Rich in b-group vitamins, antioxidants and even Vitamin D, dietitian Melissa Meier explains why there’s a lot of reasons to love the humble mushroom.
Another day, another superfood – and this time, it’s mushrooms that are enjoying their time in the sun. A quick Google search will tell you that mushrooms are packed with health perks, particularly the medicinal kind, with devotees claiming they can do anything from boost your immunity to prevent inflammation and even increase longevity – but is that actually true? Here’s your dietitian-approved answer.
As a dietitian, I’m rapt that for once a simple, real food is in the spotlight. Goodbye expensive, over-hyped Instagram trends like acai berries, spirulina powder and hemp seeds.
Plain old mushies (yep, the ones you buy in brown paper bags from the supermarket) are brimming with nutrition. They’re packed with energising b-group vitamins like riboflavin and niacin, as well as potassium for heart function.
You’ll get a dose of fibre when you’ve got mushrooms on your plate, too. In fact, they contain a special type of fibre called resistant starch, which has a beneficial prebiotic effect and keeps the lining of your bowel healthy.
Mushrooms are also a rich source of disease-fighting antioxidants, in particular ergothioneine which helps to fight oxidative stress. Current research is investigating whether this compound can fight neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. So, watch this space.
Like what you see? Sign up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter for more stories like this.
And here’s a fun fact for your next game of trivia: if you leave mushrooms in direct sunlight, they develop Vitamin D, which is essential for strong bones.
A cup of ‘shrooms will set you back just 72 kilojoules (17 calories), so they’re a great option to keep meals light. It’ll also provide a small amount of protein to keep hunger pangs at bay, as well as fibre for a happy gut.
Nutrition aside, mushrooms score a lot of points in the kitchen, too. They’re naturally packed with flavour thanks so their glutamate content (AKA the natural version of MSG) – so there’s really no need to add nasties like salt and butter. They’re also super versatile and can be eaten either raw or cooked. #Winning.
Are they a superfood?
Some special varieties of mushrooms, coined ‘medicinal mushrooms’ are of particular interest of late, because they supposedly contain superfood powers thanks to their extra high level of nutrients and antioxidants. Medicinal mushrooms are marketed to offer a range of health benefits, from helping you to manage stress, to boosting your immunity and cognition, and even improving your mood.
You can buy extracts of fancy varieties like Lions Mane, Reishi and Chaga in a powdered form, and the idea is that you add a small amount to your coffee (or tea, or water or whatever else you like to drink). If that doesn’t float your boat (my coffee-loving heart wouldn’t want to do it, either…), some companies also offer the same in supplement form.
Although mushrooms have been used for medicinal purposes in Asian cultures for hundreds of years, many of the claims are yet to be substantiated by sound scientific evidence. As a dietitian, I think you’d be far better off focusing on a healthy eating pattern that heroes fruit and veg of all kinds (plain old mushies included), along with wholegrains and lean proteins – because a few medicinal mushrooms in your coffee each day isn’t going to outweigh a poor diet and lifestyle. The best part? You’ll save some coin by skipping the superfood label, too!