- Mushrooms are a great source of nutrients like fiber, vitamin D, and selenium.
- Mushroom health benefits include helping control weight, diabetes, and digestion.
- Some research even suggests that mushrooms can help prevent certain types of cancer.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference Library for more advice.
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There are thousands of species of mushrooms around the world, but we only eat about 25 of them. Mushrooms come in all shapes, sizes, and nutrient profiles. Some may be small, but they are certainly powerful vegetables.
Mushrooms have a long history of cultural importance around the world. Researchers discovered the presence of fungi in human diets as far back as the Stone Age.
In fact, they are so important to so many cultures that there is an entire field of study – ethnomycology – that explores the sociological and cultural interactions between fungi and humans.
“Mushrooms have long been used for medicinal purposes in Eastern cultures and there may be many aspects of the medicinal properties of mushrooms that we do not yet understand,” said Tom Horton, PhD, professor of mycology at the State University of New York College for environmental science and forestry
More recently, mushrooms have gained popularity in the United States for their dietary and health benefits and are available for commercial use in extracts such as coffee, powders, and pill form. This article discusses the unique nutritional profiles of mushrooms, as well as the health benefits of consuming them.
1. Mushrooms are full of nutrients
Mushrooms are nutritious and low in calories.
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Mushrooms are nutritionally classified as a vegetable. Like most vegetables, they are low in calories, low in fat, and contain some protein. For example, one cup of raw white mushrooms – the most commonly eaten mushroom in the United States – contains:
- 15.4 calories
- 0.2 grams of fat
- 0.7 grams of fiber
- 2.2 grams of protein
However, mushrooms are different from most other vegetables in that they are also a mushroom. This quality means that they contain some unique nutritional benefits. Here are some of the nutrients that make mushrooms so healthy:
- Fiber: Most of the carbohydrates in mushrooms are fiber. These types of vegetable fiber can help with weight management and regulate blood sugar levels.
- Potassium: Potassium is an essential nutrient for maintaining proper fluid levels in the body. White mushrooms are particularly rich in potassium.
- Selenium: Selenium is an antioxidant, plays an important role in thyroid function and can strengthen the immune system. Goat foot and king bolete are both known to be high in selenium.
- Vitamin D: Mushrooms are the only products that contain vitamin D. Vitamin D benefits include strengthening the immune system and helping the body absorb calcium and phosphorus, which can keep bones strong and reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. Mushrooms have enzymes called ergosterol that produce vitamin D when exposed to UV rays. Cremini and portabella are two types of mushrooms that contain high levels of ergosterols.
- Antioxidants: In particular the antioxidant ergothioneine. Mushrooms are the only food that contains this antioxidant, which preliminary research suggests may reduce the risk of certain age-related diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease. Ceps and white mushrooms contain high levels of ergothioneine.
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In your diet, it is important to remember that vitamin D is only available to mushrooms that are grown outdoors and exposed to sunlight or sunlight as they grow.
2. Consumption of mushrooms can aid digestion, diabetes, and weight management
Mushrooms are high in fiber.
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Mushrooms contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.
- Soluble fiber absorbs in water and reduces the amount of cholesterol – including LDL, which is considered bad cholesterol – that your body takes into your bloodstream.
- Insoluble fiber Doesn’t dissolve in water, but it can help get food through the digestive tract, which can also help people struggling with constipation.
Both types of fiber are important in maintaining overall health.
High-fiber mushrooms include button mushrooms, chanterelles, maitake, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms in particular have been studied and shown to improve
by lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Mushrooms can also be helpful for weight management. Some mushrooms, like portabella, have meaty textures that offer a vegetarian, low-calorie alternative to meat, such as mushroom burgers.
In addition, mushrooms consist of around 90 percent by weight of water. This, along with their fiber, means that consuming mushrooms instead of high-fat, high-calorie foods can help you control your weight and still feel satisfied.
3. Certain mushrooms can prevent cancer
Mushrooms contain beta-glucan.
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A major type of fiber in mushrooms is the polysaccharide beta-glucan. This is a soluble fiber that has been linked to anti-cancer and immune-boosting properties. Shitake and oyster mushrooms contain the highest concentration of beta-glucans.
A study published in Nutrition and Cancer in 2010 found that women who ate more mushrooms were less likely to get breast cancer. However, the researchers make it clear that more research is needed and mushrooms are only one small potential factor to consider when trying to establish guidelines for preventing breast cancer.
For the study, over 600 Korean women reported their typical intake of 103 different foods in the previous year. After taking into account external factors such as age and smoking, the researchers found that women with breast cancer reported eating fewer mushrooms on average – 5.1 grams per day – than women without breast cancer who ate 9.7 grams per day. The most common mushrooms that women said they ate were mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, and the winter mushroom.
In addition, the large brown turkey tail mushroom has high levels of polysaccharide-K (PSK) – an active complex carbohydrate – that has anti-inflammatory properties. This type of fungus can help treat stomach cancer and help immune cells damaged by chemotherapy recover to normal function. PSK is often consumed as an extract in teas or capsule forms.
The way you cook your mushrooms can affect the nutrients
Store mushrooms in a paper bag.
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Overcooking mushrooms can completely deplete the nutritional components of mushrooms by killing their bioactive compounds. Therefore, cooking mushrooms requires a delicate balance.
A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition found that the best way to preserve the nutrients in mushrooms while cooking is to grill or microwave them. The researchers compared the nutritional changes in mushrooms after cooking, deep-frying, grilling and microwaving. The mushrooms grilled and microwaved retained the highest levels of antioxidants and beta-glucans.
Whenever you buy mushrooms, you should always keep them in a paper bag in your refrigerator. This is because paper lets the mushrooms breathe, unlike plastic, which locks in moisture and makes the mushrooms rot faster.
If the mushrooms are fresh when you buy them, they should normally keep for about a week.
Mushrooms soak up water easily, which means you will likely get mushy mushrooms after washing than you wanted. An alternative way to clean your mushrooms is to use a small brush or paper towel to remove the dirt from the mushrooms. Morels in particular should not be washed, as the flavor lies in the spores that can be washed out.
If you are interested in collecting wild mushrooms, Horton recommends learning a handful of easily identifiable mushrooms first. He suggests learning to identify wild maitake, oyster, and lion’s mane mushrooms first.
“These are easy to identify, tasty, and have good immune-boosting properties,” says Horton. Additionally, most areas have local mushroom clubs with knowledgeable people who can help you identify delicious edibles and avoid poisonous ones. Be extremely careful when looking for mushrooms as some mushrooms can be poisonous and even deadly, like the death’s cap mushroom.
If you don’t want to eat mushrooms, you can find over-the-counter mushroom supplements at your local grocery store.
However, the FDA does not monitor these substances and recommends consulting a doctor before taking them.
Additionally, Horton recommends always checking the label before buying any mushroom supplements. “Most of the time, you get an isolated extract of the mycelium, not the whole mushroom,” says Horton.
More research is needed before mushrooms – either taken as a dietary supplement or consumed – can be used independently for medicinal purposes.