Mushrooms, though classified as vegetables in the food world, are not technically plants. They belong to the fungi kingdom and although they are not vegetables, mushrooms provide several important nutrients.
It’s common knowledge that the key to getting enough vitamins and minerals in the diet is to eat a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables – the more color, the better. However, this philosophy tends to leave mushrooms in the dark. In many cases, if a food lacks color, it also in turn lacks necessary nutrients. However, mushrooms – which are commonly white – prove quite the contrary.
Health Benefits of Mushrooms
The health benefits of mushrooms include relief from high cholesterol levels, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and diabetes. It also helps in weight loss, and increases the strength of your immune system.
1. Weight Management Benefits
One study found that substituting red meat with white button mushrooms can help enhance weight loss. Obese participants with a mean age of just over 48 years ate approximately one cup of mushrooms per day in place of meat. The control group ate a standard diet without mushrooms. At the end of the 12-month trial, the intervention group had lost an average of 3.6 percent of their starting weight, or about seven pounds.
They also showed improvements in body composition, such as reduced waist circumference, and ability to maintain their weight loss, compared to the control group.
2. Anti-Cancer Benefits
Mushrooms contain just as high an antioxidant capacity as carrots, tomatoes, green and red peppers, pumpkins, green beans, and zucchini.
Selenium is a mineral that is not present in most fruits and vegetables but can be found in mushrooms. It plays a role in liver enzyme function, and helps detoxify some cancer-causing compounds in the body. Additionally, selenium prevents inflammation and also decreases tumor growth rates.
The vitamin D in mushrooms has also been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells by contributing to the regulation of the cell growth cycle. The folate in mushrooms plays an important role in DNA synthesis and repair, thus preventing the formation of cancer cells from mutations in the DNA.
3. Increase Your Vitamin D
Mushrooms are the only fruit or vegetable source of this critical vitamin. Like humans, mushrooms produce vitamin D when in sunlight. Exposing them to high levels of ultraviolet B just before going to market converts more of the plant sterol ergosterol into the so-called sunshine vitamin.
In the U.S., portobellos fortified with vitamin D are already being sold, with a three-ounce (85-gram) serving providing about 400 IU of vitamin D (Osteoporosis Canada recommends that adults under 50 get 400 to 1,000 IU daily). William Stevens, CEO of the trade organization Mushrooms Canada, says, “A couple of Canadian producers are already testing this procedure.” He adds that “high D” or “sunshine” mushrooms should be in stores here in about six months or so.
4. Cholesterol Levels
Mushrooms themselves provide you with lean proteins since they have no cholesterol or fat and are very low carbohydrates. The fiber and certain enzymes in mushrooms also help lower cholesterol levels. Moreover, the high lean protein content in mushrooms helps burn cholesterol when they are digested.
Balancing levels of cholesterol between LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) and HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) is essential in the prevention of various cardiovascular diseases like artherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke.
5. Boost Your Immune System
A study done on mice and published by the American Society for Nutrition found that white button mushrooms may promote immune function by increasing the production of antiviral and other proteins that are released by cells while they are trying to protect and repair the body’s tissues.
A later study showed that these mushrooms promoted the maturation of immune system cells–called dendritic cells–from bone marrow. According to he researchers, this may help enhance the body’s immunity leading to better defense systems against invading microbes.
6. Bone Health
Mushrooms are a rich source of calcium, which is an essential nutrient in the formation and strength of bones. A steady supply of calcium in the diet can reduce your chances of developing conditions like osteoporosis, and can also reduce joint pain and general lack of mobility that is associated with bone degradation.
7. Anti-Inflammatory Benefits
Risk of many common health problems—including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer—is increased by the presence of chronic unwanted inflammation. Many factors can contribute to chronic inflammation, and these factors include overproduction of molecules in our body that tell it to launch an inflammatory response. If production of these molecules—called pro-inflammatory molecules—can be reduced, chronic inflammation can be reduced or sometimes prevented altogether.
Intake of whole fresh mushrooms, mushroom extracts, and powdered/dried mushrooms has been shown to accomplish precisely this result—blocked production of pro-inflammatory molecules. In some studies, crimini mushroom appears to be a better blocker of certain pro-inflammatory molecules than its fellow mushrooms like shiitake and maitake. The results of studies have been consistent and also clear: to avoid chronic overproduction of pro-inflammatory molecules, it’s helpful to include crimini mushrooms in a diet.
Mushrooms are an ideal low-energy diet for diabetics. They have no fats, no cholesterol, very low levels of carbohydrates, high protein content, and a wealth of vitamins and minerals. They also contain a lot of water and fiber.
Moreover, they contain natural insulin and enzymes which help the breaking down of sugar or starch in food. They are also known to contain certain compounds which help proper functioning of the liver, pancreas and other endocrine glands, thereby promoting the formation of insulin and its proper regulation throughout the body. Diabetics often suffer from infections, particularly in their limbs, which tend to continue for long periods of time. The natural antibiotics in mushrooms can help protect diabetics from these painful and potentially life-threatening conditions.
9. Stress Relief
One of the lesser known health benefits of eating mushrooms is the ability of mushrooms to provide significant amounts of B vitamins. White button mushrooms and crimini mushrooms, for instance, are supercharged with riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (B3) and pantothenic acid (B5). B vitamins work together and are involved in many bodily functions, including brain and nervous system function. Signs of B vitamin deficiency include unusual stress, anxiety, insecurity, irritability and difficulty concentrating.
The symptoms associated with a vitamin B deficiency can be improved by eating mushrooms and other foods that provide substantial amounts of stress-relieving B vitamins. Keep in mind, however, that for optimal relief from stress and anxiety, you should eat B vitamin containing foods daily as these water-soluble vitamins cannot be stored in the human body. In addition to eating mushrooms, you can step up your vitamin B intake by adding foods such as wheat germ, whole grains, brewer’s yeast and legumes to your diet.