Mushrooms may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of superfoods. Veggies like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard may be at the top of your mind. But maybe you should move mushrooms up on your list. Low in calories and packed with potent nutrients and antioxidants, these fun little fungi can help support a healthy diet.
Mushrooms are not your typical white food. Although many have the same coloring as common starches, such as mashed potatoes and rice, don’t be fooled by their dull appearance. Even though they may not be rich in color like tomatoes, leafy greens, and other nutrient-rich veggies, mushrooms offer comparable health benefits and may even provide a more powerful punch of antioxidants.
Nutrient Profile of Mushrooms
So what types of nutrients can you get from mushrooms? Take a look at this impressive list:
- B vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid
- Vitamin D (if mushrooms are exposed to sunlight or ultraviolet before or after harvesting)
In addition to these nutrients, emerging research shows mushrooms are a great source of two powerful—and elusive—antioxidants, glutathione (GSH) and ergothioneine (ERGO). Researchers believe GSH has the capacity to protect your cells from damage, which may work to reduce your risk of inflammation and chronic diseases. ERGO, on the other hand, is an elusive antioxidant that some people may not get enough of. It is primarily found in mushrooms, red beans, oat bran, and liver. Keep in mind that the greatest concentrations of these two antioxidants are found in the caps of mushrooms—not the stems.
Types of Mushrooms
Believe it or not, there are more than 2,000 varieties of mushrooms that are safe to eat. Here’s a look at some of the most common mushrooms:
- White/Button Mushrooms: Common and mild in taste, you can find these mushrooms at just about any grocery store.
- Enoki Mushrooms: A staple of Asian cuisine, and often added to Asian soups like miso, enoki mushrooms are characterized by their long stems and cluster-like appearance. They are prized for their delicate flavor.
- Porcini: These mushrooms are reddish brown in color and have a rather nutty flavor profile. They are often added to Italian dishes.
- Portobello: The giant of the mushroom world, portobellos are large, firm, and meaty. At a restaurant, you might find a hearty slice of portobello stacked on your hamburger.
One study found that specialty mushrooms like shiitake and porcini have greater concentrations of the antioxidants, GSH and ERGO, compared to the more traditional button mushroom that most supermarkets carry. So be sure to experiment with different colors, flavors, and textures to find the most delicious and healthy mushrooms to add your diet.
As a word of caution, never pick and eat mushrooms that you have gathered in the wild that you aren’t certain are safe. There are about 80 types of poisonous mushrooms (some of which can be lethal).
Tips for Adding More Mushrooms to Your Diet
Mushrooms are extremely versatile and can be eaten raw or cooked. Here are a few ways you can add more of them to your diet:
- Instead of using hamburger meat in your pasta, stir fry some porcini or button mushrooms then combine them with your sauce. The heartiness of mushrooms make them a great meat substitute.
- Make a homemade pizza. Experiment with different varieties of mushrooms and add one to two of your favorites to a pizza. Who knows? It might become your family’s new—and healthy—dinner staple. Crimini (Italian brown) and porcini mushrooms might be especially delicious on a pizza pie.
- Add a cup of button mushrooms to a family dinner salad. A full cup contains just 20 calories!
What Makes Mushrooms Special and How to Cook Them
Unlike some other veggies, it’s important to note that mushrooms actually release more nutrients when they are cooked. A 2017 study published in the Food Science & Nutrition journal looked at how the nutrient content in mushrooms was affected by different cooking methods. Researchers found that boiling them is not ideal as it decreases the amounts of proteins, lipids, and phenolics while increasing the amount of carbohydrates. Instead of boiling them or using the microwave, researchers suggest stir-frying mushrooms to release their full nutrient profile. Stir-frying these fun little fungi is your best bet if you’re looking to maximize your nutrient intake; this cooking method increases the levels of protein, carbohydrates, and antioxidants in this magical veggie.
1. The New York Times. What is the health and nutritional value of mushrooms? https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/19/well/eat/what-is-the-health-and-nutritional-value-of-mushrooms.html. Updated January 2018. Accessed January 25, 2018.
2. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Fun with fungi: Garnish your meals with mushrooms. http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/planning-and-prep/cooking-tips-and-trends/fun-with-fungi-garnish-your-meals-with-mushrooms. Updated January 2015. Accessed January 25, 2018.
3. Reid T, Munyanyi M, Mduluza T. Effect of cooking and preservation on nutritional and phytochemical composition of the mushroom Amanita zambiana. Food Sci Nutr. 2016;5(3):538-544. doi:10.1002/fsn3.428.