Everything you need to know about the many health benefits of mushrooms.
Mushrooms not only taste delicious, but they’re also a nutritional powerhouse. While most people consume mushrooms in grilled, sautéed, or roasted form, a growing number of brands have come out with mushroom-based coffee, hot chocolate, and even matcha, as well as mushroom powder blends that you can mix into smoothies and juices.
“Mushrooms are packed with a long list of nutrients. For example, they contain significant amounts of B vitamins, which help give you energy and are involved with repairing cell damage,” says Dan Nguyen, a registered dietician in New York. “Mushrooms are also a good source of potassium, which helps to regulate blood pressure and, if exposed to a UV light before or after they’re harvested, mushrooms are an excellent source of vitamin D, which is involved in many things like bone health, the immune system and heart health.” This is very important to underline because very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. “Mushrooms are also packed with antioxidants and fiber,” he adds.
There are many types of mushrooms, however, and while these benefits apply generally to all of them, each type of mushroom provides its unique set of advantages. “For example, white buttons provide 19 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin B3 (also known as niacin), which may promote healthy skin and digestion,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, a registered dietician and nutrition expert. “One serving of cooked shiitake mushrooms is an excellent source of copper, offering 85 percent of the recommended daily intake, which helps keep bones and nerves healthy, while one serving of cremini mushrooms is an excellent source of selenium, containing 40 percent of the recommended daily intake. Selenium may help the immune system function properly, so it’s a great mushroom to add to winter dishes, like soups, stews, and casseroles.” Lastly, she singles out maitake (aka Hen of the Woods): “One serving of these mushrooms contains 119 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin D.”
Brands like Four Sigmatic, Ultimate Shrooms, and Om Mushrooms offer up concentrated forms of mushrooms in the form of powder blends that are an easy way for people on the go to get their nutrient fix. These blends can be added to everything from smoothies to coffee and hot chocolate.
Note, however, that while the benefits of mushrooms are real and backed by science, there are several types of dried mushrooms used in traditional Chinese medicine that have recently become popular as supplements whose benefits aren’t as clear-cut, says Largeman-Roth. “For example, cordyceps are touted as an energy booster, as well as an anti-inflammatory, and for respiratory, heart, and immune health, and there are also claims that they can boost sex drive and fight cancer. While studies on the effects of cordyceps have been done on fruit flies and mice, no studies have been done on humans.”
In general, be wary of any strongly worded health benefit that a mushroom can impart. “While consuming mushrooms can assist with overall health and immune system support, this depends on other factors like the rest of your diet and eating habits, time, and physical activity. A note on its own is just a sound, but the right notes in combination produce a harmony,” says Nguyen.
This also means that there’s not a one-size-fits-all prescription for an amount of mushrooms you should be consuming. “It depends on the rest of your eating habits as you really reap the benefits of mushrooms when you allow them to team up with other nutritious foods consistently,” says Nguyen. According to Lee Cotton, a registered dietician and nutritionist in Florida, a typical serving size of mushrooms ranges from ½ cup to 1 cup. “While you shouldn’t expect immediate results, adding some mushrooms into your diet can provide added micronutrients and antioxidants—balance is a key element in the diet,” Cotton says.