8 Ways Mushrooms Benefit The Body


Article by Dr. Layla Sade

Photography by Dr. Layla Sade

There are some foods in the produce section whose health halo glows brightly. Kale, spinach, and avocados, for example, are all well-known for their many nutritional benefits. But what about mushrooms? Are they good for you? Most grocery stores stock not just one variety, but several including white, cremini, portobello, and shiitake. Yet even with all these different types, the health benefits of mushrooms aren’t as widely talked about as some of their more colorful neighbors. According to dietitians, bypassing mushrooms at the grocery store would mean missing out on a wealth of health benefits. In fact, all the aforementioned mushroom types help the entire body, including the heart, brain, and gut.

There is another category of mushrooms not available at most grocery stores, adaptogenic mushrooms (also referred to as functional mushrooms). This includes mushrooms such as reishi, chaga, and lion’s mane. While these types of mushrooms have their own unique properties and can be especially beneficial for brain health and helping the body manage stress, here, registered dietitians focus specifically on the more common type of mushrooms at the grocery store; ones that are widely available and easy to cook with.

Mushroom nutrition facts (for 1 cup of white mushrooms)

First things first—here’s what the nutritional breakdown of mushrooms looks like

  • Protein: 2 g
  • Carbohydrates: 2 g
  • Fiber: 1 g
  • Calcium: 2 mg
  • Magnesium: 6 mg
  • Phosphorus: 60 mg
  • Potassium: 223 mg
  • Selenium: 7 mg
  • Vitamin C: 1 mg
  • Niacin: 3 g
  • Folate: 11 µg
  • Choline: 12 mg
  • Betaine: 7 mg
  • Vitamin D: 5 IU

8 health benefits of mushrooms

Here are the top health benefits of mushrooms:

1. Mushrooms support good digestion

Mushrooms contain a small amount of fiber and are almost 90 percent water—both of which are important for good digestion. Fiber is key for digestion because it adds bulk to stool and helps keep things moving through the gastrointestinal tract. The water in mushrooms helps break the food down, which also moves it through the gastrointestinal tract. For this reason, mushrooms are a great food for avoiding constipation.

2. They help protect against chronic inflammation

Regularly consuming mushrooms can help protect the body against high levels of inflammation. They contain polyphenols and carotenoids, which are antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory effects. Antioxidants help protect the body against free radicals, which are atoms that can damage cells. Unfortunately, free radicals are impossible to escape; we regularly come into contact with them through pollution and chemicals. But the antioxidants in mushrooms can help protect against the damage they cause cells.

3. Consuming mushrooms helps support brain health

The antioxidants in mushrooms also make them a beneficial food for brain health. Polyphenols and carotenoids have both been scientifically linked to helping protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

4. Mushrooms are good for the heart

There are a few different reasons why mushrooms are beneficial for heart health. That one is that they contain potassium. Potassium is a nutrient known to help reduce blood pressure, especially when in conjunction with a lower sodium diet. Because of this effect, mushrooms can have a positive influence on heart health. Additionally, because high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease, consuming mushrooms may be able to lower blood pressure, and, in turn, your risk for serious heart disease.

5. They help support the immune system

If you want to support your immune system, Rifkin suggests finding a way to work crimini mushrooms into your meals. This type of mushroom—along with shiitake, white, and morel mushrooms—are great sources of zinc, a key nutrient for immune health.

6. Consuming mushrooms supports bone health

Mushrooms are one of the few vegan food sources of vitamin D. For this reason, they’re often used to make vegan vitamin D supplements. But this benefit is not found in all mushrooms. Some mushrooms are treated with UV light to add vitamin D, but this isn’t the case with all mushrooms and unless it specifically states it on the label, is likely not a source of vitamin D. If you do consume mushrooms that were treated with UV light—whether in their whole form or as a supplement—you are directly supporting your bones, immune system, and mental health since vitamin D plays a role in all of these areas.

7. They’re good for your liver

Scientific studies have shown that eating mushrooms supports liver health. This is because they contain polysaccharides (a type of carbohydrate) and β-glucan (a type of soluble fiber), both of which help reduce oxidative stress in the liver.

8. Mushrooms may support good sleep

Mushrooms contain 6 milligrams of magnesium per cup. While magnesium has many roles in the body (including supporting muscle and nerve function), some studies have linked it to better sleep—a great reason for working this veggie into your dinner more.

Ways to work mushrooms into your diet

After you buy your mushrooms from the grocery store, you’ll want to store them in the fridge in a way that protects them from moisture, such as in an airtight container or paper bag. Otherwise, your mushrooms are bound to turn a little slimy. To clean your mushrooms when you’re ready to cook or eat them, just brush any visible dirt off with a damp paper towel or kitchen towel. It’s also a good idea to rinse your mushrooms to get rid of any excess dirt.

Mushrooms are a convenient food because they can be eaten raw or cooked, and with a mild flavor, they can be incorporated in all sorts of meals. Some ways the dietitians say they incorporate mushrooms into their diets include in salads, egg scrambles, pasta, stir fry, sandwiches, burgers, soups, on pizza, and even blended in fruit smoothies.

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