We're all about adding more antioxidants to our diets however we can, whether it's the heart-healthy epicatechin in red wine and tea or the all-around good-for-you power of pomegranate. Antioxidants can prevent or delay oxidative damage to your cells, and since many fruits and vegetables are packed with them, a balanced diet can do a world of good for your overall health.
According to new research in the Journal of Affective Disorders, there's a new veggie (well, technically a new *fungus*) you can add to your antioxidant-packed grocery list—mushrooms. A study from the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005–2016 to analyze the diets of 24,000 U.S. adults and found that those who ate more mushrooms were less likely to have depression. Researchers were interested in a particular antioxidant that mushrooms contain, which may protect against cell and tissue damage in the body.
"Mushrooms are the highest dietary source of the amino acid ergothioneine—an anti-inflammatory [compound] which cannot be synthesized by humans," said lead researcher Djibril Ba, Ph.D., M.P.H., in a media release. "Having high levels of this may lower the risk of oxidative stress, which could also reduce the symptoms of depression."
Let's get one thing straight—mushrooms (or any food for that matter) are not a cure-all for any ailment. If you're feeling depressed, it's important to talk to your doctor about treatment options. And if you're currently taking medication for depression, you should not stop taking it unless otherwise specified by your care team. It should also be noted that this study only looked at two or fewer days of a 24-hour diet recall (meaning, the individuals verbally recalled what they ate), which is a very small snippet of a person's diet. So while we won't be calling mushrooms a miracle food anytime soon, it certainly doesn't hurt to add delicious mushrooms into your weekly roundup.
And as it turns out, you don't need to eat loads of mushrooms to see these benefits. The study didn't find additional benefits when participants traded in red or processed meat for a serving of mushrooms (although there are other health benefits associated with eating less of those foods), or when participants ate a higher amount of mushrooms—so just adding some mushrooms to your diet could help you reap the benefits of this fungi.
Additionally, some mushrooms contain other nutrients that could also have an influence on mental health. White button mushrooms, which make up 90% of the mushrooms consumed in the U.S., are high in potassium, which was linked to a reduced risk of depression in a previous study. (These deliciously easy stuffed 'shrooms are just one way to add some more potassium to your next meal.) Plus, potassium is beneficial for your heart health, as it may relieve tension in blood vessel walls.
The mental health benefits of mushrooms aren't the only reason you should add some more fungi to your eating pattern. Not only do they make for the coziest fall dinners, but mushrooms also have numerous other health benefits, from supporting your gut health to helping you get an extra boost of vitamins B and D.
All mushrooms contain some vitamin D, but mushrooms grown in UV light contain a significant amount more, so keep an eye out for the latter when grocery shopping. Since our primary source of vitamin D is sunlight, eating mushrooms more often can be especially beneficial in the fall and winter, when days are shorter and folks may spend less time outside. Mushrooms also contain another mineral antioxidant, selenium, which isn't found in many other fruits and vegetables. According to the National Institutes of Health, selenium is thought to help protect against certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline and thyroid disease.