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Sunshine can make your mushrooms even more magical

You know it’s been a busy work-from-home day when you find your morning cup of tea in the microwave at 9pm.

That was the second time I had reheated it too! Ah well, I do find that the less caffeine the better. I generally keep it low because caffeine and anxiety really don’t mix, but since my anxiety became a thing of the past (in general) that morning cup has snuck back in. It’s organic Earl Grey and I stir in a big scoop of collagen too, so it’s pretty healthy.

At least it would be healthy if I actually drank it. However today has been a flurry of work with few interruptions. I eventually gave in and extended the wi-fi upstairs. The kids have relocated their school work up there although, judging by the frantic scuffling when they hear me on the stairs, I think there’s a fair amount of shenanigans going on too. But the peace and quiet has been amazing (and productive!) so I am a little torn.

There’s no doubt that a pandemic calls for new rules for everyone. We just have to be flexible and get on with whatever new restrictions are in play. And whether you’re pro-restrictions or no-restrictions, pro-vax or no-vax there is one thing for sure – that your diet plays a major role when it comes your overall health and immune function.

There is no diet perfect enough to make you immune from getting sick (especially as stress and environmental toxins can chip away at immune function too). Your best bet for that is to vaccinate. Vaccination does evidently reduce symptoms and risks from Covid-19. It helps you navigate “a little of bit of Covid” as Premier David Burt put it. (Come on now, I think most of us knew what he was trying to say!) However, that doesn’t mean that everyone is comfortable getting vaccinated and I do understand that. There’s no judgment here (although in case you’re wondering, yes I got the shot and no I am not concerned about side effects).

I’ve written a huge amount about vitamin D in this column before but for everyone, especially for those who are not vaccinating, it’s worth repeating that vitamin D is incredibly helpful for boosting respiratory immunity. We know that vitamin D is important for strong bones, brain development, general disease prevention and dental health, but its impact on respiratory function was new to me before Covid-19.

However, one of the issues surrounding vitamin D is that we can’t actually get enough safely from sunlight (due to the risks from sun exposure). It’s still important to cover up and use sunscreen when you’re out in the sun for any length of time. So, it’s helpful to get some vitamin D from your diet – which is where eggs, full-fat dairy and salmon come in. However, what if you’re vegan? Plant-based diets have become hugely popular, so where does that leave our vegan friends?

The good news is that recent research (especially by Michael F. Holick who heads up the Vitamin D, Skin and Bone Research lab at Boston University) shows us that mushrooms can be an amazing source – but really only when they have been exposed to sunlight.

In the same way that our skin synthesises vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, so too do mushrooms. This vitamin D is very bioavailable, meaning that it is easily absorbed and assimilated within the human body.

If you slice your mushrooms, you will increase the surface area which means even more vitamin D generation. AND this vitamin D is stable at temperatures up to 400 to 500F, which means it survives cooking well. How cool is that? Maybe ordinary mushrooms are more magic than we thought!

So, whether you’re vegan or not, consider making this mushroom and lentil ragu as an alternative to bolognaise sauce. It’s also a great filler for lasagne or you could top it with mashed potatoes for a vegan shepherd’s pie. If you’re not a pasta lover, it also goes well with brown rice or quinoa. Talk about versatile. It’s delicious too!

Just remember, if you do make this recipe – especially if you’re making it for the vitamin D content – then leave your mushrooms to soak up some sunlight for up to six hours (although any sunlight is good)! I do recommend that most people supplement vitamin D at approximately 1000ius daily too, but always discuss supplementation with your doctor or nutritionist. Enjoy!

Mushroom and Lentil Ragu (serves 4)


1-2 tbsp light olive oil for frying

1 onion finely chopped

1 large carrot finely chopped

1 stick celery finely chopped

8 oz (250g) mushrooms finely chopped

2 tbsp tamari sauce (GF soy sauce)

3 cloves garlic minced

1/2 cup (100g) Puy or dry green lentils

1/2 cup (120ml) red wine, or sub veggie broth

1 14 oz can (400g) diced tomatoes, or passata or whole crushed tomatoes

1 cup (240ml) vegetable broth, or more as needed

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 bay leaf

1 tsp dried thyme leaves

1 tsp smoked paprika powder

1/4 tsp salt adjust to taste

1/4 cup (30 g) pine nuts

4 servings pasta of your choice (I like Tinkyada gluten-free at Miles) or sub quinoa or brown rice

2 tbsps fresh basil (garnish)

1 avocado, (diced, garnish)


Ideally, slice and expose your mushrooms to sunlight for a few hours (up to six) before cooking to optimise vitamin D.

Also, soak the lentils for a few hours prior to cooking. Drain and rinse well. This reduces enzyme inhibitors and increases nutrient bioavailability.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and celery. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the onion starts to turn translucent.

Add the mushrooms and continue cooking for about 5 minutes. Add the tamari sauce, garlic and lentils and cook for another minute, stirring frequently. It will start to smell amazing!

Add the wine and cook for a minute until most of it has evaporated. Then add in the tomatoes, vegetable broth, tomato paste, bay leaf, thyme, paprika and salt. Stir to combine and bring it to a boil. Reduce it to a simmer, cover the pan and cook for 30 to 35 minutes until the lentils are tender (if you soaked the lentils this may take less time).

If the sauce becomes too thick, add more veggie broth or water. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Remove the bay leaves in the end and stir in the pine nuts.

Start to cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water according to package instructions, around 15 minutes before the sauce is done. Once the pasta is al dente, drain the cooking water and toss in a little bit of olive oil (optional to prevent from sticking).

Serve the pasta (or quinoa/rice) with the mushroom and lentil ragu and garnish with fresh basil. The chopped avocado is optional but a really delicious addition. Enjoy!

Catherine Burns is a qualified nutritional therapist. For more details: www.natural.bm, 505-4725, Natural Nutrition Bermuda on Facebook and @naturalbda on Instagram

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Published April 23, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated April 21, 2021 at 5:17 pm)

Sunshine can make your mushrooms even more magical

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