October 24, 2022

All About Dietary Mushrooms: Everything you want to know about edible mushrooms, their health benefits and more interesting facts

All About Dietary Mushrooms

Everything you want to know about edible mushrooms, their health benefits and more interesting facts

A variety of mushrooms inside a round basket. Beige, light and dark brown colours, dark background.
Photo by Irina Iriser

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Like fruits and vegetables, mushrooms play a significant role in supporting and maintaining a healthy immune system.

Key points

  • Mushrooms aren’t vegetables
  • They support and maintain a healthy immune system
  • Mushrooms are packed with vitamins, antioxidants, fibres and minerals
  • All 9 essential amino acids (proteins) can be found in mushrooms
  • They appear to be highly beneficial to your physical and psychological health
  • They can grow in the dark and don’t need sunlight to thrive
  • Mushrooms are the only natural plant source of Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight or UV-B rays
  • Oyster and shiitake mushrooms are considered the most healthy mushrooms

Mushrooms are fungi, categorising them into a separate kingdom of life from plants and animals. That means they are not vegetables, despite being often used or served as one in specific recipes.

The types of suitable culinary mushrooms are many. The most giant cultivated mushroom is the portobello, which can grow up to 15 centimetres in diameter. Other well-known mushies are the white button, crimini, shiitake, enoki, porcini, cloud ear and more.

Mushroom nutrition facts

Mushrooms are

  • naturally cholesterol and fat-free
  • naturally gluten-free
  • low in sodium and calories
  • the only natural plant source of vitamin D
  • full of B vitamins (which provide energy by breaking down carbohydrates, protein and fats)
  • rich in selenium (more selenium than any other fruit or vegetable, but not higher than the selenium content found in a brazil nut)
  • a good source of fibre, particularly the soluble fibre beta-glucan
  • a good source of potassium, with more potassium than one medium raw red tomato
  • contain all 9 essential amino acids, as do soy protein and quinoa

Mushrooms, whose texture resembles meat, are filling and satisfying. Unlike meat, however, they are low in calories, fat-free and cholesterol-free food.

One serving of mushrooms can look like

  • 5 medium white button mushrooms (90g)
  • 4 brown or crimini mushrooms (80g)
  • 1 piece whole portobello mushroom (84g)
  • 4 whole shiitake mushrooms (76g)
  • 6 oyster mushrooms (90g)
  • 1 cup diced maitake mushrooms (70g)
  • 17 large enoki mushrooms (85g)

Nutrient levels can vary from type to type. Most edible varieties generally contain similar important vitamins and minerals such as vitamins C, D2 and B6, magnesium, zinc, potassium, and copper.

A big portion of sauteed mushrooms with onion and dill on a round white plate. Light brown background as a placemat.
Photo by Alesia Kozik

Vitamin D in mushrooms

Mushrooms can be cultivated in the dark and therefore do not get any sun exposure. Some producers will write that the mushroom has been exposed to UV light, equivalent to stating that they’re high in Vitamin D.

Mushrooms that grow wild have a natural amount of Vitamin D2 since they are exposed to the sun throughout the day.

You can increase the amount of Vitamin D in your mushrooms even after you have picked or bought them.

  1. Consider sun drying your mushrooms. You can preserve them for up to a year until they start losing their vitamin D content.
  2. Cut up your mushrooms or place them wholly with their lamellae facing the sun for some time; the longer, the better. Then prepare them as you wish.
  3. If you have a UV lamp, you can expose them to UV-B rays for a couple of seconds.

Other health benefits

  • A moderate consumption of mushrooms is proven to slow down the cognitive decline that comes with ageing.
  • Some mushrooms in stores have been treated with UV light to increase their vitamin D contents. Such mushrooms are one of the best sources of vitamin D, which significantly supports bone health.
  • Researchers, after reviewing results of the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), concluded that regardless of the number of mushrooms consumed, people who did had a reduced risk of experiencing depression.
  • Mushrooms are a good source of fibre, especially soluble fibre beta-glucan. Consuming dietary fibre has many health benefits per se, including lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Several mushrooms, such as porcini and white button mushrooms, are high in the antioxidants glutathione and ergothioneine, which don’t occur in many other plant foods.
  • The antioxidants found in mushrooms have been shown to fight oxidative stress and inflammation, therefore fighting cell damage.
  • Food allergies to mushrooms are infrequent but have been reported.

Engaging historical and geographical facts about mushrooms

  • The cultivation and use of mushrooms started in France in 1650.
  • Unlike plants, mushrooms do not require sunlight, as it does not have the cell organelles to produce chlorophyll. In plants, plastids produce chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is responsible for photosynthesis, using sunlight for energy. It also makes the plants appear green.
  • China is the biggest producer of mushrooms in the world, producing about 8 million tons. Italy comes second.
  • There are approximately 14 thousand species of mushrooms grown worldwide.
  • Some mushrooms have 36,000 sexes with which they mate. In comparison, humans only have 2.
  • Oyster and shiitake mushrooms are considered the most healthy mushrooms across all categories.
  • The largest living organism on Earth by mass, area, and volume is a mushroom specimen called Armillaria ostoyae, located in a U.S. national park. Its fruits are commonly known as the honey mushroom. The parts that grow below the surface span over many hectares and acres. In fact, it is estimated that that specimen weighs about 35 thousand tons. That is the equivalent of 35 thousand cars.
  • There is an entire genus of mushrooms found worldwide that tastes like fried chicken. It’s even referred to as the “chicken of the woods.” It is most commonly found in eastern North America and is bright orange.
Beautiful flower-looking mushrooms grown on a thick wooden stick. Leafy green background.
Photo by Guido Blokker on Unsplash

The Lion’s Mane

The Lion’s Mane is a type of medicinal mushroom. It is now mainly available in supplement form but has been long used in Chinese medicine. Researchers suggest that it provides many health benefits, including reducing inflammation and improving cognitive and heart health.

Other health problems the Lion’s Mane could help with are

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Ulcers

In addition, this type of mushroom is said to strengthen the immune system, stimulate digestion, and protect against cancer.

Precautions and disclaimers

  • Avoid using the lion’s mane mushroom products if you’re pregnant. Not enough research has been done to determine if any dosage is safe during pregnancy.
  • If you’re diabetic, be aware that Lion’s mane mushrooms can lower your blood glucose levels.
  • Some people are allergic to Lion’s Mane. If you notice throat swelling, trouble breathing, or other alarming symptoms, contact help immediately

Due to lacking supporting research, it’s too soon to recommend lion’s mane for any specific health condition. Self-treating a chronic disease with lion’s mane and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Picking mushrooms

Picking mushrooms can be fun while exploring the woods and getting fresh air. However, do not pick mushrooms if you don’t know them well or if you haven’t done it before. Consider asking someone knowledgeable for help.

The biggest concern regarding mushrooms is wild mushrooms and the variety of poisonous substances some contain. Effects of ingesting a toxic wild mushroom may include gastrointestinal irritation with nausea, cramps, vomiting, and diarrhoea.

These can either pass on their own or be severe enough to require hospitalisation. Other toxins in wild mushrooms can affect the involuntary nervous system, kidney, liver or heart. Unfortunately, some toxins have no antidotes and can be fatal within a few hours.

various types of mushrooms on wooden board or table including porcini
Photo by Andrew Ridley on Unsplash

Hallucinogenic Mushrooms

These mushrooms are also known as magic mushrooms. Their main ingredient is psilocybin, which is what’s causing the common side effects like distortion of perception and hallucinations.

While hallucinogenic mushrooms aren’t as dangerous as some legal or illegal substances, they still need a fair amount of research.

Inform yourself thoroughly and then decide for yourself.