The health benefits of mushrooms can strengthen the body and the brain, but there are proven dietary gains from our fungi friends that are often overlooked. For instance: adding one serving of mushrooms (84g) to your diet each day introduces huge quantities of vitamins, minerals, protein and healing molecules, without adding extra calories.
When thinking about mushrooms, most people simply lump them in with vegetables. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Mushrooms aren’t even plants. Instead, they belong to the ancient fungal kingdom. Just like the apple is the fruit of a much larger tree, mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of vast underground networks known as mycelium.
In recent years, scientists have garnered a much deeper understanding of this mysterious life form. We know now they likely served as the bridge for life to make its way out of the ocean and onto land. The largest lifeform of Earth also belongs to kingdom fungi.
While these mind-blowing trivial facts are fun to entertain, mushrooms can have a very real impact on our individual lives, too. Many studied species are jam-packed with healing molecules that show promise against the most rampant diseases of the modern age, including cancer and depression.
Having grown up within the Western model of medicine and pharmaceutical paradigm, many of us expect our medicine to arrive in the form of packaged pills. However, mushrooms market their precious molecules in a different manner: as tasty, protein-rich bites of food.
Edible mushrooms are also known as functional foods and nutraceuticals — food items that offer medicinal impact alongside moreish flavours. Plenty of studies have highlighted the impressive nutritional profiles of different kinds of mushrooms. Based on this previous work, food science researchers decided to explore the cocktail of nutrients that a daily serving of mushrooms offers. They sampled data from around 10,000 adults and children and focused on the consumption of white, crimini, portabella, and oyster mushroom varieties.
Their work, published in the journal Food Science & Nutrition, found that mushrooms offer a massive list of vitamins, minerals, and other healing natural chemicals, without impacting caloric intake or sodium. Essentially, mushrooms provide a protein-rich bomb of nutrients at very little metabolic cost.
One serving of mushrooms equals around 84g. These nourishing species can be easily added to your diet. Try them alongside eggs in the morning, soups during lunch, and in a large selection of meals for dinner.
Not only do they taste great, but they pack a nutritional punch that brings diners much closer to the daily recommended intake of critical vitamins and minerals.
Explore the list below to discover the types of nutrients that mushrooms offer, why they are so important to our health, and how much of them our fungal allies provide.
Fibre serves as a food source for the trillions of micro-organisms that live symbiotically in the human gut. Our own enzymes don’t break down these tough types of carbohydrates. Instead, our resident bacteria and fungi get to work on them, releasing fatty acids for our benefit.
As well as helping to nourish our microbial communities, increased levels of fibre are associated with a reduced chance of heart disease, stroke, bowel cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
During the study, the introduction of 84g of mushrooms into the diet each day increased dietary fibre levels by up to 6%, without drastically increasing the number of calories consumed.
Copper is an essential mineral that plays a critical role in the human body. Alongside iron, it contributes to the creation of red blood cells. It also helps to maintain healthy bones and may help to prevent skeletal diseases such as osteoporosis.
Although most people access enough copper through diet each day, around 25% of US and Canadian citizens may be low on this mineral. Symptoms of deficiency manifest as fatigue, weakness, sickness, and impaired memory and learning.
A single serving of mushrooms each day helps to boost copper levels by up to 32%.
Selenium is an essential mineral that must be obtained through dietary sources. This key nutrient helps to enhance immunity, nourish the thyroid, and prevent the cognitive deficits that come along with ageing.
The selenium content in foods depends on the quality of the soil it’s grown in. Unfortunately, as our soil becomes more depleted due to bad agricultural practices, selenium deficiency will likely rise. Currently, 1 billion people across the world experience low levels of the mineral.
Fortunately, mushrooms serve as a good source of this essential nutrient. One serving per day is enough to raise dietary levels by 14%.
Vitamin D is yet another crucial nutrient that many people lack. This molecule helps to regulate calcium levels, keeps muscles and bones healthy, and modulates the immune system.
Mushrooms are unique in that they offer a good non-animal source of vitamin D. Most plants lack this vital nutrient, which is mostly found in eggs, meat, and seafood. Interestingly, mushrooms produce high levels of vitamin D2 — a slightly different type than that produced by our skin.
Much like us, mushrooms ramp up vitamin D production when exposed to sunlight. After bathing in UV rays, mushrooms double their vitamin D content. A serving of oyster mushrooms can help to boost dietary vitamin D levels by 13%.
Away from crucial vitamins and minerals, mushrooms also pack some of the most powerful antioxidants available. A single serving of mushrooms endows the body with 2.2mg of ergothioneine and 3.5mg of glutathione.
Ergothioneine deficiency may be linked to various chronic diseases, and the molecule has shown the ability to protect DNA. The antioxidant also shows up in high concentration at sites of tissue injury, such as in cases of fatty liver diseases and liver fibrosis.
Luke Sumpter is a freelance journalist that specializes in health, wellness, and alternative therapies. Currently, he’s working on a dissertation exploring the emerging role of the endocannabinoid system in orthopaedic medicine.