The key to getting enough vitamins and minerals in the diet is to eat a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables. In many cases, a food that lacks color also lacks necessary nutrients, but edible mushrooms, which are commonly white, prove quite the contrary.
This feature is part of a collection of Medical News Today articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of mushrooms and an in-depth look at their possible health benefits, how to incorporate more mushrooms into your diet and any potential health risks associated with their consumption.
Health benefits of mushrooms
Mushrooms contain some valuable nutrients.
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.
They also promote a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, and overall lower weight.
Mushrooms are high in antioxidants, just like carrots, tomatoes, green and red peppers, pumpkins, green beans, zucchini, and other whole foods.4 Antioxidants are chemicals that get rid of free radicals, a type of chemical that can harm a person's body cells, potentially leading to cancer.8
Selenium is a mineral that is not present in most fruits and vegetables but can be found in mushrooms. It plays a role in liver enzyme function, and helps detoxify some cancer-causing compounds in the body. Additionally, selenium prevents inflammation and also decreases tumor growth rates.2
The vitamin D in mushrooms has also been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells by contributing to the regulation of the cell growth cycle. Placing freshly cut mushrooms in the sun significantly increases their vitamin D content. The folate in mushrooms plays an important role in DNA synthesis and repair, thus preventing the formation of cancer cells from mutations in the DNA.2
Studies have shown that people with type 1 diabetes who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels and people with type 2 diabetes may have improved blood sugar, lipids and insulin levels.
One cup of grilled portabella mushrooms and one cup of stir-fried shiitake mushrooms both provide about 3 grams of fiber. Fiber also benefits the digestive system and reduces the risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 21 grams to 25 grams a day of fiber for women and 30 grams to 38 grams a day for men.
3) Heart health
The fiber, potassium and vitamin C content in mushrooms all contribute to cardiovascular health. Potassium and sodium work together in the body to help regulate blood pressure. Consuming mushrooms, which are high in potassium and low in sodium, helps to lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.
Selenium has also been found to improve immune response to infection by stimulating the production of killer T-cells. The beta-glucan fibers found in the cell walls of mushrooms stimulate the immune system to fight cancer cells and prevent tumors from forming.3
5) Weight management and satiety
Dietary fiber plays an important role in weight management by functioning as a "bulking agent" in the digestive system. Mushrooms contain two types of dietary fibers in their cell walls, beta-glucans and chitin. These increase satiety and reduce appetite. By making you feel fuller longer, they can reduce overall calorie intake.3
Nutritional profile of mushrooms
Mushrooms are naturally low in sodium, fat, cholesterol, and calories and have often been referred to as "functional foods."
As well as providing basic nutrition, they help prevent chronic disease due to the presence of antioxidants and beneficial dietary fibers such as chitin and beta-glucans.
One cup of chopped or sliced raw white mushrooms contains:
- 15 calories
- 0 grams of fat
- 2.2 grams of protein
- 2.3 grams of carbohydrate, including 0.7 grams of fiber and 1.4 grams of sugar
A large variety of mushrooms are available, but most provide around the same amount of the same nutrients per serving, regardless of their shape or size.
Vitamins and minerals
Mushrooms are rich in B vitamins such as riboflavin (B2), folate (B9), thiamine (B1), pantothenic acid (B5), and niacin B3). The B vitamins help the body to get energy from food, and they help form red blood cells.
A number of B vitamins also appear to be important for a healthy brain. Pregnant women are advised to take folic acid, or folate, during pregnancy, to boost fetal health.
Mushrooms are also the only vegan, non-fortified dietary source of vitamin D. Dairy products are normally a good food source of vitamin D, but vegans do not consume any animal products, so mushrooms can offer an alternative source of this important vitamin.
Several other minerals that may be difficult to obtain in a vegan diet, such as selenium, potassium, copper, iron, and phosphorus, are available in mushrooms.1
Beta-glucans are a type of fiber that is found in the cell walls of many types of mushrooms. Recently, beta-glucans have been the subject of extensive studies that suggest they might improve insulin resistance and blood cholesterol levels, lowering the risk of obesity and providing an immunity boost.3
Mushrooms also contain choline, an important nutrient that helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory. Choline assists in maintaining the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, supports proper fat absorption and reduces chronic inflammation.7
Incorporating more mushrooms into the diet
Make stuffed portabella mushrooms by filling them with your favorite ingredients and baking.
When buying mushrooms at the market, chose ones that are firm, dry, and unbruised. Avoid mushrooms that appear slimy or withered. Store mushrooms in the refrigerator and do not wash or trim them until ready for use.
Quick tips for preparing mushrooms:
- Sauté any type of mushroom with onions for a quick and tasty side dish
- Add raw sliced crimini mushrooms or white mushrooms to top any salad
- Make stuffed portabella mushrooms by filling them with your favorite ingredients and baking
- Add sliced mushrooms to omelets, breakfast scrambles and quiches
- Grill portabella mushrooms and use them on sandwiches or in wraps
While most of us are familiar with white or button mushrooms, other types are available.
One 19-gram shiitake mushroom, popular in Japanese cuisine, contains:
- 6 calories
- 0.09 grams of fat
- 1.29 grams of carbohydrate, including 0.45 grams of sugar
- 0.43 grams of protein
- 0.5 grams of dietary fiber
Shiitake mushrooms can be sautéed in broth or olive oil for a healthy side dish.
One whole 84-gram portabella mushroom contains:
- 18 calories
- 0.29 grams of fat
- 3.25 grams of carbohydrate, of which 2.10 grams is sugar
- 1.77 grams of protein
- 1.1 gram of dietary fiber
To enjoy a portabella mushroom, clean it, remove the stem, and marinate it a mixture of olive oil, onion, garlic, and vinegar for an hour. Then place under a hot grill for 10 minutes.
Potential health risks of consuming mushrooms
Wild mushrooms have been part of the human diet for at least several centuries, but uncultivated wild mushrooms may pose a risk to those unable to distinguish between those safe to eat and those that are dangerous for consumption.
Eating wild mushrooms that are toxic to humans can cause severe illness and sometimes even death. Studies have also shown that some wild mushrooms contain high levels of heavy metals and other harmful chemicals.5
To avoid these dangers, it is best to consume mushrooms that have been cultivated under appropriate conditions.
Consuming beta-glucans is believed to be safe for most people. However, since beta-glucans are capable of stimulating immune function, this may be a risk for those with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, asthma, and multiple sclerosis.
Researchers have yet to conclude whether or not large amounts of beta-glucan intake has any negative effects on those with these conditions.5
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
Have you enjoyed reading about the potential health benefits of mushrooms? Take a look at our collection of articles about other foods.
Alternatively, read our article about the top 10 healthy foods for your daily diet.