Mushrooms are a significant source of dietary nutrients.

They are low in fat and carbohydrate, and contain many trace elements, most importantly selenium. Mushrooms are also an important source of some B group Vitamins (riboflavin, niacin and B6).

Few foods naturally contain vitamin D, but mushrooms  are unique for being the only food in the produce aisle to  contain the “sunshine vitamin.”

Mushrooms are classified as vegetables in the food world, but they are not technically plants. They belong to the fungi kingdom. Although they are not vegetables, mushrooms provide several important nutrients.

The key to getting enough vitamins and minerals in the diet is to eat a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables. In many cases, a food that lacks color also lacks necessary nutrients, but edible mushrooms, which are commonly white, prove quite the contrary.

This feature is part of a collection of Medical News  articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of mushrooms and an in-depth look at their health benefits,

Vitamins and minerals

Mushrooms are rich in B vitamins such as riboflavin (B2), folate (B9), thiamine (B1), pantothenic acid (B5), and niacin B3). The B vitamins help the body to get energy from food, and they help form red blood cells.

A number of B vitamins also appear to be important for a healthy brain. Pregnant women are advised to take folic acid, or folate, during pregnancy, to boost fetal health.

Mushrooms are also the only vegan, non-fortified dietary source of vitamin D. Dairy products are normally a good food source of vitamin D, but vegans do not consume any animal products, so mushrooms can offer an alternative source of this important vitamin.

Several other minerals that may be difficult to obtain in a vegan diet, such as selenium, potassium, copper, iron, and phosphorus, are available in mushrooms.1

Beta-glucans are a type of fiber that is found in the cell walls of many types of mushrooms. Recently, beta-glucans have been the subject of extensive studies that suggest they might improve insulin resistance and blood cholesterol levels, lowering the risk of obesity and providing an immunity boost.3

Mushrooms also contain choline, an important nutrient that helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory. Choline assists in maintaining the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, supports proper fat absorption and reduces chronic inflammation.7


Health benefits of mushrooms

Mushrooms contain some valuable nutrients.

Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.

Increasing consumption of whole, unprocessed foods, like mushrooms, appears to decrease the risk of obesity and overall mortality, diabetes, and heart disease.

They also promote a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, and overall lower weight.

1) Cancer

Mushrooms are high in antioxidants, just like carrots, tomatoes, green and red peppers, pumpkins, green beans, zucchini, and other whole foods.4 Antioxidants are chemicals that get rid of free radicals, a type of chemical that can harm a person's body cells, potentially leading to cancer.

Selenium is a mineral that is not present in most fruits and vegetables but can be found in mushrooms. It plays a role in liver enzyme function, and helps detoxify some cancer-causing compounds in the body. Additionally, selenium prevents inflammation and also decreases tumor growth rates.2

The vitamin D in mushrooms has also been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells by contributing to the regulation of the cell growth cycle. Placing freshly cut mushrooms in the sun significantly increases their vitamin D content. The folate in mushrooms plays an important role in DNA synthesis and repair, thus preventing the formation of cancer cells from mutations in the DNA.2

2) Diabetes

Studies have shown that people with type 1 diabetes who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels and people with type 2 diabetes may have improved blood sugar, lipids and insulin levels.

One cup of grilled portabella mushrooms and one cup of stir-fried shiitake mushrooms both provide about 3 grams of fiber. Fiber also benefits the digestive system and reduces the risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 21 grams to 25 grams a day of fiber for women and 30 grams to 38 grams a day for men.

3) Heart health

The fiber, potassium and vitamin C content in mushrooms all contribute to cardiovascular health. Potassium and sodium work together in the body to help regulate blood pressure. Consuming mushrooms, which are high in potassium and low in sodium, helps to lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.

Additionally, an intake of 3 grams of beta-glucans per day can lower blood cholesterol levels by 5 percent.3 The stem of the shiitake mushrooms is a particularly good source of beta-glucans.

4) Immunity

Selenium has also been found to improve immune response to infection by stimulating the production of killer T-cells. The beta-glucan fibers found in the cell walls of mushrooms stimulate the immune system to fight cancer cells and prevent tumors from forming.3

5) Weight management and satiety

Dietary fiber plays an important role in weight management by functioning as a "bulking agent" in the digestive system. Mushrooms contain two types of dietary fibers in their cell walls, beta-glucans and chitin. These increase satiety and reduce appetite. By making you feel fuller longer, they can reduce overall calorie intake.3

Crop and Food Research* analysis of the key nutritional attributes of mushrooms confirmed that they are:.

5) Brain and Nervous System
Got brain fade? The biotin, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, copper and potassium in mushrooms help in keeping your nervous system functioning  and assisting with neurological function, mental performance and psychological development.


6) Tiredness and Fatigue

Feeling a little tired? Need a boost? Get some sleep then snack on a few mushrooms. The niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, copper and phosphorous in mushrooms all contribute to producing energy, reducing fatigue and tiredness or aid in releasing the energy from the food you eat.


7) Immune System

Eating a good diet in general will help your immune system, but the copper, selenium and Vitamin D* in mushrooms are important for normal immune system functioning, all found in mushrooms.

8) Growth and Development

Almost everything in mushrooms is important for the normal growth and development of children. The niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, copper, selenium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin D* and  other trace elements found in mushrooms.


The selenium level in mushrooms is derived from the growing medium (primarily wheat straw and chicken manure). Selenium is an important ingredient within chicken diets.The Recommended Daily Intake for selenium is 70-85 ug per day, and a single serve of mushrooms (68g) would deliver 26 ug, so such a serving would provide one third of the RDI. This is very good as most vegetables have less than 1 ug per serve.Selenium is an essential trace element that functions as a component of enzymes involved in antioxidant protection and thryoid hormone metabolism (Thomson 2002).Preliminary findings suggest that selenium may have an anticancer effect in humans (Combs & Gray 1998), and animal studies indicate that selenium deficiency may decrease the resistance of the host to infection with certain viruses (Beck & Levander 1998).


Mushrooms contain around 380 mg of potassium per 100g, so a single serve of mushrooms (68g) would provide approx 7% of the RDI.Potassium is a mineral your body just can’t do without. It helps maintain normal heart rhythm, fluid balance, muscle and nerve function.The US Food & Drug Administration recently stated that diets containing foods that are good sources of potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.While bananas are generally recognized as a good source of potassium, mushrooms actually have a higher level. In fact one portabello mushroom contains more potassium than a banana.


Mushrooms are a significant dietary source of riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin B6.One serve of mushrooms (68g) provides around 25% RDI of vitamin B2 and up to 90% RDI of vitamin B6.Riboflavin helps metabolise carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and is crucial for the production of biological energy. It is also necessary for the maintenance of good vision, skin, hair and nail (Kirschmann 1996). Riboflavin is involved in regenerating glutathione, one of the main cellular protectors against free radical damage (Murray 1996). For vegetarians, mushrooms are a good source of riboflavin.Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) plays a role in the synthesis of antibodies, which are needed to fight many diseases and are produced by the immune system. It helps maintain normal nerve function and is involved in the formation of red blood cells.Vitamin B6 is also required for the chemical reactions needed to digest proteins. The higher the protein intake, the more the need for vitamin B6.


Mushrooms contain niacin, with one serve (68g) providing around 12% RDI.Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is important for the normal function of many bodily processes.Like other B vitamins, it is water-soluble and plays a role in turning food into energy, as well as in the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates. In conjunction with riboflavin and pyridoxine, it helps to keep the skin, intestinal tract and nervous system functioning smoothly.Mushrooms contain between 2 and 3 mg/100g, whilst most vegetables contain less than 1mg/100g, making mushrooms a good source of niacin for vegetarians.


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