Though some varieties are poisonous, edible mushrooms are delicious and full of nutrients. They’re even useful for medicinal purposes. Adding unique flavor and texture to cuisines across the world, these fungi (treated as vegetables in the culinary world) can be added to many recipes without bringing along any extra fat or sodium. To find out just how healthy they are, continue reading for a comprehensive rundown of mushrooms’ benefits.
Common Types of Mushrooms
Whether whole, de-stemmed, chopped, or stuffed, these are some of the common edible mushrooms you can find in just about any grocery store.
|Portobello||Lingzhi or reishi mushrooms|
|Lion’s Mane||Button or white mushroom|
When buying mushrooms, you’ll want to make sure they are firm, dry (not moist or slick), and free of mold. Inside a paper bag in your fridge, they can last about five days. Brush them off and rinse them lightly to remove any dirt before cooking, and you’ll be good to go.
The Nutrients in Mushrooms
Mushrooms are by nature fat-free, low-calorie, low-sodium, and cholesterol-free. Mushroom benefits include being full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. While the specific nutritional benefits vary by type of mushroom, generally speaking all mushrooms are good sources of the following nutrients.
Mushrooms contain the antioxidant selenium. In fact, they’re the best dietary source of selenium you can find in the produce section of the grocery store. Antioxidants help guard against free radical damage, which can contribute to conditions as serious as cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants also protect against age-related wear and tear and help boost your immune system.
Mushrooms are a rich source of B vitamins, including niacin, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid. Together they help protect your heart health, with riboflavin particularly contributing to your red blood cells. Pantothenic acid brings benefits to your nervous system and hormone production, and niacin contributes to digestive function and skin health.
Beta glucan is a soluble dietary fiber associated with improving heart health and your cholesterol profile. Oyster mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms have particularly strong beta glucan content, and can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by working to regulate blood sugar.
Another contributor to red blood cells, copper aids in their creation, and thus helps deliver oxygen throughout the body. Copper is also involved in maintaining healthy nerves and bones, and mushrooms are so rich in this nutrient that even after they are cooked, a 1-cup serving can provide a third of the daily recommended intake amount of copper.
Potassium is involved in nerve, muscle, and heart function. Usually when people think of potassium they think of bananas, but there’s more potassium in a cup of cooked Portobello mushroom than there is in one whole medium-sized banana.
Vitamin D is last on the list because it comes with a caveat: while mushrooms are, of course, grown in the dark, if they are exposed to sunlight before you eat them, they soak up vitamin D just like your skin does when you walk out into the sun. Vitamin D helps regulate phosphorus and calcium in the blood, two factors that are vital in maintaining bone health.
Mushroom Benefits for Human Health
So now you know how many nutrients are found in mushrooms overall, but what about the practical application to your health? Medicinal mushroom uses have been known for thousands of years, dating back to the Ancient Egyptians who called them plants of immortality and “a gift from the God Osiris.” Here are some of the healing effects edible mushrooms have exhibited throughout the ages.
To put the nutrient value of mushrooms in context, they have as many antioxidants as colorful vegetables and fruits do. And for those wondering, “Are mushrooms protein sources?” Yes, they are! While mushrooms aren’t an overwhelming source of protein, for those eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, they are one more source of plant-based protein that comes with many other nutrients.
Immune System Support
One clinical study done by the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Florida showed that eating mushrooms daily, specifically shiitake mushrooms, improved immunity in such a fashion that is not currently available in any pharmaceutical drugs. It is also suggested that many mushroom types have anti-inflammatory properties and that eating mushrooms could help to prevent respiratory infections, along with more than 100 other medicinal functions.
Mushrooms are known to be a gut-friendly food. Not only are they prebiotic, but mushrooms have also been shown to balance and improve your gut flora. They may also help alter gut bacteria in a way that counteracts obesity.
Naturally low fat and low calorie, mushrooms also contain beta-glucan and chitin, two types of dietary fiber that reduce appetite and increase satiety. One study revealed that people who ate more mushrooms in place of meat reported feeling healthier, lost weight, and had decreases in their cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
Mushrooms contain a particular type of protein known as lectin, which has the ability to bind with abnormal cancer cells and signal them for destruction and disposal by our immune system. Numerous studies have found that mushrooms contribute to fighting gastric cancer, acute leukemia, breast cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, and pancreatic cancer. With breast cancer being the second most common cancer afflicting American women, the science is extensive on this subject. One study showed that mushrooms combined with green tea reduced the risk of breast cancer in women by 89%.
Mushrooms Benefit Environmental Health
Along with being antioxidant, anti-cancer, and anti-diabetic, mushrooms are good for the health of the planet. Mushrooms are a part of nature’s own recycling system, breaking down organic matter and rocks into soil needed for plant growth and for human life on earth. Mycologist Paul Stamets says that mushrooms could help solve global issues, including cleaning up oil spills, absorbing farm pollution, combating insects, fighting off viruses like flu and smallpox, creating new farms and forests, and providing a sustainable fuel for the future.
How to Add Mushrooms to Your Diet
If you want to add the health benefits of mushrooms to your regular diet, it can be very easy. Mushrooms can be prepared in simple recipes or combined into dishes like sautés, soups, and pasta. Use mushrooms as a meat replacement, or choose from a wide variety to get the unique nutrient content of each.
We only caution that you stick to store-bought mushrooms, as the varieties of wild mushrooms can be hard to identify, and could be toxic if consumed by a human. It’s also recommended that you cook mushrooms first and never consume them raw. If you want, however, you could grow your own edible variety of mushrooms at home and that way always rest assured that they’re coming from a safe, uncontaminated source.
Keep in mind, you don’t have to prepare mushrooms as foods to get their health benefits in your diet. You could use dried mushrooms or mushroom powders instead. Fresh mushrooms may have the maximum amount of nutrients, but mushroom powder makes it easier to include more frequently and abundantly in your meals and smoothies. There is even mushroom coffee—the possibilities are seemingly endless!
Make Room for Mushrooms
Mushrooms are among the most phenomenal superfoods for their nutrient density and health profile. There are over 200 medical and health conditions that can be treated or prevented by mushroom consumption, and an estimated 50% of edible mushrooms can be classified as functional foods, also known as nutraceuticals. That means those mushrooms are not just a food, but a medicine as well. Mushrooms are powerful antioxidants and ideal for healthy eating. Choose from among the vast varieties of mushrooms and add these tasty morsels to your life.