Mushrooms are not a vegetable as they appear to be, but are a kind of fungus.  Some wild mushrooms can be toxic, but the commercially grown edible ones are quite tasty and come in different shapes, sizes, and colours.  Adding flavour and meaty texture to many different dishes, mushrooms also provide several of the important nutrients that the body needs and is unable to make itself.

Nutritional value of mushrooms:

Mushrooms contain a wide range of nutritional content, such as protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, all with various health benefits to the body.

Protein: Mushrooms are a low-calorie food that provide a small amount of protein. Mushrooms contain more than twice the amount of protein than most vegetables.  As proteins are structural and functional elements within every cell in the body and are involved with metabolic interactions, animal and plant protein from the diet is essential for growth, maintenance, and repair in the body.

Antioxidants: Mushrooms are an important source of the antioxidant nutrients selenium and ergothioneine.  Selenium is an essential trace mineral which the body needs from the diet, and it helps the body makes special proteins (antioxidant enzymes) that help to prevent cell damage.  Ergothioneine is a naturally occurring antioxidant that also helps to protect the body’s cells.  

Antioxidants protect the body from free radicals that can damage the cells in the body and contribute to health conditions such as cancer and heart disease.  In addition, the anti-inflammatory effect of mushrooms helps to improve the efficiency of the immune system, by helping to stimulate the microphages.  Microphages are immune cells that play a role in the destruction of harmful bacteria and organisms, by engulfing and ingesting the harmful material.

Dietary fiber:  Mushrooms can contribute to the body’s daily requirement of fiber.  It contains beta glucan, a form of water-soluble dietary fiber, which is found in the cell walls of fungi, yeasts, bacteria, algae, and in plants such as oats and barley.  Beta glucan has immunity-stimulating effects that can contribute to resistance against allergies, while it can also play a role in the metabolism of fats and sugars in the body.  It has been linked to improving cholesterol levels and helping to regulate blood sugar.

B vitamins:  Mushrooms are rich in several B vitamins that, amongst others, play an important part in the metabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.

  • Thiamin (vitamin B-1) helps to turn food into energy.
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B-2) helps with the production of hormones and plays a part in the functioning of the nervous system.
  • Niacin (vitamin B-3) plays a vital role in metabolim.
  • Pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5) plays a role in the proper functioning of the digestive and nervous systems, as well as helping to promote healthy skin.
  • Folate (vitamin B-9) is found in small amounts in mushrooms and is needed for cell growth, DNA synthesis, and for proper functioning of the brain.
  • Cobalamin (vitamin B-12) is also found in small amounts and helps to maintain healthy nerve cells and is involved in the production of the body’s genetic material (DNA).  It works closely with folate in the bone marrow in the formation of new red blood cells.

Vitamin C: Mushrooms contain small amounts of vitamin C, which the body needs to make a protein that is necessary to form skin, blood vessels, tendons, and ligaments.  It helps the body to absorb and store iron.  Vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant that helps to protect cells against free radicals.

Vitamin D:  Mushrooms are the only item in the fresh produce isle of grocery shops that naturally contain some vitamin D, and have increased amounts of vitamin D levels when exposed to sunlight or UV-light.  As vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium, it plays an important role to help build and maintain strong bones.  Its various other roles in the body include involvement with reduction of inflammation, modulation of cell growth, immune function, and neuromuscular function.

Choline: Neither a vitamin nor a mineral, choline is an organic and water-soluble compound in mushrooms that affects several bodily functions such as liver function, muscle movement, nervous system, metabolism, and healthy brain development.  It is essential for making a substance that helps to remove cholesterol from the liver and inadequate choline levels may result in fat and cholesterol buildup in the liver.  Choline is also needed for the structural integrity of cell membranes.   It is also involved in the production of acetyl choline, a vital neurotransmitter.       

Minerals:  Minerals are important to keep the body healthy, as the body uses minerals in many ways, such as keeping the bones, muscles, heart, and brain working properly.  Minerals also plays an important role in making enzymes and hormones.  The two kinds of minerals are macro minerals, of which the body needs large amounts, and trace minerals, of which the body needs small amounts.  Mushrooms contain many essential minerals, with some of the key ones:

  • Copper helps the body make red blood cells, as well as playing a role in maintaining healthy bones and nerves.
  • Potassium plays an important role in heart, muscle, and nerve function.  It helps to reduce the negative impact that sodium can have, such as the buildup of fluid, as it plays a role in the maintenance of normal fluid balance in the body, which helps to control blood pressure.
  • Zinc is a vital nutrient for the immune system.
  • Magnesium plays a role in more than 300 enzyme reactions in the body, such as helping with muscle and nerve function, regulating blood pressure, and supporting the immune system.
  • Phosphorous plays an important part in the formation of bones and teeth.  It helps with kidney function, muscle contractions, normal heartbeat, and nerve signaling, while it is also needed to make protein for the growth, maintenance, and repair of cells and tissues.
  • Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that protects cells from damage, as seen under the heading Antioxidants.  Mushrooms are one of the richest, natural sources of selenium.

Nutritional content of mushrooms:

NutrientAmount of nutrient in 1 cup of mushrooms (96 g raw, whole)Recommended daily intake
Energy (calories)21.11,600–3,200
Protein (g)3.046–56
Carbohydrate (g)3.1, including 1.9 g of sugar130
Calcium (mg)2.91,000–1,300
Iron (mg)0.58–18
Magnesium (mg)8.6310–420
Phosphorus (mg)82.6700–1,250
Potassium (mg)3054,700
Sodium (mg)4.82,300
Zinc (mg)0.58–11
Copper (mcg)305890–900
Selenium (mcg)8.955
Vitamin C (mg)2.065–90
Vitamin D (mg)0.215
Folate (mcg DFE)16.3400
Choline (mg)16.6400–550
Niacin (mg)3.514–16

Conclusions:

Mushrooms are very healthy, as they are low in calories, contain lots of fiber, and are a good dietary source of important vitamins and minerals that the body needs.  As they are an important plant-based source of protein, they are a worthy vegetarian substitute for meat.  Mushrooms are easy to prepare and not only provide a wide range of nutrients, but also help with satiety. 

When buying mushrooms, avoid slimy or withered ones, rather select ones that are firm, dry, and not bruised.  Store them in the refrigerator in a paper bag for up to 5 days, and only wash or trim them when it is time to use them.  Mushrooms are regarded as one of 15 superfoods, which means you can’t go wrong with them!

References:

What is the nutritional value of mushrooms?  Published 6 November 2019.  Medical News Today.  (www.medicalnewstoday.com)

Are mushrooms good for you?  Published 12 October 2017.  Healthline.  (www.healthline.com)

Health benefits of mushrooms.  Published online and reviewed 17 September 2020.  WebMD.  (www.webmd.com)

Mushroom nutrition.  Published online.  The Mushroom Council.  (www.mushroomcouncil.com)

Shitake happens: Mushrooms to play key role in immunity, nutrition, and health, concludes report.  Published 18 August 2021.  Nutra Ingredients.  (www.nutraingredients.com)

What vitamins do mushrooms have?  Published online.  Livestrong.  (www.livestrong.com)

Minerals in mushrooms.  Published 2 April 2019.  Botanical Online.  (www.botanical-online.com)

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