Seasonal Produce Spotlight: The Nutritional Benefits of Mushrooms

Mushrooms are in season everywhere in the U.S. right now and are among the easiest ways to get multiple important nutrients through the food we eat. In fact, the nutritional benefits of mushrooms are immense. If they’re not a regular part of your diet, they should be!

Photo of mushrooms at farmers market as example of the health benefits of mushrooms
Mushrooms courtesy of Haw River Mushrooms

What is a Mushroom?

Mushrooms are fungi that play a similar role to a flower or a fruit in plants1. The part that we see is the fruit.2 The “seeds” that are produced are spores that form under the mushroom’s cap. They can be spread in many ways, such as being blown by the wind or through animals feeding3. Mushrooms don’t contain chlorophyll and most get their nutrients from breaking down dead plants or non-living organic matter2.

Health Benefits of Mushrooms

It’s important to note that there are edible and inedible mushrooms. Clearly, we are talking about the edible ones here. All edible mushrooms contain protein and dietary fiber. They also have significant amounts of copper, which is important for helping the body to form red blood cells; niacin (or vitamin B3)4, which is important for the development and function of the cells in the body5; and antioxidants6 that help protect cells against free radicals, which may contribute to heart disease, cancer and other diseases7.

Importantly for people eating a plant-based diet, mushrooms have the distinction of being the only natural non-animal dietary source of Vitamin D.8 Growers can increase those levels even more by exposing them to ultraviolet light.9

Nutrients in Mushrooms

White mushrooms are among the most popular that are eaten raw or cooked in recipes. Here is their nutrition information according to the USDA.4

Protein 3.00 g/100 g

Fat .3 g/100 g

Carbohydrates 3.69 g/100 g

Dietary fiber 1.45 g/100 g

Calcium 4 mg/100 g

Copper .30 mg/100 g

Potassium 358 mg/100 g

Niacin* 2.8 mg/100 g

*While white mushrooms have some of the lowest amounts of Niacin, Enoki mushrooms have some of the highest levels at 7.03 mg/100 mg

How to Eat Mushrooms for Nutrition Retention

Mushrooms should be kept as dry as possible. In most cases, you can simply pat them with a paper towel to clean them before eating. The nutrient content noted above was for eating white mushrooms raw. The USDA says that if you’re going to cook mushrooms, the best way to retain most of their nutrients is through stir-frying or cooking in a microwave oven.4 Another study, published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, found that grilling and microwaving mushrooms were the best ways of cooking to retain their nutrients.10 Bottom line – if you’re cooking mushrooms, it looks like microwaving them is best, followed by stir-frying and grilling.

Budget Benefits of Mushrooms

The Environmental Working Group includes mushrooms on its Clean 15 list, which means that you don’t necessarily need to spend the extra money to buy them organic. While you can certainly spend a fortune on specialty mushrooms if you want, white mushrooms and portabellas are much more affordable. An 8-ounce package of white mushrooms can cost anywhere between $1.50 – $2 and the same size of Baby Bellas usually cost around $2.50. As far as I’m concerned, mushrooms are a very affordable way to get a lot of nutrient bang for your buck.

Sources:

  1. Nathan Wilson, Marine Biological Laboratory. https://eol.org/docs/discover/mushrooms
  2. gmushrooms.com – http://www.gmushrooms.com/info.htm
  3. https://www.for.gov.bc.ca/hfp/publications/00029/mushwhat.htm
  4. USDA.https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/80400525/Articles/ift2006_mushroom.pdf
  5. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Niacin-Consumer/
  6. Science Direct. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030881461730691X?via%3Dihub
  7. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/multimedia/antioxidants/sls-20076428
  8. Black LJ, Lucas RM, Sherriff JL, Björn LO, Bornman JF. In Pursuit of Vitamin D in Plants. Nutrients. 2017;9(2):136. Published 2017 Feb 13. doi:10.3390/nu9020136 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5331567/
  9. Michael D. Kalaras and Robert B. Beelman, Graduate Student and Professor, Department of Food Science, Penn State University. https://foodscience.psu.edu/directory/rbb6/VitaminDEnrichment.pdf
  10. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09637486.2016.1244662

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