Mushrooms possess high amounts of proteins, are low fat, a high proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), and nutritionally significant content of vitamins (B1, B2, B12, C, D, and E) while supplying a good amount of potassium and phosphorus.
Mushrooms possess potent antioxidant properties that promise to aid in our fight against inflammation and chronic health conditions such as high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes. Phenolics, flavonoids, glycosides, polysaccharides, tocopherols, ergothioneine, carotenoids, and ascorbic acid are among the most common antioxidant compounds found in both wild and cultivated mushrooms.
These antioxidant compounds protect against oxidation at several levels and through various mechanisms, including scavenging free radicals, deactivating toxic heavy metals and regeneration of primary antioxidants.
Mushrooms are also rich sources of antioxidant vitamins. The ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) content of certain species of wild edible mushrooms was found to be higher than in some fruits and vegetables, commonly recommended for their vitamin C content such as strawberries and citrus fruits.
Vitamin E (including tocopherols and tocotrienols) is found in mushrooms, as well as several potent carotenoids including β-carotene, lutein, and canthaxanthin, which support eye health.
The epidemic of vitamin D deficiency has caused several practitioners to amp up their recommendations to consume vitamin D rich foods, but rarely do mushrooms make the list.
Although mushrooms may not have the highest source of vitamin D, they will certainly contribute to an individual’s overall intake. The three most commonly consumed mushrooms –the button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus), oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus species), and shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) – have high concentrations of ergosterol (vitamin D2) which help to strengthen cell membranes, modulate membrane fluidity, and assist in intracellular transport.
Prebiotics - Gut Health
Mushrooms may not come to mind as a gut-friendly food, but they are ranked among the best foods for promoting a healthy microbiome.
Mushrooms are a rich source of various prebiotic fibers including chitin, hemicellulose, β and α-glucans, mannans, xylans, and galactans. The prebiotics help to lower the amount of pathogens in the gut and also stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria.
One particular prebiotic fiber found in mushrooms, β glucans, also build immunity to help lower inflammation and optimize the gut environment. For instance, reishi, an edible medicinal mushroom, is known for its ability to promote immunity.
As a rich source of antioxidants, vitamin D, prebiotics, and several crucial vitamins and minerals, mushrooms should be a significant element of a health-promoting diet.