8 Surprising Health Benefits of Mushrooms

Discover the numerous health benefits of mushrooms. From boosting immunity, preventing cancer, managing blood sugar levels, to enhancing brain function. Mushrooms benefits are endless.

Mushrooms Boost Immunity and Fight Inflammation

Consuming mushrooms provides surprising benefits to our health. Mushrooms contain polysaccharides and antioxidants that can help boost immune function and combat inflammation. According to a study, participants given mushrooms had a strong ability to generate infection-fighting antibodies and activation of cells that directly attack foreign substances.

Mushrooms contain compounds such as polysaccharides, triterpenes, polypeptides-all with medicinal effects. Lentinula edodes or shiitake mushrooms, in particular, contains lentinan, which has been shown to boost immunity. A study found that consumption of 5–10 grams of shiitake mushrooms a day for 4 weeks enhanced immunity. Shiitake mushrooms have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to prevent, and treat ailments.

Ergothioneine, a naturally occurring antioxidant in mushrooms, helps fight inflammation and cell aging. Portabello and white button mushrooms, in particular, are high in ergothioneine. A diet high in anti-inflammatory foods such as mushrooms may help prevent or mitigate inflammation-related health issues like heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and some cancers. Mushrooms’ nutritional and medicinal benefits make them a superfood that should be included in everyone’s diet for maximum health and wellness.

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Mushrooms May Help Prevent Cancer

Mushrooms contain compounds such as polysaccharides, triterpenes, polypeptides that may have anti-cancer effects.Lentinula edodes or shiitake mushrooms, in particular, contain lentinan which has been shown to inhibit tumor growth. A study found that shiitake mushroom powder reduced tumor size and prolonged survival in mice.Lentinan has been used as an adjuvant in cancer treatment in Japan.

Mushroom CompoundPotential Anti-cancer Effects
Lentinan(found in shiitake)
Polysaccharides(found in many mushrooms)
Triterpenoids(found in oyster mushrooms)
Polypeptides(found in various mushrooms)

Research shows mushrooms may be effective against several types of cancers:

  • Breast cancer: A study found that consuming mushrooms reduced breast cancer risk in premenopausal women. Mushroom extracts inhibited the growth of breast cancer cells in test tubes.
  • Prostate cancer: White button and shiitake mushrooms suppressed the growth of prostate cancer cells in test tubes. Compounds in shiitake mushrooms also induced apoptosis (cell death) in prostate cancer cells.
  • Colon cancer: Oyster and shiitake mushrooms reduced colon polyp formation in animals at high risk of colon cancer. Mushroom extracts also inhibited the growth of human colon cancer cells in test tubes.
  • Pancreatic cancer: A study found that mushroom extracts inhibited the growth and spread of human pancreatic cancer cells in test tubes. Certain mushroom extracts enhanced the effects of chemotherapy drugs against pancreatic cancer cells.
  • Gastric cancer: A review found that lentinan from shiitake mushrooms had anticancer effects against gastric cancer when used alone or combined with chemotherapy. Lentinan enhanced patients’ immune function and quality of life.

In summary, mushrooms contain compounds that may help prevent and fight cancer in multiple ways. They have the potential to stop tumor growth, promote cell death, prevent the formation of blood vessels that feed tumors, and boost immunity. A balanced diet that includes a variety of mushrooms may be one strategy for reducing cancer risk and enhancing cancer treatment. However, more studies are needed to firmly establish the anticancer effects of mushrooms in humans.

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Mushrooms are a Great Source of Vitamin D

Mushrooms are the only plant-based source of vitamin D. They produce vitamin D2 when exposed to ultraviolet light. According to the USDA Food Composition Database, a 3-ounce serving of raw white mushrooms contains 11% of the daily value for vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for bone and immune health.

Mushroom TypeVitamin D Content (per 3-ounce serving)
Chanterelle112% DV
Morel101% DV
Porcini91% DV
Shiitake84% DV
Oyster59% DV
White Button11% DV
Cremini9% DV

Many people are deficient in vitamin D, especially those with limited sun exposure. Mushrooms can help address this deficiency and provide other nutritional benefits. Adding mushrooms to your diet a few times per week may help ensure adequate vitamin D intake for good health.

Benefits of vitamin D:

  • Strong and healthy bones. Vitamin D helps absorb calcium and phosphorus, two minerals essential for bone health and preventing conditions like osteoporosis.
  • Improved immunity. Vitamin D has important effects on the immune system and may help prevent respiratory infections. Studies show that vitamin D supplements can reduce the risk of flu.
  • Healthier mood. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to increased risks of depression and other mental health issues. Adequate vitamin D intake from foods or supplements may help support better mental wellbeing.
  • Disease prevention. Optimal vitamin D levels may help prevent or manage various health conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and certain cancers like colon cancer and breast cancer.

Mushrooms that are exposed to UV light either naturally or artificially contain the most vitamin D. According to tests by the USDA, exposing raw white mushrooms to UVB light for just 5-minutes can boost their vitamin D2 levels to provide 100% of the daily value! To maximize the vitamin D content of mushrooms at home:

• Clean the mushrooms to remove any dirt or debris. Do not peel.

• Place the mushrooms, gill side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

• Expose the mushrooms to UVB light for about 5 to 10 minutes. Sunlight and tanning bed bulbs will work. UVB light therapy lamps also work well.

• Cook the mushrooms as desired. Vitamin D levels will remain high after cooking.

• Consume the mushrooms within 2 to 3 days for maximum vitamin D benefits. Levels may start dropping slightly after harvest and exposure.

In summary, mushrooms are one of the only natural food sources of vitamin D and eating them several times a week can help address common deficiencies and promote health. Exposing mushrooms to UV light before eating boosts their vitamin D content even more. So shine some light on mushrooms to get an dose of the “sunshine” vitamin D.

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Mushrooms Can Help Manage Blood Sugar Levels

Mushrooms contain compounds such as polysaccharides, lectins, and phenols that may help improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control. Studies show that consuming mushrooms, especially shiitake mushrooms, may lower blood sugar, reduce insulin resistance, and decrease complications associated with diabetes.

Effects on Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels

  • According to a study, subjects who consumed 5-10 grams of shiitake mushrooms daily for 4 weeks had significantly lower blood sugar and insulin levels compared to the control group. The compounds in shiitake mushrooms help cells absorb glucose and also inhibit the activity of carbohydrate-digesting enzymes, controlling the breakdown of complex carbohydrates into simple sugars.
  • Certain compounds in oyster mushrooms may inhibit the activity of digestive enzymes such as alpha-glucosidase and alpha-amylase which are responsible for breaking down complex carbohydrates. This helps curb blood sugar spikes after carb-rich meals. Oyster mushrooms also contain compounds that may stimulate insulin production and the uptake of glucose by cells.
  • According to studies, extracts from several mushrooms including oyster, maitake and shiitake mushrooms inhibited the activity of enzymes involved in the breakdown of complex sugars and the production of advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs). AGEs can cause cell damage and have been linked to diabetes complications. By limiting AGE formation, mushrooms may help reduce diabetes complications.
  • The table below displays the potential blood sugar and diabetes benefits of some common mushrooms:
Mushroom TypePotential Diabetes Benefits
ShiitakeReduce blood sugar and insulin levels; anti-glycation effects
OysterInhibit carbohydrate-digesting enzymes; increase insulin secretion and sensitivity; reduce blood glucose
MaitakeAnti-glycation effects; increase insulin sensitivity
White ButtonAnti-hyperglycemic and anti-glycation effects

In summary, mushrooms show promising potential for helping manage blood sugar levels and diabetes. They contain compounds that can inhibit the breakdown of complex carbohydrates, limit the production of AGEs, increase insulin secretion and sensitivity, and reduce blood glucose levels. Adding mushrooms to a balanced diet and making lifestyle changes may assist in controlling diabetes and its complications. However, more studies in humans are needed to confirm the anti-diabetic effects of mushrooms. When consumed as part of a healthy diet, mushrooms can be a beneficial addition to any diabetes management plan.

Mushrooms Are Low in Calories and High in Nutrients

Mushrooms are very low in calories but high in many nutrients. A one cup serving of raw white mushrooms contains only 15 calories but provides many B vitamins, copper, potassium, antioxidants, and other beneficial compounds. Mushrooms are considered a superfood due their high nutritional value and potential health benefits.

White button mushrooms, in particular, are low in calories but contain many B vitamins such as riboflavin, folate, thiamine, and niacin that are important for energy and metabolism. They also provide selenium, potassium, phosphorus and various antioxidantscompounds. The nutritional benefits of some common mushrooms are shown below:

Mushroom TypeNutrients (1 cup raw)
White ButtonRiboflavin: 28% DV; Folate: 4% DV; Niacin: 3% DV; Selenium: 18% DV; Potassium: 8% DV; Antioxidants
CreminiThiamine: 8% DV; Riboflavin: 15% DV; Folate: 2% DV; Copper: 18% DV; Selenium: 9% DV; Potassium: 9% DV
PortobelloThiamine: 4% DV; Riboflavin: 11% DV; Niacin: 10% DV; Pantothenic Acid: 7% DV; Copper: 25% DV; Magnesium: 2% DV
ShiitakeRiboflavin: 3% DV; Folate: 2% DV; Niacin: 1% DV; Copper: 7% DV; Selenium 2% DV; Potassium: 2% DV
OysterThiamine: 10% DV; Riboflavin: 40% DV; Folate: 20% DV; Niacin: 5% DV; Pantothenic Acid: 2% DV

Mushrooms also contain many beneficial compounds beyond basic nutrients such as:

Polysaccharides: Compounds that help boost immunity and may have anti-cancer effects. Found in many mushrooms.

Triterpenoids: compounds with antioxidant effects that may slow tumor growth. Found in oyster mushrooms.

Ergothioneine: A natural antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage. Mushrooms are one of the best sources of ergothioneine.

Lectins: Compounds in shiitake mushrooms that may help improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control.

Adenosine: A compound found in lingzhi or reishi mushrooms that acts as an anti-inflammatory and tumor suppressor.

Germanium: A mineral found in shiitake mushrooms that may boost oxygen levels in tissues and have immune enhancing effects.

In summary, mushrooms are nutritional powerhouses that pack a variety of vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds in a very low calorie package. Adding a variety of mushrooms to your diet several times per week is an easy way to gain valuable nutrients and antioxidants while supporting your health, immunity and metabolism. Mushrooms are a superfood that almost everyone can benefit from.

Mushrooms Can Support Heart Health

Mushrooms contain compounds that may help support heart health in several ways. They have been shown to help lower high cholesterol levels, reduce high blood pressure, inhibit blood clot formation and provide cardiovascular benefits through their anti-inflammatory effects.

Cholesterol-Lowering Effects

  • Extracts from shiitake mushrooms contain compounds such as eritadenine that may help inhibit cholesterol synthesis in the liver. Studies in rats have found that shiitake mushroom extracts reduced total cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • Beta-glucans found in oyster and other mushrooms may have cholesterol-lowering effects. According to some studies, beta-glucan supplements, especially oat-derived beta-glucans, can reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels. The beta-glucans in mushrooms may have similar effects, but more research is needed.

Blood Pressure-Lowering Effects

  • Mushrooms are a good source of potassium, which helps lower blood pressure. A single cup of raw shiitake or oyster mushrooms contains close to 10% of the daily potassium requirement. Maintaining adequate potassium levels is important for blood pressure regulation.
  • Mushrooms contain compounds such as adenosine and polysaccharides that may act as natural ACE inhibitors, blocking the effects of angiotensin converting enzyme. This may help dilate blood vessels and lower blood pressure. Some studies have found mushroom extracts have blood pressure-lowering effects.

Anti-Clotting and Anti-Inflammatory Effects

  • Mushrooms contain a variety of compounds including adenosine, triterpenoids, and polysaccharides that may inhibit platelet aggregation and reduce inflammation in the body.
  • Excessive platelet clumping and inflammation are linked to atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases. The anti-clotting and anti-inflammatory properties of mushrooms may help prevent or mitigate these conditions.

Antioxidant Effects

  • Mushrooms are a source of antioxidants that help prevent cell damage from free radicals and oxidation in the body. Antioxidants are important for heart health and help prevent atherosclerosis.
  • According to a study, the antioxidant capacity of mushrooms is comparable to that of carrots, broccoli, and tomatoes. White, cremini, portobello and oyster mushrooms in particular provide various antioxidants such as L-ergothioneine, quercetin, and gallic acid.

In summary, mushrooms contain compounds such as potassium, beta-glucans, adenosine and antioxidants that may benefit heart health in various ways. They have the potential to lower high cholesterol and blood pressure levels, prevent excessive blood clotting and reduce inflammation in the body. Adding mushrooms to a balanced heart-healthy diet may have significant benefits for cardiovascular wellbeing. However, more studies are required to confirm the effects and optimal amounts for humans.

Mushrooms May Enhance Brain Function

Mushrooms contain compounds such as hericenones, erinacines, adenosine and antioxidants that may help support brain health and boost cognitive functions. Some research shows that mushrooms, especially Lion’s Mane mushrooms, may enhance memory, stimulate the growth of neural connections in the brain and help prevent or slow age-related mental decline.

Memory and Cognitive Enhancement

  • Lion’s Mane mushrooms contain compounds such as hericenones and erinacines that can pass through the blood-brain barrier and stimulate the production of nerve growth factor. This protein is important for the growth and repair of neural connections in the brain associated with memory, learning, and cognition.
  • According to a study, consuming Lion’s Mane mushroom extract for 4 weeks led to subjective improvements in cognitive functions and mood compared to the placebo group. Lion’s Mane powder or extract may enhance cognitive abilities, although more evidence is needed.
  • Adenosine, a compound found in certain mushrooms like reishi, may increase alertness and attention. Some research shows adenosine supplements can improve cognitive performance during extended wakefulness. The adenosine in mushrooms may provide similar benefits, but studies are lacking.

Prevention of Age-Related Mental Decline

  • Oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain contribute to age-related mental decline and neurodegenerative diseases. Mushrooms provide antioxidants that help protect neurons from damage due to free radicals.
  • According to a review of studies, mushrooms may help prevent age-related cognitive decline due to compounds that stimulate neural growth and protect against inflammatory and oxidative damage in the brain. Polyphenols and flavonoids found in some mushrooms have neuroprotective effects.
  • A study found that older adults who consumed more mushrooms had a lower risk of cognitive decline over six years of follow up. Antioxidants and compounds that promote neural health in mushrooms may help preserve cognitive abilities as people age, although more research is required.

Other Potential Benefits

  • Mushrooms may ease symptoms of depression and anxiety due to compounds that can modulate hormonal and neural pathways in the brain involved in mood regulation and stress response. However, human studies are still needed.
  • Certain mushroom compounds could potentially slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. But evidence is limited and more research is required to determine the effects in humans.

In summary, mushrooms contain compounds such as hericenones, antioxidants and adenosine that may enhance memory, stimulate neural connections in the brain and help prevent age-related mental decline. Adding mushrooms to the diet a few times per week may boost brain health and support cognitive functions as people age, though more studies are needed to confirm effects and optimal amounts in humans. For enhancing memory and focus, Lion’s Mane mushroom supplements show particular promise based on initial research.

Cooking Tips for Adding Mushrooms to Your Diet

Mushrooms can be incorporated into various recipes in many ways. Some cooking methods and recipe ideas for enjoying more mushrooms are:

• Sautéed mushrooms: Heat a tablespoon of butter or olive oil in a skillet. Add mushrooms and cook over medium-high heat until tender, about 5-8 minutes. Garlic, herbs and seasonings such as thyme can be added. Sautéed mushrooms are great as a side dish or topping for steak, added to pasta dishes, omelets or pizza.

• Grilled mushrooms: Brush large mushroom caps with oil and grill over high heat for 3-5 minutes per side. Mushrooms will release juices as they cook. Grilled mushrooms can be seasoned with salt and pepper, topped with cheese or herb butter. They make a great meat replacement in sandwiches.

• Mushroom pasta: Sautéed mushrooms can be tossed with pasta such as fettuccine or linguine, parmesan cheese, fresh parsley and a creamy sauce. Mushroom pasta is a hearty and delicious dish. Mushroom risotto is also a popular option.

• Mushroom soup: Sautéed mushrooms, onions and garlic can be puréed and added to broth with cream or milk for a creamy soup. Mushroom barley soup is a heartwarming option for cold weather. Mushroom soup also makes a great base for pot pies.

• Mushroom quiche or frittata: Whip up a fluffy mushroom quiche or frittata for brunch. Sautéed mushrooms, cheese such as Gruyere or Swiss and eggs make a perfect combo. Add spinach for extra nutrition.

• Mushroom stir fry: Shiitake, oyster and button mushrooms are often used in Asian-inspired stir fries. Stir fry mushrooms with bok choy or other veggies and serve over rice or rice noodles. Add chili garlic sauce and cashews for extra flavor and crunch.

• Mushroom ragout or stew: For a hearty stew, simmer mushrooms in a rich broth with red wine, herbs such as rosemary and thyme and chunks of potato, carrot and celery. A mushroom ragout makes a satisfying Sunday supper, especially when served with a crusty loaf of bread.

• Mushroom burgers or meatballs: Finely chop mushrooms and mix into ground meat such as beef or turkey to make juicy mushroom burgers or meatballs. Mushrooms add moisture, nutrition and savory flavor. For vegetarian mushroom burgers, use rice, beans, breadcrumbs and eggs as a binder with mushrooms.

In summary, mushrooms are very versatile and lend themselves well to vegetables dishes, pasta dishes, quiches, risottos, soups, stews and sandwiches. Adding mushrooms to your cooking is an easy way to boost nutrition and enjoy their robust, savory flavor. Aim for adding cooked mushrooms or mushroom-based dishes to your meal plan 2-3 times per week to reap the maximum health benefits.

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