The magic of mushrooms

Dietitian Yvonne O'Halloran looks at the benefits of eating various types of fungi

Mushrooms come in many different shapes and sizes - with more than 2,000 different species, and around 25 widely accepted as food (International Journal Of Microbiology 2015). Mushrooms are a great addition to any diet due to their amazing taste, varied texture and incredible health benefits - they have been used throughout Asia for their medicinal purposes for thousands of years.

Mushroom appearance can vary, but generally they are recognised for their stem, fleshy round cap and gills underneath the cap. Let's take a look at mushrooms to decide if it's worth including them into our diet.

Mushrooms may be considered a vegetable to many, but they are in fact, a type of fungus that contains something known as ergosterol, which is similar in structure to cholesterol in animals.

You may have heard that it is possible to obtain vitamin D through mushrooms that have been exposed to ultraviolet light. This is true, because the ergosterol can be transformed into vitamin D through light exposure.

Mushrooms contain polysaccharides, indoles, polyphenols and carotenoids which have antioxidant, anti-cancer and antiinflammatory properties (Molecules). There are many different mushroom types. The most common are:

• Button mushrooms
• Portobello mushrooms
• Cremini mushrooms
• Morel mushrooms
• Maitake mushrooms
• Hedgehog mushrooms
• King oyster mushrooms
• Shiitake mushrooms
• Oyster mushrooms
• Porcini mushrooms
• Lobster mushrooms
• Enoki mushrooms
• Chanterelle mushrooms
• Clamshell mushrooms
• Reishi mushrooms

Nutritional benefits

Mushrooms are naturally low in calories, but are also loaded with many health boosting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, making them an important addition to everyone's diet. They contain protein, B vitamins (yes, even B12!), copper, selenium (an important antioxidant) phosphorus and chromium (International Journal Of Microbiology 2015).

Health Benefits

Mushrooms contain a powerful antioxidant called ergothioneine, which helps lower inflammation in the body - reishi mushrooms, in particular, seem to have significant anti-inflammatory effects.

Reishi is often referred to as the king of mushrooms - it has been linked with longevity, immune function and mental clarity (International journal of molecular sciences 2017).

Mushrooms may also be protective against Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, hypertension, stroke and cancer. Additionally, they can help lower cholesterol, act as an immune system enhancer and are anti-bacterial (International Journal Of Microbiology 2015).

Mushrooms can also protect the liver, are antidiabetic, anti-viral and anti-microbial (International journal of molecular sciences 2017). White mushrooms have the most potassium at 300 mg per serving, while cremini and portobello mushrooms have most of the antioxidant ergothioneine.

Beta Glucans

Mushrooms main polysaccharides are beta glucans, which are known to be anti-cancer, immunomodulating, antioxidant, and neuroprotective (International Journal Of Microbiology 2015). These beta glucans also protect from infectious diseases.

Gut Health

Prebiotic foods ensure a healthy growth of microorganisms in our gut. Examples include chicory root, raw garlic, raw onion and raw Jerusalem artichoke (International journal of molecular sciences 2017).

Mushrooms are also considered a source of prebiotics as they contain chitin, hemicellulose, mannana, beta glucans and xylans which are different polysaccharides important for a healthy gut microbiome (Bioact. Carbohydr. Diet. Fibre).


Poisonous and Illegal mushrooms

Remember, some species of mushrooms can be poisonous, and others are psychoactive (because they contain psilocybin). Some of these mushrooms are illegal in numerous countries.

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Cooking Methods

Research conducted by the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition found that certain mushrooms (including button, shiitake, oyster and king oyster mushrooms) retain more of their vitamins and nutrients when exposed to short cooking times. Plus, microwaving or grilling significantly increased their antioxidant capacity when compared to boiling or frying.

Adding mushrooms to your diet

There really are endless ways you can incorporate mushrooms into your diet. Try these out:

• Make chunky or puréed mushroom soup.
• Add mushrooms to a stew or casserole.
• Use a portobello mushroom as a burger or use ground up mushrooms as a base for a burger patty.
• Add sautéed mushrooms to your breakfast (like tofu scramble) or top on toast with some avocado and seasoning.
• Add mushrooms to a salad - some people enjoy adding them raw.
• Incorporate mushrooms into pastries.
• Add as a topping to pizzas.
• Add to your evening meal for a 'meaty' texture (portobello works well).
• Add to lasagnas or spaghettis for a nice texture.
• Mushrooms go great in any pasta or noodle dish.
• Add to a panini or toasted sandwich for lunch.

Final word

So, in conclusion, we should definitely include mushrooms into our diet for their health promoting properties. As with fruits and vegetables, it's best to eat a variety of different mushrooms for a diverse and healthy gut microbiome.

Find Yvonne on Facebook at @livingveganofficial


The lifestyle magazine written by vegans for vegans.