From ancient Greece to ancient China, cultures around the world and throughout the ages have revered the mushroom. Their popularity may come as no surprise when you consider mushrooms’ versatility in the kitchen. Mushrooms boast savory umami compounds, textures that can be meaty or delicate, a range of nutritional benefits, and the ability to be grown sustainably.
People’s love of fungi — from white buttons and portobellos to maitakes and royal trumpets — has forged on since the first mushroom was harvested: Between 2019 and 2020 alone, mushroom sales increased by 20 to 40 percent. It’s no wonder. Beyond impressive culinary versatility, mushrooms offer nutritional benefits including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties plus several B vitamins, potassium, copper, and selenium. Read on to learn more benefits of the mighty mushroom plus additional ways to incorporate mushrooms into your day.
Top Health Benefits of Mushrooms
In addition to their top marks for flavor, mushrooms provide a range of health benefits.
Mushrooms act as prebiotics to stimulate the growth of gut microbiota
Just as mushrooms signify a healthy forest, a growing body of research indicates that mushrooms can contribute to a healthy microbiome, which is made up of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and yup — fungi.
Eating mushrooms can mean feeding your gut with prebiotics, the substances your microbiome needs to grow and flourish. Mushroom carbohydrates, such as chitin, mannans, beta- and alpha-glucans, hemicellulose, galactans, and xylans, stimulate the growth of healthy gut microbiota.
Mushrooms have anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties
Mushrooms contain all sorts of compounds that ward off certain types of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and inflammation we don’t want in our bodies. Research suggests:
- The biometals, carotenoids, and fatty acids in mushrooms naturally counterbalance inflammation.
- The structural cellular compounds of mushrooms such as chitin and other polysaccharides contribute to fungi having natural anti-viral properties.
- Antimicrobial phenolic compounds in mushrooms can inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria.
- Peptides, proteins, organic acids, and terpenes contribute to the antifungal properties of mushrooms against yeasts or other pathogenic fungi such as Candida.
Mushrooms have more protein than most vegetables
Ready to pack in the protein? Reach for the portobellos! Whether you stick to a plant-based diet or simply want to up your plant intake, mushrooms provide more protein than most other foods in the produce section.
White mushrooms and oyster mushrooms offer up around three grams of protein per 100 grams (a little more than a cup). While beans, lentils, and nuts provide more plant-based protein, mushrooms can help bump up the protein content of vegetarian and vegan dishes, including veggie burgers and curries.
Mushrooms are a great source of vitamin D
As the only non-animal food source that naturally contains vitamin D, mushrooms can help plant-based eaters meet their daily vitamin-D requirement.
Research shows a 100-gram serving of mushrooms can contain 50 to 100 percent of an adult’s recommended intake of vitamin D. (Wild mushrooms can contain more vitamin D than cultivated varieties, but growers can compensate for this by exposing cultivated mushrooms to UV light.)
How to Eat (and Drink) More Mushrooms
Sure, you can increase your mushroom intake by stocking up on mushrooms at the grocery store or the farmers’ market. But you can also find mushrooms in a variety of innovative products, from jerky to coffee.
Life can be stressful — but mushrooms can help. Adaptogens help the body adapt to physical, biological, and chemical stressors. As adaptogenic plants, certain mushrooms can boost your body’s immune, nervous, and endocrine systems as well as ease fatigue. You can incorporate dried and ground adaptogenic mushroom powders into smoothies, warm milk, and more.
Mushroom-based protein powders combine different varieties of fungi. Often vegan-friendly, these plant-based powder mixes may be formulated for a variety of benefits, including immune system support, stress relief, and fatigue reduction.
Move over, grilled portobellos. Naturally full of meaty textures and savory umami flavor notes, mushrooms have become an easy stand-in for meat. Whether blended into burgers or sliced into soups and stews, mushrooms can be cooked in the same ways as meat while adding some potassium, fiber, and vitamin D to the mix. New plant-based products range from fungi-based “mushroom steaks” to mushroom protein meat substitutes that can replace certain animal products such as chicken or bacon.
Your new favorite chocolate bars can come with a bit of fungi — but that doesn’t mean your sweet treat will taste like sautéed shrooms. Some mushroom-chocolate bars lean more heavily on mushroom flavor while others include mushrooms for the health benefits and/or texture.
Jerky and other savory snacks
Long a mainstay for side dishes, salad toppings, and more, mushrooms have found their way into snack time. Whether incorporated into sweet or savory granola bars, dried into jerky, or fried or baked potato chip-style, mushroom snacks can help you feel fuller longer when compared to traditional packaged snack foods.
Tea, coffee, and cocoa
Mushrooms add depth and mouthfeel to a variety of hot beverages such as coffee, tea, and even hot cocoa. Coffees made with mushrooms can find their flavors wandering into the hazy borderlands between coffee and tea. Whether full-on wellness-associated mushroom drink mixes, coffee or tea mushroom blends, or cocoa mixes combined with dried mushrooms such as reishi or lion’s mane, mushroom-based beverages can help you focus any time of day.
Add more mushrooms to your day, every day
The culinary and health benefits of mushrooms have long been recognized by cultures around the world. As researchers continue to explore the positive effects of feasting on fungi, we may see even more innovative mushroom products to try.