Are Mushrooms Good for You?
These edible fungi supply a surprising array of nutrients
Whether it’s due to their rich, savory flavor or claims about their potential healing properties, mushrooms are having a moment. Supermarkets are stocking a variety, and fungi are even featured in seasoning blends, snacks, and coffee. Supplements that come in capsule, powder, tincture (liquid extract), or tea forms are increasingly popular, too. Here’s what to know about the health benefits of mushrooms.
Know Your Mushroom Types
The most familiar varieties are white button mushrooms, which have a mild flavor; crimini (aka baby bellas), with a slightly deeper, earthier flavor; and large portobellos, known for their meaty texture.
Specialty mushrooms include maitake (also called hen-of-the-woods), shiitake, enoki, morel, porcini, and oyster. These can be pricier because they take longer to grow and require more maintenance.
Chaga, cordyceps, reishi, and turkey tail are some of the types primarily used in powders and other supplements, although they can be found dried or fresh.
Different types of mushrooms have different amounts of nutrients, but overall, “mushrooms are wonderful sources of the minerals potassium and selenium,” says Joan Salge Blake, RDN, a nutrition professor at Boston University. “Potassium can help lower high blood pressure, while selenium is an antioxidant that protects your cells from free radicals. If free radicals accumulate faster than your body can neutralize them, their damaging effects can contribute to chronic diseases such as heart disease and age-related macular degeneration.”
Mushrooms in Place of Meat
Mushrooms have a deep savory flavor called umami and a meaty texture, making them good substitutes for beef burgers. There are two ways to do this. You can grill a large portobello and put it in a bun with burger fixings, sans meat. Or you can blend chopped mushrooms with ground meat (1 cup per pound of meat). “This lets you increase the number of burgers you can make and lowers the calories and saturated fat per burger,” Blake says.
Blending mushrooms with meat is great for the planet, too, because it helps reduce the amount of animal products consumed. Overall, mushrooms are a very sustainable food. They grow with minimal water and produce a high yield on a small plot of land.
Mushrooms have been part of Eastern medicine for thousands of years. Today, people who want to use them to address health concerns typically turn to supplements.
Preliminary research suggests that some varieties may complement the treatment of certain types of cancers. But claims that mushrooms boost immunity (turkey tail), help with anxiety and mood (reishi), or improve concentration (Lion’s mane) have only lab or animal studies to support them.
If you want to try mushroom supplements, check with your doctor first, particularly if you have a medical condition. Some of them can lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and/or interfere with medications. And as with all supplements, mushroom supplements aren’t tightly regulated, which means you can’t be sure that the product you’re buying contains what the label says it does.