For thousands of years, Eastern cultures have revered mushrooms’ health benefits.1 Mushrooms have long been celebrated as a source of powerful nutrients, but they can also help Americans meet the dietary recommendations set forth in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D.
Often grouped with vegetables, mushrooms provide many of the nutritional attributes of produce, as well as attributes more commonly found in meat, beans or grains. Mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free and very low in sodium, yet they provide important nutrients, including selenium, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin D and more.
Read on to discover some of nature’s hidden treasures found in mushrooms.
The focus on the nutritional value of brightly colored fruits and vegetables has unintentionally left mushrooms in the dark. Mushrooms provide a number of nutrients:
- Mushrooms are a good source of B vitamins, including riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid, which help to provide energy by breaking down proteins, fats and carbohydrates2. B vitamins also play an important role in the nervous system.
- Pantothenic acid helps with the production of hormones and also plays an important role in the nervous system2.
- Riboflavin helps maintain healthy red blood cells2.
- Niacin promotes healthy skin and makes sure the digestive and nervous systems function properly2.
- Mushrooms are also a source of important minerals:
- Selenium is a mineral that works as an antioxidant to protect body cells from damage that might lead to heart disease, some cancers and other diseases of aging2. It also has been found to be important for the immune system and fertility in men3. Many foods of animal origin and grains are good sources of selenium, but mushrooms are among the richest sources of selenium in the produce aisle and provide 8-22 mcg per serving4. This is good news for vegetarians, whose sources of selenium are limited.
- Ergothioneine is a naturally occurring antioxidant that also may help protect the body’s cells. Mushrooms provide 2.8-4.9 mg of ergothioneine per serving of white, portabella or crimini mushrooms5.
- Copper helps make red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. Copper also helps keep bones and nerves healthy2.
- Potassium is an important mineral many people do not get enough of. It aids in the maintenance of normal fluid and mineral balance, which helps control blood pressure. It also plays a role in making sure nerves and muscles, including the heart, function properly2. Mushrooms have 98-376 mg of potassium per 84 gram serving, which is 3-11 percent of the Daily Value4.
- Beta-glucans, found in numerous mushroom species, have shown marked immunity-stimulating effects, contribute to resistance against allergies and may also participate in physiological processes related to the metabolism of fats and sugars in the human body. The beta-glucans contained in oyster, shiitake and split gill mushrooms are considered to be the most effective6.
Read research about the nutrient composition of mushrooms here.
Mushrooms provide a powerhouse of nutrients that may help protect against some cancers. Scientists at City of Hope were some of the first to find a potential link between mushrooms and a decreased likelihood of tumor growth and development in cells and animals. City of Hope researchers now plan to apply this research to human clinical trials to establish whether mushrooms act as aromatase inhibitors in women. It is far too early to conclusively say whether humans will experience decreased tumor growth as a result of eating mushrooms. However, City of Hope and the Mushroom Council one day hope to be able to share credible science-based information that ties mushroom intake with decreased cancer risk, along with other important health benefits.
Read more about research that investigates mushrooms and cancer here.
Mushrooms are the leading source of the essential antioxidant selenium in the produce aisle. Antioxidants, like selenium, protect body cells from damage that might lead to chronic diseases. They help to strengthen the immune system, as well2. In addition, mushrooms provide ergothioneine, a naturally occurring antioxidant that may help protect the body’s cells.
Learn more about research that ties mushrooms to supporting a healthy immune system here.
Mushrooms are hearty and filling. Preliminary research suggests increasing intake of low-energy-density foods (meaning few calories given the volume of food), specifically mushrooms, in place of high-energy-density foods, like lean ground beef, can be an effective method for reducing daily energy and fat intake while still feeling full and satiated after the meal7.
Read about weight management/satiety research here.
Umami is the fifth basic taste after sweet, salty, bitter and sour. Derived from the Japanese word umai, meaning “delicious,” umami (pronounced oo-MAH-mee) is described as a savory, brothy, rich or meaty taste sensation. It’s a satisfying sense of deep, complete flavor, balancing savory flavors and full-bodied taste with distinctive qualities of aroma and mouthfeel.8 The more umami present in food, the more flavorful it will be. All mushrooms are a rich source of umami and the darker the mushroom the more umami it contains.
Another interesting characteristic about umami is that it counterbalances saltiness and allows for less salt to be used in a meal, without compromising flavor. “Tasting Success with Cutting Salt,” a collaborative report from the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and the Culinary Institute of America, suggests cooking with umami-rich ingredients, like mushrooms, instead of salt to reduce the overall sodium in a dish.
Learn more about umami and sodium research here.
When building your plate to maximize vitamin D, consider mushrooms – they’re the only source of vitamin D in the produce aisle and one of the few non-fortified food sources. In fact, the IOM recognizes them as the exception to the rule that plant foods don’t naturally contain vitamin D.
MyPlate – which replaced the Food Pyramid – is a simple visual reference and educational tool that reminds Americans how and what to eat to best meet the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. Thanks to their nutrient-profile and versatility, mushrooms are uniquely suited to do just that. Fresh mushrooms can be added to everyday dishes to provide an extra serving of vegetables and deliver important nutrients including niacin, selenium, and riboflavin. Mushrooms also have vitamin D, ergothionene, and potassium.* Read on to learn more about mushrooms’ role on the plate.
*Less than 10 percent of the daily value.
Often grouped with vegetables, mushrooms provide many of the nutritional attributes of produce, as well as attributes more commonly found in meat, beans or grains4. Mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free and very low in sodium, yet they provide several nutrients that are typically found in animal foods or grains4,9.
Like all fruits and vegetables, mushrooms are naturally gluten free, and make a delicious and nutritious addition to a gluten-free diet.
Learn more about the functional properties of mushrooms and their potential role in lipid management through various research studies linked here.
1Change R. Functional Properties of Edible Mushrooms. Nutrition Reviews. 1996; 54:91-93
2Duyff, R. American Dietetic Association’s Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. Third Addition. Wiley & Sons. NJ. 2006.
3National Institutes of Health. Medline Plus. www.nlm.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002414.htm
4U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory. 2009. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 22. www.ars.usda.gov/nutrientdata.
5Dubost, N.J., et al. (2006). Identification and quantification of ergothioneine in cultivated mushrooms by liquid chromatography-mass spectroscopy. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 8, 215-22.
6Rop, O., Mlcek, J., & Jurikova, T. (2009). Beta-glucans in higher fungi and their health effects. Nutrition Reviews, 67, 624-631.
7Cheskin LJ, Davis LM, Lipsky LM, Mitola AH, Lycan T, Mitchell V, Mickle B, Adkins E. Lack of energy compensation over 4 days when white button mushrooms are substituted for beef. Appetite. 2008:51;50-57.
8Kasabian, D., & Kasabian, A. (2005). The Fifth Taste: Cooking with Umami. New York: Universe Publishing.
9U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition. A Food Labeling Guide. September, 1994 (Editorial revisions, June, 1999) http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/flg-toc.html
*Less than 10 percent of the daily value.