Mushrooms come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors, offering different flavors and health benefits. Even though they are technically fungi, many people around the world love to enjoy mushrooms in their meals. In 2019, mushroom sales, both for mushrooms and mushroom products, grew 33%. The U.S. Department of Agriculture even noted that the average American eats about three pounds of mushrooms per year. With growing evidence of their potential benefits, this number may increase.
Nutrition experts love that more people are excited about fungi! They are low in calories and offer a wide variety of macro and micronutrients, especially B vitamins, zinc, copper, and selenium. B vitamins are integral for creating energy within cells, while selenium is a trace mineral that exhibits antioxidant properties. Both zinc and copper help to keep the immune system healthy. Mushrooms, depending on the variety, are also great food sources of vitamin D, especially if they are exposed to more sunshine.
Although the most popular mushroom is the white button mushroom, there are so many others that exhibit unique flavor profiles. Cremini, portobello, maitake, shiitake, oyster, and chanterelle mushrooms are available at mainstream grocery stores. Needless to say, you have a ton of options to satisfy your fungi needs! That means that you can enjoy the following health benefits if you incorporate more of them into your diet.
They Protect Your Brain
Cognitive decline is a part of aging that nobody looks forward to, but what if you could counteract the effects with food? Well, it turns out that you can if you add more mushrooms to your diet. A long-term study from Spain found that foods rich in polyphenols may protect against cognitive decline in older adults. Mushrooms contain antioxidants like glutathione and ergothioneine, both of which may help prevent Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers recommend eating at least five button mushrooms per day to reduce your risk of neurological diseases.
They Are Good For Blood Pressure
According to nutritional information, one portobello mushroom offers 306 milligrams (mg) of potassium. This important mineral works to counteract the effects of sodium, helping to control your blood pressure. The American Heart Association (AHA) states that potassium also works to improve blood vessel function. By increasing your intake of potassium, you even help to expel sodium via urine. A 2021 study found that mushrooms may also reduce inflammation and lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
They Provide Vitamin D
This may not seem like much of a health benefit to some, but it may surprise you to learn that about 42% of Americans are vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D aids your body with the absorption of calcium, helping you increase bone strength. Most people rely on supplements and sunshine to get their recommended daily intake of vitamin D. Mushrooms may be the answer, as they are excellent sources of vitamin D. Just like humans, mushrooms increase their vitamin D amounts when exposed to UV light or sunlight. Eating a little more than one cup of maitake mushrooms is a great way to increase your vitamin D intake.
They May Promote Gut Health
The human gut contains trillions of bacteria and the more beneficial bacteria you have in the gut, the healthier you tend to be. An overabundance of harmful bacteria can increase your risk of certain health conditions. Eating more mushrooms may help you populate the gut with healthy bacteria, which keeps the GI tract strong and healthy. Dietitians agree that research on mushrooms for gut health is very compelling. Because mushrooms contain prebiotics, they work to feed the probiotics that exist in the gut. By growing these beneficial microorganisms, mushrooms may improve digestion and even support immune function.
They May Reduce Cancer Risk
More and more studies continue to find that mushrooms are excellent additions to a cancer-prevention diet. A meta-analysis of 17 studies found that people who had a higher intake of mushrooms experienced a 34% lower risk of any cancer than those who ate less. Many researchers attribute these anti-cancer properties to the high antioxidant activity in mushrooms. Glutathione and ergothioneine both help to protect cells from free radical damage. Research from 2020 showed that eating 18 grams of mushrooms (about 1/8 cup) per day may lower your cancer risk by 45%. This is because ergothioneine prevents or slows cellular damage.