Mushrooms: A Low-Calorie Nutritional Powerhouse
Mushrooms are low in calories but packed with nutrients like B vitamins, copper, potassium, selenium and antioxidants. They help enhance nutrition without excess calories. Mushrooms provide many health benefits due to their nutritional composition.
A 100 gram serving of raw white mushrooms contains just 22 calories but 2 grams of protein and more than 5% of your daily needs for copper, selenium, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and niacin. In addition to their nutritional content, mushrooms contain biologically active compounds that provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. These compounds may help prevent chronic diseases and support health as we age.
According to Cancer Research UK, mushrooms contain compounds such as lentinan and agaritine that may help prevent against cancer growth and spread. They show potential in inhibiting tumor growth and may help reduce cancer risk by up to 64% when consumed regularly. Some observational studies also suggest that higher mushroom consumption is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. The antioxidants and compounds such as ergothioneine in mushrooms may help prevent cognitive decline, reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases and support brain health.
Mushrooms can be an important part of a balanced diet. Adding more mushrooms to your meals is an easy way to boost nutrition and gain various health benefits without excess calories.
Boosting Immunity with Mushrooms
Mushrooms contain compounds like beta-glucans that help stimulate the immune system. They may help reduce the risk of health conditions like the common cold or flu. Beta-glucans are complex carbohydrates that act as prebiotics, feeding the good bacteria in our gut. They also directly stimulate the innate immune system and killer T cells.
Several mushrooms such as shiitake, maitake and oyster mushrooms are excellent sources of beta-glucans. Shiitake mushrooms, in particular, contain lentinan, a type of beta-glucan that has strong immune-boosting effects. Studies show that shiitake mushrooms can:
•Increase the production of T lymphocytes, natural killer cells and macrophages – the immune cells that protect our bodies from infections and abnormal cell growth.
•Enhance the ability of macrophages to engulf and destroy pathogens and abnormal cells.
•Stimulate the secretion of interleukin-1, interleukin-2 and interferons – signaling molecules that help coordinate the immune response.
•Improve gut immunity by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus. A healthy gut lining and balanced gut flora are essential for immune function.
A four-week study in 75 adults found that consuming 5-10 grams of dried shiitake mushrooms daily reduced inflammation, boosted immunity and lowered the risk of flu-like respiratory tract infections. The polysaccharides in shiitake mushrooms may also help combat infections and speed wound healing.
|Mushroom Type||Beta-Glucan Content (per 100g)|
In summary, mushrooms contain beta-glucans and other compounds that can help:
- Enhance the production and activity of immune cells like lymphocytes, macrophages and killer T cells.
-Improve gut health and balance gut microbiota, which is intricately linked to immune function.
-Fight inflammation and protect against infections.
-Speed up wound healing and recovery from illness.
-Lower the risk of cold and flu.
Mushrooms should be an essential part of our diet to help build immunity and overall health. Aim for 2-3 servings of mushrooms per week to significantly boost your immunity. Cooking methods should be minimal – such as sauteing with onion and garlic – to preserve the beneficial compounds. Mushroom broths and extracts may also be beneficial to add to your diet.
Mushrooms and Their Anti-Cancer Properties
Mushrooms contain compounds such as lentinan and agaritine that may help prevent against cancer growth and spread. They show potential in inhibiting tumor growth and may help reduce cancer risk. Mushrooms have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine for their medicinal properties. Modern research has found that many mushrooms contain compounds with anticancer and tumor-fighting effects.
Shiitake mushrooms, in particular, contain lentinan, an active polysaccharide compound that:
•Has strong anti-tumor activity. Lentinan has been shown to significantly inhibit the growth of tumors in mice and human cell lines.
•Boosts the immune system to help fight cancer. Lentinan stimulates the production of T lymphocytes and natural killer (NK) cells – immune cells that can detect and destroy cancer cells.
•Reduces the spread of cancer. Lentinan prevents angiogensis – the formation of new blood vessels to feed tumors. It also inhibits metastasis – the spread of cancer to other organs.
•Enhances the effects of chemotherapy drugs while reducing side effects. When lentinan is used alongside chemotherapy, it can increase the effectiveness of anti-cancer drugs by up to 30-50%. It also helps alleviate nausea, fatigue and hair loss associated with chemotherapy.
•Induces apoptosis or programmed cell death. Lentinan stimulates mitochondria in cancer cells to release cytochrome c and other proteins that trigger apoptosis. This helps destroy cancer cells from within.
In Japan, lentinan derived from shiitake mushrooms has been approved as an adjunct treatment for gastric cancer. Numerous studies have found that lentinan, in combination with chemotherapy, can extend the lives of patients and improve quality of life. Agaritine, another compound found in shiitake and some other mushrooms, has also shown anti-cancer activity in cell and animal studies according to some research.
In summary, compounds like lentinan and agaritine found in mushrooms may help fight cancer through the following mechanisms:
- Inhibiting tumor growth and spread
- Stimulating the immune system to detect and eliminate cancer cells
- Enhancing the effects of chemotherapy while reducing side effects
- Inducing apoptosis in cancer cells
- Slowing the formation of new blood vessels to starve tumors
A diet high in mushrooms, especially shiitake mushrooms, may help lower the risk of cancer and even treat existing cancers when used alongside conventional therapies. To maximize the anticancer benefits of mushrooms, cook them lightly or add mushroom extracts and powders to your diet.
Mushrooms for a Healthy Heart
Mushrooms contain compounds such as lovastatin, beta-glucans and antioxidants that help lower cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure and prevent plaque buildup in arteries. They support heart health and reduce heart disease risk.
Mushrooms contain natural statins, or compounds that inhibit HMG-CoA reductase, an enzyme that plays a key role in the production of cholesterol. Lovastatin is one example found in oyster mushrooms that can lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol. Studies show that oyster mushrooms can lower cholesterol in rats by up to 50% and in humans by 5-10%. When cooked, lovastatin’s cholesterol-lowering effects may be enhanced.
The beta-glucans in mushrooms also help lower cholesterol by preventing its reabsorption in the gut. They bind to cholesterol and bile acids in the intestine, promoting their excretion from the body. Shiitake mushrooms in particular are considered a beta-glucan powerhouse and can reduce cholesterol by 7-10% according to some research.
The potassium, antioxidants and sodium found in mushrooms can help lower high blood pressure, one of the major risk factors for heart disease and heart attacks. Potassium helps relax blood vessel walls, improve blood flow and offset the effects of sodium. Mushrooms also contain folate, B vitamins and other nutrients that help break down homocysteine, an amino acid that can damage artery walls when levels get too high.
In addition to their cholesterol-lowering and blood pressure-lowering effects, mushrooms may also help prevent atherosclerosis or plaque buildup in arteries. The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds found in mushrooms inhibit oxidation of LDL cholesterol and reduce inflammation in blood vessels and heart tissues. They may also fight off free radicals that contribute to plaque buildup.
Some studies suggest that including more mushrooms in your diet may significantly slash the risk of heart attack or dying from heart disease. Women in one study who consumed just one-half serving per week of mushrooms had nearly 50% lower odds of having coronary heart disease.
Here’s a summary of how mushrooms help promote heart health:
- Natural statins like lovastatin lower LDL cholesterol
- Beta-glucans bind to cholesterol and bile acids, promoting their excretion
- Potassium, folate and antioxidants help lower high blood pressure
- Antioxidants inhibit LDL oxidation and reduce inflammation in arteries
- Mushrooms may cut the risk of heart attack and death from heart disease by up to 50%
To boost heart health, aim for 2-3 servings of mushrooms per week. Cook mushrooms lightly or add extra-virgin olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. Mushroom extracts and supplements can also help raise mushroom levels in your diet.
Managing Diabetes with Mushrooms
Mushrooms contain compounds such as polysaccharides that help improve insulin sensitivity, regulate blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation in people with diabetes or prediabetes. They aid diabetes management and prevention.
The polysaccharides found in mushrooms, especially in shiitake and oyster mushrooms, may help control blood sugar levels and support insulin production or sensitivity. Some research shows these effects may be due to compounds such as glycoproteins and trehalose:
•Glycoproteins activate insulin receptors on cells and trigger insulin-like activity, which helps cells absorb and utilize glucose. This can help lower elevated blood sugar levels in people with diabetes or prediabetes.
•Trehalose is a sugar that activates molecules related to glucose tolerance and insulin signaling. It may improve insulin sensitivity and optimize carbohydrate metabolism. Some studies show trehalose extracted from mushrooms may reduce fasting blood sugar levels and hemoglobin A1c in people with diabetes.
Mushrooms also contain chromium, a mineral involved in regulating glucose levels and increasing insulin sensitivity. Mushrooms have one of the highest chromium contents of any food. Chromium supplements or extracts have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control in some Type 2 diabetics according to several studies.
Mushrooms may also help curb inflammation, one of the underlying causes of insulin resistance and diabetes complications. Mushrooms contain anti-inflammatory compounds such as ergothioneine that can effectively reduce inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein. Chronic inflammation negatively impacts insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation.
Here are some of the ways mushrooms may aid diabetes management:
- Polysaccharides improve insulin sensitivity and support insulin production
- Glycoproteins activate insulin receptors and stimulate insulin-like activity
- Trehalose optimizes carbohydrate metabolism and reduces blood sugar levels
- Chromium helps regulate blood sugar levels and enhances insulin sensitivity
- Anti-inflammatory compounds curb inflammation that contributes to insulin resistance
Some studies suggest that eating more mushrooms may cut the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by up to 50%. Adding mushrooms to your diet may also benefit existing diabetes by providing blood sugar control and reducing health risks. Aim for 2-3 servings of mushrooms per week. Grilling, steaming or consuming mushrooms raw allows you to retain more of the beneficial compounds. Mushroom supplements may provide higher doses of compounds that support anti-diabetic effects.
Always consult your doctor before modifying your diabetes treatment regimen. While mushrooms show promise, more research is needed to make specific recommendations for diabetes management.
Mushrooms: A Brain Food for Cognitive Health
Mushrooms contain antioxidants and compounds such as ergothioneine that help prevent cognitive decline, reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases and support brain health as we age. They may boost memory, focus and mental sharpness.
Mushrooms contain a variety of antioxidants, including ergothioneine, that help protect brain cells from damage by free radicals. Oxidative stress caused by free radicals contributes to aging and neurological disease. Ergothioneine acts as a powerful scavenger of free radicals that can accumulate in the brain and cause cell degeneration or death. Some research suggests ergothioneine may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Mushrooms also contain compounds such as polysaccharides, triterpenoids and phenols that may boost the growth and development of neural connections in the brain. They help stimulate the production of new neurons – a process known as neurogenesis, which is essential for learning, memory, and higher thinking. Some studies show mushroom extracts may enhance connectivity between neurons and support regeneration of neural cell components.
The neurotransmitter precursors found in mushrooms also play an important role in brain health and cognition. Mushrooms contain copious amounts of niacin, vitamin B5, folate, choline and tyrosine – precursors needed to produce neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, dopamine, and serotonin. These neurotransmitters regulate mood, learning, memory, sleep and appetite. Low levels have been linked to cognitive decline and depression.
Here are some of the ways mushrooms may benefit brain and cognitive health:
- Antioxidants like ergothioneine protect against free radical damage and reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline or dementia.
- Compounds promote the growth and connectivity of new neural networks in the brain involved in memory, learning and cognitive function.
- They enhance the production of neurotransmitters essential for cognition, mood, sleep, memory and overall brain health.
- They may help generate new neurons and support the health of existing brain cells.
Regular consumption of mushrooms, at least 2-3 servings per week, may help support cognitive health as you get older. Mushrooms can easily be added to stir fries, omelets, soups and stews. For some people, mushroom powders or extracts may provide higher and more concentrated doses of brain-boosting compounds.
While mushrooms show promise for brain wellness, more evidence from human clinical trials is still needed. Mushrooms should not be used to directly treat or cure neurological diseases but rather as a complementary approach to promote long-term cognitive health and well-being.