11 Interesting Mushroom Benefits

by Meenakshi Nagdeve last updated - Medically reviewed by Vanessa Voltolina (MS, RD)

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The health benefits of mushrooms include weight loss, relief from high cholesterol levels, and diabetes control. They take center stage in fairy-tales such as Alice in Wonderland; they are even featured in video games such as Super Mario Brothers where mushrooms make someone bigger or act as a shield against some dangerous monster.

These aren’t just popular culture references, they are actually symbolic representations of the actual health benefits of mushrooms. They truly protect you against diseases and infections and are full of proteins, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antibiotics, and antioxidants. They are a rich source of fiber, selenium, vitamin C, and vitamin D and also help in increasing the strength of your immune system.

What are Mushrooms?

Mushrooms are edible fungi with various scientific names; their family name is ‘Agaricus’. They are essentially Saprophytes, the organisms (plants without chlorophyll) which thrive by extracting nutrients from dead and decaying plant and animal matter. They vary greatly in their color, texture, shape, and properties.

A white plate filled with white mushrooms on a wooden table

There are approximately 140,000 species of mushroom-forming fungi in the world. However, scientists are only familiar with about 10 percent and only 100 species or so are being studied for their potential health benefits and medicinal applications.

Nutrition Facts

Mushrooms are healthy foods rich in various nutrients. As per the USDA Nutrient Database, mushrooms are a good source of vitamins and minerals including potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, vitamin C, B-vitamins (niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, folate) and vitamin D. 

Nutrition Facts

Mushrooms, white, raw
Serving Size :
NutrientValue
Water [g]92.45
Energy [kcal]22
Protein [g]3.09
Total lipid (fat) [g]0.34
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]3.26
Fiber, total dietary [g]1
Sugars, total [g]1.98
Calcium, Ca [mg]3
Iron, Fe [mg]0.5
Magnesium, Mg [mg]9
Phosphorus, P [mg]86
Potassium, K [mg]318
Sodium, Na [mg]5
Zinc, Zn [mg]0.52
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid [mg]2.1
Thiamin [mg]0.08
Riboflavin [mg]0.4
Niacin [mg]3.61
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0.1
Folate, DFE [µg]17
Vitamin B-12 [µg]0.04
Vitamin A, RAE [µg]0
Vitamin A, IU [IU]0
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) [mg]0.01
Vitamin D (D2 + D3) [µg]0.2
Vitamin D [IU]7
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) [µg]0
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]0.05
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]0
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]0.16
Fatty acids, total trans [g]0
Cholesterol [mg]0
Caffeine [mg]0
Sources include : USDA

Health Benefits of Mushrooms

Health benefits of mushrooms are abundant, so let us discuss them in detail below.

Rich Source of Selenium

Mushrooms are a good source of selenium. Studies suggest that selenium has anticancer, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory potential, with implications in reducing the risk of cancer, heart diseases, thyroid disease, and cognitive decline. However, more clinical trials and research is required to confirm the same.

Lower Cholesterol

Mushrooms have no cholesterol or fat and have very low carbohydrates. The fiber and certain enzymes in them also help to lower cholesterol levels. Moreover, high lean protein content helps burn the body’s cholesterol when they are digested. Balancing levels of cholesterol between LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol is essential in the prevention of various cardiovascular diseases like atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke.

Prevent Diabetes

Mushrooms are ideal low-energy and low carbohydrate foods to incorporate into a diabetic, as mentioned in Functional Foods in Health and Disease. They have no fat, no cholesterol, low levels of carbohydrates, high protein content, and a wealth of vitamins and minerals. They also contain a good deal of water and fiber. Moreover, mushrooms contain natural insulin and enzymes which help the breaking down of sugar or starch in food. They are also known to contain certain compounds which help the proper functioning of the liver, pancreas and other endocrine glands, thereby promoting the formation of insulin and its proper regulation throughout the body.

In one study, performed on rats, researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center indicate that “Maitake mushroom may be useful to treat insulin resistance alone or combined with other natural products such as bitter melon and niacin-bound chromium.”

Improve Bone Health

Mushrooms are a rich source of calcium, which is an essential nutrient in the formation and strengthening of bones. A steady supply of calcium in the diet can reduce your chances of developing conditions like osteoporosis, and can also reduce joint pain and general lack of mobility that is associated with bone degradation.

Nutrient Absorption

Vitamin D is a relatively rare vitamin to find in foods, particularly vegetables. However, as mushrooms are D-containing food, they can help facilitate the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorous. Calcium and phosphorus are also present in good amounts in mushroom, so the combined effects of having all of these nutrients make them a good idea to eat whenever possible.

Boost Immune System

Ergothioneine, a powerful antioxidant present in mushrooms, is very effective in providing protection from free radicals as well as boosting the immune system. It is an amino acid that contains sulfur, which is something that many people are deficient in, despite not knowing it or seeing its effects. That being said, the presence of this “master antioxidant” which is unique to mushrooms, can give a major boost to your immune system health. Ergothioneine helps eliminate free radicals, which are dangerous compounds released during the metabolic processes of cells, and can float throughout the body and cause significant damage and diseases.

Mushrooms also contain natural antibiotics (similar to penicillin), which inhibit microbial growth and other fungal infections. These same polysaccharides, beta-glucans, can stimulate and regulate the body’s immune system, as per a journal Medicina. They can also help heal ulcers and ulcerous wounds and provide protection from infections. The good combination of vitamin A, B-complex, and C that is found in them also strengthens the immune system.

Lower Blood Pressure

Studies of various types of mushrooms, including shiitake and maitake mushrooms, have shown them to be high in potassium content. Potassium acts as a vasodilator, relaxing tension in blood vessels and, therefore, assisting in reducing blood pressure. High blood pressure is connected to a number of deadly conditions, particularly heart attacks and strokes.

Potassium is also thought to increase cognitive function because increased blood and oxygen flow to the brain stimulates neural activity.

Increase Iron Absorption

Mushrooms contain copper, which has a number of beneficial effects on the body. According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine copper deficiency can lead to anemia and neutropenia. This is because copper regulates and stimulates the absorption of iron from food, and properly utilize it by getting it released from primary storage spots in the body like the liver. Mushrooms also have high levels of iron, so the two work in tandem for healthy bones and also prevent anemia.

Rich in Selenium

The selenium content in mushrooms is one of its most beneficial elements that is often overlooked. The primary source of selenium is in animal proteins; however, due to their classification as fungi that feed on animal and plant matter, mushrooms are the best way for vegetarians to obtain the necessary amount of selenium. Selenium is found in large quantities in mushrooms, according to the journal Europe PMC. It can benefit bone health by adding to bone strength and strengthens the teeth, hair, and nails. Furthermore, this essential nutrient is a powerful antioxidant, which rids the body of free radicals and generally strengthens the immune system. The bioavailability of selenium in mushrooms differs from one species to another, but the majority of commonly consumed mushrooms have significant levels of this important mineral.

Weight Loss

A completely lean protein diet is often considered ideal for losing fat and building muscle mass. When lean protein is accompanied by a very low carbohydrate count, no fat or cholesterol, and a good amount of fiber, it’s ideal. This is exactly the combination that mushrooms offer to help in losing weight! Due to their nutrient density, they actually rank higher than most fruits and vegetables. Some experts say that mushrooms are one of the rare foods that people can eat as often as possible, with no side effects.

Side Effects of Mushroom

Most species of mushrooms are not edible as they are highly poisonous and look strikingly similar to their edible counterparts. The other side effects of mushroom include the following:

  • A single poisonous mushroom among others in a dish can threaten a large number of people’s health, resulting in coma, severe poison symptoms, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, cramps, and insanity.
  • Many species can even be fatal if ingested.
  • Always avoid eating discolored mushrooms or those which are different in color than the typically accepted color of their species.

How to Select & Store Mushrooms

  • Select fresh mushrooms that have no discoloration.
  • Always opt for sealed products from reputable companies or those which you have grown yourself under controlled conditions after buying their seeds (spawns) from a trusted source. Do not trust any unknown vendors when you buy mushrooms.
  • Don’t ever try picking them for consumption from the woods unless you have been trained to identify the variety.
  • Many mushrooms, when picked in the wild, contain heavy metals, as well as air and water pollutants, which can be very toxic.
  • Mushrooms have the unique ability to absorb the material that they grow on, either good or bad. This quality is what gives them so much of their beneficial power, but also their dangerous aspects.

Store them in a paper bag or tea towel in a refrigerator or a cool place. Use them within a few days of purchase.

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About the Author

Meenakshi Nagdeve, Co-Founder, Organic Facts is a health and wellness enthusiast and is responsible for managing it. She has completed the Nutrition And Healthy Living Cornell Certificate Program, Cornell University, US. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from IIM Bangalore and B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science from IIT Bombay. Prior to this, she worked for a few years in IT and Financial services. An ardent follower of naturopathy, she believes in healing with foods. In her free time, she loves to travel and taste different types of teas.

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