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Ken Babal, CN
Ken Babal is a licensed clinical nutritionist with over 25 years experience. He is a consultant to the natural food and supplement industry and a former instructor for Southern California School of Culinary Arts.
Ken Babal has written over 100 articles that have appeared in many popular publications including Let’s Live, Taste for Life and Doctors’ Prescription for Healthy Living. He is co-author with Shari Lieberman, Ph.D. of Maitake Mushroom and D-Fraction (Woodland 2004) and author of Good Digestion: Your Key to Vibrant Health (Alive 2000) and Seafood Sense: The Truth about Seafood Nutrition and Safety (Basic Health Publications 2005).
Ken appears in the Discovery Health Channel documentary Alternatives Uncovered and E! TV’s The High Price of Fame: Starved!. He has also been a guest on many local and national radio programs.
As a professional musician and drummer, Ken became interested in nutrition as a means of realizing one’s optimum potential. “You can’t have a bad day when you go on stage. Nutrition is something we have control over and it plays a huge role in how we feel and perform each day.”
Hello, I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Good afternoon. Happy Autumn. Happy November. It is incredible here in New York City. The weather is so fabulous it just makes me think about global warming. I’m going to enjoy it while it’s here. I want to remind you that I recently founded the nonprofit Responsible Eating and Living and the website is responsibleeatingandliving.com. It’s where I get to put all of my energy and passion. There are wonderful recipes up there. We just put up a new video based on Barry Estabrook’s book Tomatoland. We had him on the show several weeks ago. I bring that up because it’s such an important issue this thing with conventional tomatoes now that winter is coming we’re going to see more of the Florida conventional tomato here in New York and all around the country. Something you will want to know, one of these tasteless, red, round treats because they’re filled with things that I don’t think most of us want to support. Check that out at responsibleeatingandliving.com. As the season gets colder and changes we really need to keep our immune system supplied with great nutrients to keep us strong and keep us well. We talk a lot about health here on this show, one thing I haven’t talked too much about, I’m not exactly sure why, but we’re going to talk a lot about in the first part of the show—mushrooms. My guest is Ken Babal the author of Mushrooms for Health and Longevity. He’s a licensed clinical nutritionist with over 25 years experience. He is a consultant to the natural food and supplement industry and a former instructor for Southern California School of Culinary Arts. He has written over 100 articles that have appeared in many popular publications including Let’s Live, Taste for Life and Doctors’ Prescription for Healthy Living. He is co-author with Shari Lieberman of Maitake Mushroom and D-Fraction and author of Good Digestion: Your Key to Vibrant Health and Seafood Sense: The Truth about Seafood Nutrition and Safety. He appears in the Discovery Health Channel documentary Alternatives Uncovered and E! TV’s The High Price of Fame: Starved!. He has also been a guest on many local and national radio programs. And last, as a professional musician and drummer, Ken became interested in nutrition as a means of realizing one’s optimum potential. “You can’t have a bad day when you go on stage. Nutrition is something we have control over and it plays a huge role in how we feel and perform each day.” Welcome to It’s All About Food, Ken.
Ken Babal: Hello Caryn. Boy, you covered the whole bio there, thank you.
CH: I think you deserve it. And I just want to be sure I pronounce your last name. How do you say it?
CH: Babal, ok. I got it. Very good. Before we start talking about mushrooms. I really enjoyed reading the last part of your bio about being a professional musician and drummer. I personally just came from a musical rehearsal where a bunch of singers were working on a project and one of the guys was struggling because his immune system was down, and he’s like hoarse and can’t get anything out. You really can’t have a bad day when you’re a musician, when you’re a singer it’s so important to have a strong immune system.
KB: Sure. I’m sure you’re well aware of that as a vocalist.
CH: When your instrument is your voice you really can’t let it go. Blues singing has been a passion of mine for a long time, not just for that but so many things but definitely it’s more obvious when you’re performing.
KB: True. I just got a testimonial from a singer recently. He was having trouble, he was having to cancel shows because he was just constantly getting sick. He started to take a mushroom supplement as a matter of fact. He said he hasn’t been ill since he started on it. So he’s very pleased about that.
CH: Well you know most people are looking for a secret pill, one thing that they can pop that’s going to solve all their problems. I’m not going to say that there is one but mushrooms come pretty close to solving a lot of ills. It’s amazing. We’re just at the tip of discovering all the great things that they can do.
KB: I agree, there’s no magic pill but mushrooms come close because they are unique. You think about it, they’re not a vitamin, they’re not a plant, they’re in this category we sometimes we call the third kingdom, they are members of the fungal family.
CH: I was reading this in your book and I found it really interesting. I really wasn’t clear on that before so could you talk more about what funguses and mushrooms really are?
KB: It might turn a few people off when they think of a fungus they think of moldy bread, mildew in shower stalls and that type of thing. Also penicillin, for example, is in the fungal family. The mushrooms’ DNA actually puts them closer to humans than it does to plants.
CH: That’s wild…just learning about this and you write that they take in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide just like people do.
KB: Yes they mimic human respiration.
CH: It’s wild, it’s kind of giving me the creeps somehow. Maybe mushrooms really are…they’re not animals, they’re not plants, they’re funguses.
CH: They don’t feel pain though, they don’t have any central nervous system?
CH: They are really, really amazing. So there are so many different kinds and we are discovering so many phenomenal properties they have. One thing I’m amazed at. This book we’re talking about—Mushrooms for Health and Longevity—it’s really a guide. It’s short, it’s tiny but it’s packed. Every sentence that you’ve written is, I can’t skim this book. I have to slowly take in every word because there’s a lot of very interesting, packed full of great stuff kind of information.
KB: I’ve tried to make it consumer friendly. There’s plenty of books out there that are quite technical on the study of mycology but this one is an easy read and I wanted to fill it with facts and put some pictures of beautiful mushrooms in there and recipes and some of the medicinal uses of the mushroom supplements.
CH: Let’s talk about some of the, do you have a favorite mushroom?
KB: I’m just a big mushroom fan in general. If I had to choose one, I would say, maitake.
CH: Is that for eating or for its property?
KB: Both. Quite a few people are familiar with shitaki mushrooms but maitake is kind of coming to the forefront, it may pass shitake as a favorite culinary mushroom but besides that it has so many wonderful health properties. As a matter of fact, the maitake mushroom extracts, for example it’s called D-fraction, is crossing over into mainstream medicine that’s used as an adjunct in cancer patients’ programs.
CH: It’s almost like mushrooms can be chemotherapy or better than chemotherapy.
KB: What the study suggests is that they enhance the effects of the drugs and that’s significant because you know how a lot of conventional doctors are leery of supplements and herbs and so on. They think that it might interfere with the treatment. In this case we have a lot of good scientific information that actually shows that the mushrooms complement the conventional treatments and help to alleviate the side effects of some of these treatments, chemo and radiation and so on.
CH: It really is important and I hope that more doctors are staying up with the research to know this because I had my personal experience with cancer and chemotherapy about five years ago and I did talk to a number of different doctors that I was consulting with and I don’t think they were up on all the research as I was, because I was trying to save my own life. I read some of the articles that showed that supplementation might negatively affect the impact of chemotherapy and then there were articles that discussed how this wasn’t true and so there was this sort of grey area but some doctors definitely believe that you should not supplement while they are giving you the drug and it’s not true with mushrooms. It’s very clear that they only help.
KB: And so all the doctors have to do is look at the research for themselves. A lot of times the patients wind up educating the doctors.
CH: Now maitake—I don’t ordinarily see this in my supermarket. I know I can get it as a supplement but are there places where you can buy it fresh or buy it dried?
KB: Yeah, I think it’s beginning to appear more and more in major supermarkets, usually dried along with the shitake, Portobello, morel or something like that. I’ve been seeing them fresh in the produce departments lately.
CH: I’m going to look more for them. I live in New York City so I can find everything here…certainly in Chinatown, in Manhattan and in Queens there are stores that have so many different dried grey things of different shapes and sizes. I have no idea what they are but I bet maitake is in there.
KB: Particularly the Asian stores because they are quite familiar with mushrooms in China and Japan. They’ve been revered not only as food but as medicine for thousands of years.
CH: There are good mushrooms and there are bad mushrooms. How do we tell the difference.
KB: That’s another thing that turns some people off, they are kind of suspicious about mushrooms.
CH: I remember when I was a teenager, I have never done anything, I’ve never done any kind of drug, I’ve never smoked or taken anything but I knew of lot of people that were getting off on mushrooms.
KB: Yeah, the magic mushrooms, yeah.
CH: So how do we know? How can we trust the mushrooms that we get?
KB: There are thousands of mushrooms there’s only out of the thousands perhaps only fifty that are poisonous. People in the business that supply markets and so on they take pride in their work and they are very knowledgeable about that sort of thing. It’s a different story for somebody you know who wants to go out in the forest and start picking mushrooms. They have to know what they’re doing and maybe have somebody help them along but it’s really not much of a concern.
CH: I’ll never forget I had a friend who was going to graduate school for botany and he was doing some studies in upstate New York and I visited him and we went through the woods and he was identifying all these different mushrooms and one of them he said, it was just a beige simple looking mushroom and he said this will bruise blue and he rubbed it and it turned this incredible bright blue.
CH: But it was very poisonous, very beautiful but very poisonous.
KB: But you know the flip side of that is that the edible mushrooms are said to stimulate imagination and intuition and you think about it you know, they don’t provide food energy from the sun. They appear mostly at night so they’re said to be under lunar influences and that is believed to infuse them with this ability to stimulate imagination and intuition when they’re consumed.
CH: I was fascinated by a couple of things: One, that mushrooms have a lot of similar DNA as humans and also that they take in oxygen and give off carbon dioxide like animals. And also they don’t get what they need from the sun, the nutrition they get from rotting things in woods and leaves and …
KB: Right, they’re performing a valuable recycling service to humans.
CH: They’re just really fascinating to me. And they make Vitamin D.
KB: They do as a matter of fact. Other than sunlight they are the only vegetarian source of Vitamin D.
CH: You said that some of them are becoming commercial now? Is there a way that we can find some of the mushrooms that have significant amounts of Vitamin D in them?
KB: All mushrooms have that Vitamin D precursor. Just like vegetables have betacarotene which the body converts into active Vitamin A. The same thing with mushrooms. They have something called Ergosterol which is a provitamin D and our bodies convert that into active Vitamin D. What some of the mushroom companies, the growers, are doing now is they are exposing them to light and that converts the provitamin into the active form of Vitamin D and that will be represented in the nutrition facts panel. You’ll see: Provides 100% of the daily value for Vitamin D.
CH: OK, I’m going to look for that. What about eating mushrooms raw? Is that ok? I’ve heard mixed things about eating mushrooms raw.
KB: Yeah, I like to have raw button mushrooms occasionally on my spinach salad but ideally in this case they are better cooked. Like any food you take the good with the bad, there’s some sort of antinutrients in there. So for the best nutrition I would suggest cooking them.
CH: Because sometimes when I get fresh shitake mushrooms and I’ll have one raw and, what I love about it is, if it’s a really good one, it has a really buttery flavor but I can’t eat more than one raw because then I don’t feel very good.
KB: Well, we need both raw and cooked foods in our diet.
CH: Now what about organic? I’ve seen some packages of dried organic mushrooms. Are there mushrooms that are not grown organically how does that work?
KB: I would suspect so. That’s interesting. I really haven’t looked into that far enough to take a survey.
CH: I just wondered if it’s worth the extra price to buy the organic.
KB: Organic is always the best choice.
CH: I agree.
KB: And the price is coming down a lot on a lot of organic items.
CH: It’s really nice to have dried mushrooms because they don’t take up a lot of space.
KB: They’re just ready to go whenever you need them.
CH: They’re just instant flavor for soup broth. That’s what I like about them.
KB: As much as I like mushrooms I don’t eat them every day. So for that reason, I like to take a mushroom supplement right along with my multiple vitamin.
CH: There are some mushrooms that really aren’t for eating that are good for supplementation.
KB: That’s the other thing. Some of the terrific mushrooms, reishi for example, it’s just too tough and woody to eat. The only way you can benefit from that is to take it as a supplement, as an extract.
CH: I definitively took some of that when I was going through my cancer treatment. I’m here to talk about it so I know that it had to have had a positive impact. Now there’s another mushroom I was reading about in here, I didn’t know about. It caught my attention—called tremella. It’s supposed to keep our skin looking young.
KB: Yeah, another common name for it is white jelly leaf. Again, tremella has had a long history in traditional Chinese medicine for nourishing the lungs and stomach and kidneys. It’s what we would call a yin jing tonic which means that it enhances life energy by helping us assimilate nutrients so it helps the body retain moisture as well. Some companies that are exploiting that now and putting it in facial creams. I’m sure a lot of folks are familiar with hyaluronic acid, sort of like an internal beauty supplement. Hyaluronic acid is very good for moisturizing the skin. Turns out the tremella, when they compared it with hyaluronic acid is actually more effective than hyaluronic acid in helping the body retain moisture. So tremella you can eat it but you can also use it in a face cream.
CH: Well, I’m sold. I can’t wait to go out and buy more mushrooms. I just read this thing and I’m like I need to get this and I need to get this and hoo! Now are there some suppliers of mushroom supplements that are better than others or some places we don’t want to be getting mushroom supplements from?
KB: I think they’re all reputable. However, one company comes to mind. It’s called Mushroom Wisdom. As a matter of fact they’re located in New Jersey. I have a lot of respect for them because they’re doing a lot of the research I’ve been talking about. They’re investing their own money to provide the science and the clinical studies that we need to benefit from these supplements. As matter of fact, they are the same folks that make tremella face cream called Aquamella.
CH: I want to get some except it says that it is also believed to remove facial freckles if used frequently. And I like my freckles so I’m not sure I want them to go away.
KB: Oh, I see.
CH: Mushrooms grown in different places pick up different flavors? I’m sure that’s true of all foods but I lived in France for four years and the simple frozen white mushroom that I would buy had incredible flavor not the same as the white mushrooms here in the United States. I really miss them.
KB: It was frozen huh?
CH: Yeah it was great. They were sliced and frozen, fabulous. I was just wondering what was in them that made them taste so good.
KB: I don’t know but I can tell you nutrition-wise they provide protein and B vitamins and of course Vitamin D.
CH: A lot of people think that mushrooms have nothing in them but they are packed with flavor and nutrients.
KB: You know of course the common property of all these mushrooms is they’re immune-enhancing ability and that is attributed to a type of carbohydrate actually. Normally we think of carbohydrates for energy. In this case carbohydrate is called beta glycan and by the way, maitake D-fraction is a concentration of beta glycans. The beta glycans activate our white blood cells, which is the most important part of our immunity. You can actually find receptors on mycophages for these beta glycans. They’re involved in cell signaling.
CH: I’m looking at a table in your book of all the different type of applications that mushrooms can have. If you want just one pill, like I said at the beginning, these mushrooms are it. They can help lower cholesterol, there are a few here that are anti-allergy, lots of evidence of reducing or shrinking cancer tumors, there are some that help with dementia, this is really spectacular.
KB: If I were to sum it up I would describe them as anti-allergenic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, as well as the ability to sensitize ourselves to insulin. To get back to maitake, there’s another maitake extract, called sx-fraction, turns out that one is helpful to diabetics in controlling their blood sugar.
CH: Well, Ken, I am thrilled with this little book. When I first got it I thought, it’s just this little thing and when I got into it there’s really a lot of great stuff in here. And then just talking about my favorite subject which is eating food, you’ve got some great recipes in the fact for different mushrooms and different soups and stir fries and spring rolls, and even desserts with mushrooms.
CH: So, I’m hungry.
KB: I know. When you look at the pictures it makes you want to go into your kitchen and start cooking.
CH: Thanks Ken, thanks for this book and for your work and coming on the show.
KB: Thanks Caryn. Great to be with you.
CH: OK, take care and be well. Do you have a website before you go?
KB: I do. It’s called simply nutritionmusician.com
CH: nutritionmusician.com. Great, thank you, Ken Babal, author of Mushrooms for Health and Longevity.
Transcribed by Suzanne Kelly, 11/3/2013