I come across so many people who hate mushrooms and I get it…I used to hate them too, thanks to their ‘strange’ texture.
But once I began incorporating them into my diet, I really began to enjoy eating mushrooms. After all, vegetables in any form are healthy and offer important nutrients and antioxidants.
But mushrooms do more than just add vitamins and minerals, they boast a myriad of health benefits too.
Here are 7 reasons, backed by science, proving that you should be eating more mushrooms!
A Dietary Source of Vitamin D
If you’ve read my post on Vitamin D, the Sunshine Vitamin, you’ll know that dietary sources of the stuff are hard to come by.
Mushrooms also contain vitamin D, although it’s thought to be mainly vitamin D2, which studies have found is less potent in the human body that vitamin D3, the type found in animal products.
One such study, carried out in 2010 and featured in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, found that D3 is around 87% more effective at raising and maintaining vitamin D levels in the body.
However, three years later, a study was published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), which stated that mushrooms actually can produce vitamin D3 and D4 under certain conditions.
One of the researchers in this study, Dr Michael Holick, went on to publish even more findings about mushrooms’ vitamin D content.
He discovered that, in fact, mushrooms can provide as much vitamin D as supplements.
In his study, 30 adults were given a capsule each day for 12 weeks containing either vitamin D2, D3, or sun-exposed mushroom powder with high-levels of D2.
At the end of the 3 month period, Holick found that there was no significant difference in the participants’ vitamin D levels.
Exposing mushrooms to UV light after harvesting is becoming more and more common in the US, which is good news for those looking for a vitamin D boost.
The bottom line is that, if you don’t live in a sunny climate and don’t eat animal sources of vitamin D, UV-exposed mushrooms may be a more nutritious and inexpensive alternative to vitamin D supplements.
Mushrooms may help with weight loss when consumed as part of an overall healthy diet.
73 obese adults (almost 90% of whom were women) were placed in two groups. One group was asked to eat one cup of mushrooms each day in place of meat, while the others ate a standard diet without mushrooms.
After one year, those who ate the mushrooms had lost an average of 3.6% percent of their starting weight (approximately seven pounds).
This isn’t the only study to show that mushrooms can aid in weight loss when used to replace meat. An earlier, 2008 study had similar results.
The researchers behind this particular study concluded that increasing your intake of low-energy-density foods (like mushrooms) in place of high-energy-density foods (like beef) in similar recipes can be a good way to reduce calorie and fat intake.
I should point out though, that weight loss would probably be achieved with other vegetables besides mushrooms, although mushrooms offer a good substitute for meat in terms of versatility, flavor and mouth-feel.
A recent study shows that adding mushrooms to your diet has a positive effect on the immune system.
51 healthy adults were asked to consume either 50 g or 100 g of dried, whole shiitake mushrooms every day, for 28 days.
Their blood was tested for the presence of cytokines – molecules that help in immune responses and signal to other cells to move towards areas of inflammation, infection and trauma.
In both groups, the levels of cytokines in participants’ blood were significantly increased compared to the levels seen at the beginning of the trial. There were no major differences between the two serving sizes.
This study shows that even as little as 50 g of shiitake mushrooms can improve your immune system.
White button mushrooms may also enhance immunity (at least in animals)!
Mice were fed diets containing 0%, 2%, or 5% white button mushrooms for four weeks before being vaccinated against a type of salmonella. Four weeks after that, they were deliberately infected with salmonella.
Those mice in the 2% mushroom group had a higher survival rate than the other groups, suggesting that white button mushrooms may improve immunity.
The participants suffered no adverse effects from this particular immune stimulant.
It seems that mushrooms, particularly shiitake, Turkey Tail and white button mushrooms, can stimulate the immune system and improve defenses against illness.
Learn more about how good nutrition stops you from getting sick.
May Help Fight Cancer
As you can see, mushrooms have proved beneficial in boosting the immunity of some patients with cancer. But experts are also looking at other ways that mushrooms can play a part in fighting cancer.
Research from 2006 found that this compound, taken from the reishi mushroom, caused lung cancer cells to die.
Other promising research, published in the Journal Cancer Research, looked at the anti-tumor activity of shiitake mushrooms.
Six polysaccharides (a type of carbohydrate compound) were extracted from the shiitakes. Two of those showed a strong anti-tumor effect,
One in particular, known as lentinan, caused the tumors to almost completely disappear at high doses, without any signs of toxicity.
While these two studies show that mushrooms may be effective against cancer, a review of five studies carried out in 2012 didn’t find enough evidence to justify the use of reishi mushrooms…at least as a first‐line treatment for cancer.
However, the reviewers did state that these mushrooms could be used in conjunction with conventional cancer treatment, due to their immune enhancing abilities and potential to kill cancer cells.
They also state that there are very few adverse effects – always a plus given the many side-effects of chemotherapy and other cancer treatments!
A Source of Antioxidants
If we’re to look at the research though, that school of thinking may not be entirely accurate.
Mushrooms, a relatively pale vegetable, have as many antioxidants as other vegetables.
Antioxidants help prevent damage to bodily cells caused by dangerous oxygen molecules known as ‘free radicals’. These molecules are believed to contribute to heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other serious illnesses.
Surprisingly, it turns out that the inexpensive common white button mushrooms have more antioxidants than tomatoes, green bell peppers, pumpkin, carrots or green beans.
Even more surprisingly, they also have higher antioxidant levels than shiitake and oyster mushrooms.
However, in other research on the phenolic and flavonoid content of mushrooms, the button didn’t come out on top.
In this particular piece of research, the mushrooms evaluated included oyster mushrooms, St. George’s mushroom and March mushroom.
All eight varieties tested were found to contain both phenols and flavonoids and all showed antioxidant activity.
Chanterelle mushrooms were the most effective against oxidation, 74% of inhibition, while white button had the lowest levels at just 10% of inhibition.
Keeping a healthy liver is vital for overall health. As one of our biggest organs, it helps convert the nutrients in our food into forms our body can utilize. It also regulates hormones and detoxes our body.
Some research seems to suggest that mushrooms, in particular shiitake, can be beneficial to the liver.
Mice were given high doses of paracetamol every day for a week, in order to cause liver damage.
The mice treated with the mushroom extract suffered less damage than those who weren’t given the extract.
From these results, the scientists suggested that shiitake extract could perhaps protect liver cells from paracetamol-induced liver damage thanks to their antioxidant effects.
On the other hand, high-doses of shiitakes have been associated with fatty liver disease!
In a separate study, mice were fed various diets, some supplemented with white button mushrooms and others with shiitake mushrooms.
After 6 weeks it was found that all the mice fed the shiitake mushroom diet developed fatty liver. Fifteen days after stopping this diet, their livers went back to normal.
Really surprising, isn’t it?
It should be noted that this is the first report that high doses of shiitake mushrooms are associated with the development of fatty liver disease.
The evidence suggests that mushrooms, when taken in normal amounts, may be beneficial for the liver but more research is needed in this area.
Balanced Cholesterol & Healthy Heart
When it comes to high cholesterol, mushrooms are a safe food for those with the condition.
Mushrooms contain very little saturated or unsaturated fat – under 1/4 g per cup for portabello, white or shiitake mushrooms. This means they have no real effect on your body’s production of cholesterol.
It’s important to keep cholesterol down, as too much in the blood can cause it to build up in the walls of your arteries, leading to atherosclerosis, a type of heart disease and a risk factor for stroke.
Interestingly, some studies suggest that certain mushrooms can actually help lower cholesterol.
They have also been shown in tests to stop atherosclerotic plaque from building up in the arteries.
In the study, 32 Japanese white male rabbits were fed with 1% cholesterol for 8 weeks, then divided into groups and given varying amounts of cholesterol, or cholesterol and shiitake extract over a further 8 week period.
Even though the body weight and total cholesterol levels of the rabbits didn’t significantly differ between the groups, those who were given shiitake extract in addition to cholesterol had less plaque build-up in their arteries.
This highlights shiitake extract’s potential ability to inhibit atherosclerotic development, meaning it might be a useful supplement for those with high cholesterol or high risk of heart disease.
As you can see, numerous studies have been carried out on mushrooms. However, there is little solid evidence to show that mushrooms can prevent cancer, prevent heart disease or keep your liver healthy.
That said, there is lots to show that they have antioxidant and immune boosting benefits, and can provide as much vitamin D as supplements, proving that they add more to a meal than just flavor.
Overall, I believe that mushrooms are a nutritious food and when eaten along with a variety of other vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats, will surely contribute to overall health.
What do you think of mushrooms – love them or hate them? Add your comments below.