participants found that mushrooms enhanced the overall taste of the meals, and that minced meat meals could substitute up to 70% mushrooms, in beef mince dishes like shepherd’s pie or chilli con carne, without changing the ‘meaty’ flavour.
Reducing salt in the diet is key dietary recommendation that is aimed at helping improve heart health and lower the risks of high blood pressure and a stroke.
Mushrooms help you feel fuller, for longer.
Mushrooms are also proven to assist with satiety (feeling full) as they have unique with fibres that help you to feel fuller for longer. Mushrooms are rich in beta-glucans, which is a soluble type of fibre, and these types of fibres absorb water and swell in the gut. This helps to slow down the rate of digestion and how fast your food travels down through the digestive tract. Think about how long a whole food burger made with mushrooms and served with a salad will travel, compared to a fast-food version served with a soft drink. Incorporating mushrooms into your minced dishes means you will feel satisfied for longer, even though you have eaten less.
Mushrooms could reduce cancer risk.
This is common sense. Typically, mushrooms cost less per kilo than lean red mince, which means you will save money. Bulking up your meals with blended mushrooms saves money too, as it’s easy to extend portion sizes. We like the idea of extending the meal so that you have one serve for dinner and another for the freezer or lunch tomorrow.
Since I have started working with the Australian Mushroom Growers Association, my husband tells everyone that he is sure that the sale of mushrooms has grown exponentially. I have always loved mushrooms, but I am still discovering lots of new and exciting health and tasty ways to use them. Using a blend of mushroom is one of the easiest cooking methods to adopt, plus it is a do-able way to be able to eat a plant-rich diet, as well smaller palm sized portions of meat. Mushrooms can also help to boost the taste, nutrients and the health benefits that can still be enjoyed from your family favourite meals.
Note: the information in this article is meant as general information only. For specific, personal advice on any medical condition, please see your doctor.
AMGA Dietitian - Jane Freeman
Jane is an internationally regarded and experienced dietitian and nutritionist, is an IOC (International Olympic Committee) qualified sports nutritionist, Leiths qualified cook and an award-winning author.
As a practicing dietitian and director for CANutriton, a cancer specialist nutrition practice in Sydney, Jane is big mushroom lover and passionate about delivering practical nutrition advice that is easy to understand and adopt.
Health Professionals can find the expert round table white paper on our website.
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