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What are the Health Benefits of Mushrooms?

Karyn Maier
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Mushrooms have been a culinary staple for about as long as humans have been cooking with fire, perhaps even longer. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that prehistoric people regularly collected wild ones. To the ancient Romans, this fungus was considered a food fit for the gods, while the Chinese believed they empowered people with Herculean strength. Whether or not these cultures were aware of the nutritional value of mushrooms is unclear. Today, however, their many health benefits are well documented.

Like most plants, mushrooms are loaded with polysaccharides, phytonutrients that appear to possess potent anti-cancer properties. Specifically, several studies indicate that eating them may help to prevent breast cancer. This is attributed to the inhibition of aromatase, an enzyme involved in hyperestrogenemia, a condition characterized by excessive estrogen production. Mushrooms are also high in other antioxidants, such as L-ergothioneine. In fact, they contain higher levels of this agent than other dietary sources, including liver and wheat germ, and are not depleted during cooking.

According to the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, research suggests that niacin-rich foods, like mushrooms, appear to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders by as much as 70%. In addition, niacin interrupts the activity of homocysteine, an amino acid associated with elevated cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and osteoarthritis.

Mushrooms are also dense in several nutrients and minerals. They are an excellent source of iron, selenium, potassium, phosphorus, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, copper, and zinc. In addition to providing antioxidant value, these nutrients also play a role in enhancing immunity and preventing disease. For instance, zinc is necessary for a variety of enzymatic processes that affect metabolic functioning, including cell division and repair. Studies have shown that an adequate zinc supply is required for wound healing and to stabilize blood glucose levels, an amount that equates to 5 ounces (141.75 grams) of mushrooms daily.

Most of the research completed on the health benefits of mushrooms has focused on the shiitake, maitake, reishi, and crimini varieties. More recent research, however, indicates that common white button mushrooms provide just as much potential to fight cancer and reduce blood pressure and cholesterol as fancier varieties. This includes Portobellos (an oversized Crimini), the popular vegetarian meat alternative.

While the benefits of mushrooms are easily understood, it should also be noted that they might pose potential health hazards for certain people. For one thing, only those with an expertise in botanical identification should attempt to collect the fungus from the wild since some varieties are toxic. In addition, mushrooms contain purines, an organic compound and precursor to uric acid that can be harmful in excessive amounts. Therefore, individuals with a history of developing gout, kidney stones, or other disorder related to impaired uric acid conversion, should avoid or limit purine-containing foods.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Karyn Maier
By Karyn Maier
Contributing articles to The Health Board is just one of Karyn Maier's many professional pursuits. Based in New York's Catskill Mountain region, Karyn is also a magazine writer, columnist, and author of four books. She specializes in topics related to green living and botanical medicine, drawing from her extensive knowledge to create informative and engaging content for readers.
Discussion Comments
By anon929399 — On Jan 31, 2014

A portobello mushroom lightly breaded and sauteed on a hamburger bun with goat cheese and sun dried tomatoes and some leafy greens is unbelievably delicious and a great substitute for a hamburger. Very filling, too!

By John57 — On Dec 03, 2012

I am not surprised to read that prehistoric people gathered and ate mushrooms. We have mushrooms growing in our timber and I always start looking for them around the first part of May. The weather can have a big impact on how many I find, but I try to get to them before our horses eat them.

Because I grew up going mushroom hunting with my family, I know exactly which ones I am looking for. Some mushrooms may not be toxic, but don't really taste all that great.

I like to bring home a big sack of mushrooms and fry them in butter. My family can sit down and polish off a big plate of these in a hurry. There is nothing better than fresh mushrooms like this. It is just an added bonus that they are so healthy for us.

By sunshined — On Dec 02, 2012

I don't like eating mushrooms. It is more the texture of them than anything else, because I don't think they really have any taste at all. It doesn't matter how they have been prepared, I just don't like them. When I am looking for foods that give me a lot of benefits, mushrooms are not on my list.

My husband, on the other hand, loves them. If I make pizza at home, I put a lot of mushrooms on his side of the pizza. This is easy to do when you are making something like pizza, but much harder to do if you are adding them to a casserole or salad.

By golf07 — On Dec 02, 2012

Wow -- it sounds like everybody could benefit from eating more mushrooms. I was especially interested in the positive results they have seen with mushrooms and Alzheimer's disease.

This terrible disease runs in my family, and I am trying to take precautions early and do as many things as I know to possibly prevent it. I have been looking at alternative ways of doing this, and it looks like I have found another one.

Most vegetables lose a lot of their nutrients after being cooked. I like the fact that this doesn't happen with mushrooms.

By SarahSon — On Dec 01, 2012

I had no idea mushrooms had so many health benefits. I was also very pleasantly surprised to read that you could substitute meat with mushrooms. I am not a vegetarian, but am trying to cut a lot of the meat out of my diet. I have been looking for things that give me the same 'full feeling' that meat gives me. Since I enjoy the taste of mushrooms, this is something I am going to start enjoying a lot more often.

By indemnifyme — On Dec 01, 2012

@sunnySkys - That's probably a good idea. All things in moderation, I always say. And as the article said, make sure you buy your mushrooms from the store unless you know what you're doing. I just read an article a little while ago about a woman who poisoned her whole family with wild mushrooms she had collected.

By sunnySkys — On Nov 30, 2012

I had no idea that there were so many mushroom benefits. I like mushrooms okay, but I don't really eat them too often. I think I'm going to start trying to add mushrooms to a few meals a week.

Of course, I'm not going to go overboard. As the article said, it's not a good idea to eat mushrooms in excess. However, I guess that's true of most foods. It's healthiest to vary your diet some, and not eat the same stuff over and over again.

By dautsun — On Nov 29, 2012

@LoriCharlie - That's funny about your friends. I actually have a few friends that aren't vegetarian, but hate mushrooms just the same. They say the slimy texture grosses them out, and they also don't like the fact that mushrooms are fungus. I personally think they're delicious and I don't care where they came form. It's not any grosser than eating meat.

By LoriCharlie — On Nov 28, 2012

@sputnik - Mushrooms are a great substitute for meat. I'm not a vegetarian, but I like to make some of my meals meatless. When I do that, I usually put mushrooms in. They're almost as satisfying to me as meat.

And, funnily enough, I have a few friends who are vegetarian that actually hate mushrooms. To them, mushrooms are too "meaty" and it really grosses them out. They aren't vegetarians that miss meat, so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. But anyway, that was just more confirmation to me that mushroom really are kind of "meat-like."

By sputnik — On Mar 28, 2010

Mushrooms are a good substitute for ground beef. They have less calories and are therefore good weight loss food.

By milagros — On Nov 23, 2009

Mushrooms such as portobello contain sizable amount of vitamin D, an important vitamin. Lack of vitamin D increases the risk of many diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Karyn Maier
Karyn Maier
Contributing articles to The Health Board is just one of Karyn Maier's many professional pursuits. Based in New York's...
Learn more
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