Edible mushrooms have been used medicinally for centuries. Rumour has it that even ancient Pharaohs enjoyed this fungi so much, they declared them royalty food and forbid commoners from touching them.
Today they are used for a multitude of nutritional benefits, from immune system boosters to sleep enhancement, stress management and improving gut health. Mushrooms are a vegan food, they’re suitable for an anti inflammatory diet, they’re absolutely full of important nutrients and they’re very affordable too.
One of the leading problems causing obesity in the United States is that most can’t afford to purchase ingredients that are organic and GMO-free, even if they’re on a vegan diet. Instead, Americans purchase affordable alternatives that cause heart issues, diabetes and other life altering health conditions.
So, why mushrooms?
Mushrooms are fat-free, low-sodium, low-calorie, and cholesterol-free. They are an affordable, anti inflammatory food that’s high in antioxidants and can regenerate healthy cells, so much so that mushroom benefits can easily replace those of expensive supplements.
Eating mushrooms regularly can help to prevent cancer, diabetes, heart disease, regulate blood pressure, and help to keep pregnant women and their babies healthy too.
But, which specific areas of mushroom nutrition is it that helps to prevent these serious health issues?
Mushrooms aren’t only rich in the antioxidant called selenium, an antioxidant that has been found to prevent cancer, but they are actually the best source of this mineral in the entire produce aisle - powerful stuff!
Antioxidants are important because they help to protect the body from damaging free radicals that can cause conditions like heart disease and cancer. They also protect you against damage from natural aging processes and boost your immune system too.
Mushrooms are rich in many B vitamins, including riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid. This combination helps to protect heart health, helps the body get energy from food and helps in the formation of red blood cells. B vitamins also support a healthy brain.
The B vitamin Niacin is good for the digestive system and for maintaining healthy skin, whereas pantothenic acid is good for the nervous system and helps the body make the hormones it needs.
It’s also fascinating to note that mushrooms are also the only vegan, non-fortified dietary source of vitamin D. In fact, by eating just 3 ounces of UVB-exposed mushrooms, you've met your daily vitamin D requirement for the day.
There is some evidence that shows that consuming a type of fiber called beta glucans may lower blood cholesterol levels.
Beta glucan is a form of soluble dietary fiber that’s been strongly linked to not only improving cholesterol but also boosting heart health. This kind of fiber can also help your body regulate blood sugar, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Beta-glucans occur in the cell walls of many types of mushrooms. Wondering which mushrooms to go for to increase your fiber supplement intake? Oyster and shiitake mushrooms are believed to have the most effective beta glucans.
Potassium is an extremely important nutrient when it comes to heart and muscle health, and nerve function.
Potassium can help regulate blood pressure, which may decrease the risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. In general it is recommended that people reduce their intake of added salt in the diet, and start eating more foods that contain potassium instead.
Potassium is a nutrient that is often tricky to source in a vegan diet and mushrooms can be an essential provider. So, how much potassium is in mushrooms? Well, there’s about as much potassium in 2/3 cup of cooked Portobello mushroom as there is in a medium-sized banana.
Folate (folic acid)
Many women take folic acid, or folate supplements during pregnancy to help boost fetal health. But, did you know that mushrooms can also provide folate? As a rule, it is always better to eat natural sources of nutrients rather than take supplements.
A cup of whole, raw mushrooms contains 16.3 micrograms (mcg) of folate, and current guidelines recommend that adults consume 400 mcg of folate each day.
Shiitake mushrooms, specifically, contain a sugar molecule called lentinan. According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, lentinan may help extend the survival of patients with some cancers, when used with chemotherapy.
In fact, in Japan, lentinan has been approved as an adjuvant for stomach cancer since 1985. According to the cancer center it has anti-tumor effects: "Lentinan does not kill cancer cells directly. Instead, it enhances the immune system, which may aid in slowing the growth of tumors. Lentinan also kills viruses and microbes directly in laboratory studies." Incredible.
Other nutrients found in 1 cup of mushrooms:
Energy - 21.1 calories
Protein - 3.0 grams
Carbohydrate - 3.1 grams
Calcium - 2.9 mg
Iron - 0.5 mg
Magnesium - 8.6 mg
Phosphorus - 82.6 mg
Potassium - 305 mg
Sodium - 4.8 mg
Zinc - 0.5 mg
Copper - 305 mcg
Selenium - 8.9 mcg
Vitamin C - 2.0 mg
Vitamin D - 0.2 mg
Folate - 16.3 mcg DFE
Choline - 16.6 mg
Niacin - 3.5 mg