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Am I the only one who thought mushrooms were just chewy little domes of nothingness? I mean, I knew that they must have been good for me, given that they’re classed as a vegetable (even though they’re technically fungi), but I wouldn’t have put much money on them containing anything above and beyond some fibre and a small amount of protein.

How wrong I was!

It turns out that mushrooms are packed with vitamins, minerals and powerful phytonutrients, as follows:

Vitamins & Minerals

Just 100g of mushrooms will provide a third of the Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) for riboflavin (B2) and biotin (B7), and one quarter of the RDI for niacin (B3), panthotenic acid (B5), selenium and copper. Mushrooms are also on par with bananas in their potassium content, at 310mg per 100g serve (compared to 342mg potassium in 100g of banana). 

Mushrooms are also the only known plant-based dietary source of vitamin D, as exposing mushrooms to sunlight causes them to produce vitamin D2, in a similar way our bodies make vitamin D from exposure on bare skin (1).  Vitamin D-enhanced mushrooms are already on sale in major supermarkets.

Antioxidants

Despite not being brightly-coloured like blueberries, tomatoes or grapes, mushrooms have an incredibly high antioxidant capacity, and came in at number 5 (out of 34) in one study of commonly-eaten vegetables in Italy (2). Mushrooms are also the best known food source of the antioxidant compound ergothioneine (3), which researchers in the field of study believe may one day be classified as a vitamin, due to its important role in cellular protection (4). 

Are mushrooms a good replacement for meat?

In my opinion, mushrooms aren’t a particularly good replacement for meat, as they’re not particular high in protein (at 3g per 100g raw) and don’t contain appreciable amounts of zinc and iron, whereas meat is a good source of both of these minerals. They’re also very low in energy (103kJ/24 cals per 100g, compared to around 600kJ/143 cals per 100g of raw meat). Substituting meat for mushrooms AND legumes, tofu or tempeh will provide a better nutritional profile, as these foods are all a good source of protein, zinc and iron.

Here are a few ways to include more mushrooms in your diet:

  • Dice some button mushrooms and add them to scrambled tofu

  • Add sliced Swiss brown mushrooms to a pumpkin risotto

  • Add fresh or dried shiitake mushrooms to an Asian-style noodle soup

  • Add shimeji or enoki mushrooms to an Asian-style stir fry

References

1. Jasinghe VJ, Perera CO, Barlow PJ. Bioavailability of vitamin D2 from irradiated mushrooms: an in vivo study. Br J Nutr. 2005 Jun;93(06):951.

2. Pellegrini N, Serafini M, Colombi B, Del Rio D, Salvatore S, Bianchi M, et al. Total antioxidant capacity of plant foods, beverages and oils consumed in Italy assessed by three different in vitro assays. J Nutr. 2003;133(9):2812–9.

3. Dubost NJ, Ou B, Beelman RB. Quantification of polyphenols and ergothioneine in cultivated mushrooms and correlation to total antioxidant capacity. Food Chem. 2007;105(2):727–35.

4. Paul BD, Synder SH. The unusual amino acid L-ergothioneine is a physiologic cytoprotectant. Cell Death Differ. 2010 Jul;17(7):1134-40