Mushrooms are a type of fungus with over 140,000 different species around the world.
They come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny button mushrooms to juicy shiitake mushrooms.
While many people think of mushrooms as simply food, they offer many nutritional and medicinal benefits that can improve your health.
In this blog post, we will explore the wonders of mushrooms and discuss some of the most beneficial species. We’ll also discuss how to incorporate mushrooms into your diet for maximum benefit.
Mushrooms: What are They?
As kids, we often see mushrooms as those little red and white dots on Super Mario’s video game landscapes.
We also associate them with fairytales and magic, such as Alice in Wonderland’s famous “Eat Me” mushroom.
But mushrooms are more than just part of video game scenery and children’s stories. As mentioned before, they are fungi that grow in soil or on plants.
They have long been used as a food source and for medicinal purposes, dating back to ancient times in China and Egypt.
Contrary to popular belief, mushrooms are not a vegetable. They do not contain chlorophyll, which helps plants produce their food through photosynthesis.
Instead, they obtain nutrients from organic matter and release carbon dioxide.
You may be familiar with common varieties like button mushrooms, shiitake, portobello, and oyster mushrooms. But other lesser-known types have unique flavors, such as morel, chanterelle, and portobello mushrooms.
8 Health Benefits of Mushrooms
Mushroom consumption has been linked to a variety of health benefits. Here are some of the top reasons to add mushrooms to your diet:
1. Boost the immune system
Eating mushrooms regularly may help boost your immune system and prevent sickness.
Macronutrients, minerals, and antioxidants in mushrooms work together to enhance the function of your immune cells.
For example, vitamin D, found in certain mushrooms such as shiitake and maitake, helps the body absorb calcium for strong bones. It also aids in immune function and has been linked to a lower risk of respiratory infections.
Selenium and Vitamin B6 are also found in mushrooms, which are essential for a healthy immune system.
Selenium helps to prevent cell damage, while Vitamin B6 aids in the creation of new red blood cells.
2. Support heart health
Shiitake mushrooms, in particular, have been shown to support heart health. They contain a compound called eritadenine, which helps lower cholesterol levels and improve blood vessel function.
Mushrooms are also low in calories and saturated fat, making them nutritious for any heart-healthy diet.
If you have high blood pressure, adding mushrooms to your diet may also be beneficial. One study found that consuming mushrooms daily helped to lower blood pressure in participants with hypertension.
3. Protects the brain as we age
A study in Spain found that consuming foods containing polyphenols, including mushrooms, may help protect the brain from cognitive decline as we age.
Mushrooms also contain vitamin B12, essential for maintaining a healthy brain and nervous system. A deficiency in this vitamin has been linked to memory loss and dementia.
Mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease have also been linked to low levels of a compound in mushrooms called ergothioneine, which acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory in the brain.
4. Cancer prevention
18 grams of edible mushrooms each day has been associated with decreased cancer risk in some studies, possibly due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Mushrooms may also have the potential to slow or stop the growth of tumors. Mushroom polysaccharides exhibit antitumor activity and have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to treat cancer.
5. Can aid in digestion
Mushrooms are high in fiber, a vital nutrient for maintaining a healthy digestive system. Fiber helps to prevent constipation and keep the colon healthy.
In addition, mushrooms contain prebiotics, which acts as food for probiotics which is a beneficial gut bacteria. This can improve digestion and overall gut health.
6. Boosts weight loss
Because of their high fiber and protein content, mushrooms can help you feel fuller for longer and may aid in weight management.
Including mushrooms in your meals can also help to add volume without adding excessive calories.
7. May improve bone health
Sun-dried and UV-light-exposed mushrooms contain high vitamin D levels, which helps the body absorb calcium and maintain strong bones.
Eating a vitamin D and calcium diet can help prevent osteoporosis and reduce bone loss as we age.
Additionally, certain mushrooms contain copper, a mineral essential for bone formation and maintaining strength.
8. Environmental benefits
Not only are mushrooms a healthy addition to our diets, but they also have positive benefits for the environment.
Mushrooms require less water and land than other protein sources, such as beef, making them more sustainable. They also have the potential to clean up contaminated soil and water by breaking down pollutants.
So not only are they delicious and nutritious, but mushrooms can also positively impact our planet.
5 Ways to Incorporate More Mushrooms into Your Diet
The nutrition benefits of mushrooms are clear, but how can you incorporate them into your daily meals? Here are some ideas:
1. Add sliced mushrooms to omelets or scrambled eggs
Whether you use button or shiitake, mushrooms provide a tasty addition to your morning eggs.
The savory flavor mushrooms add to the dish will make it even more delicious. It’s best to use olive oil for cooking mushrooms instead of butter for a heart-healthy breakfast.
2. Substitute mushrooms for meat in burgers or sandwiches
Mushrooms have a meaty texture and can be used as a tasty substitute for ground beef or turkey in burgers or sandwiches. You can also use portobello mushroom caps as a bun alternative for a low-carb option.
You can also try to make a vegetarian stir-fry with mushrooms as the primary protein source.
3. Use mushrooms in pasta dishes
Sautéed mushrooms make a delicious addition to any pasta dish, from marinara to Alfredo. A sliced portobello mushroom can also be used as a pizza topping for added texture and nutrition.
This will make it even easier to hit your recommended daily serving of vegetables (about 2 cups for adults).
4. Mushroom soup
Mushrooms are the star of this creamy, satisfying soup. An added salt is optional, as mushrooms have a naturally savory flavor.
For nutrients and texture, you can also add other vegetables, such as carrots or onions.
5. Use mushrooms as a salad topping
While it might seem uncommon to add mushrooms to a salad, they provide an excellent source of protein and make for a filling meal.
Sautéed or roasted mushrooms can be added to any salad for texture and flavor.
Dried mushrooms, such as shiitake, can be reconstituted and added to salads for a unique twist on the traditional leafy greens.
The Health Benefits of Mushrooms Outweigh Any Skepticism
So, don’t be afraid to add more mushrooms to your diet. Their nutritional and medicinal benefits make them a worthy addition to any meal.
Their environmental impact is much lower than other protein sources, making them even more valuable for our planet.
Experiment with different types of mushrooms and discover the delicious possibilities they have to offer. Your taste buds, and your health, will thank you.