They’re the star of a creamy wild mushroom risotto or the veggie burger of your dreams, but are mushrooms good for you? Yes, mushrooms are indeed very healthy—turns out mushroom nutrition is off the charts. “Mushrooms are rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals and are low in calories, sodium, and fat. Overall, they can provide a variety of different nutrients that can help support good health when combined with a balanced diet,” says May Zhu, MBA, RD, LDN.
There’s also a long history of mushrooms being used for a range of medicinal purposes. “Mushrooms are not only nutrient-dense but contain medicinal properties that have been used for their healing properties for thousands of years. Mushrooms contain a variety of antioxidant phytonutrients, including polyphenols and carotenoids,” says Tamar Samuels, M.S., R.D., co-founder of Culina Health. To find out more about mushroom benefits, how to incorporate mushrooms into your daily diet, and which varieties to look out for, read on.
We’re used to our superfoods coming in a certain shade: green. But don’t be fooled by the muted tones of the humble mushroom. When we asked nutritionists “are mushrooms good for you?” it became clear these capped veggies are nutritional wonders. “Mushrooms contain several B vitamins that support energy metabolism and proper hormone production in the body,” says Zhu. There are also minimal calories in mushrooms, with a cup containing 30 calories on average, as well as low carbs in mushrooms.
In some cases, mushrooms have even been found to reduce the risk of cancer and chronic diseases. “Several animal and cell studies have found that mushrooms may have a variety of health benefits, including antioxidants and anti-cancer benefits. They have been found to support the immune system in suppressing the progression of tumor cells. Some observational studies in humans have found that people with higher mushroom intake have a reduced risk of cognitive impairment,” says Samuels.
The way mushrooms are grown also has a bearing on their nutritional properties. “Mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light for longer—both naturally from the sun and UV lamps—have a higher vitamin D content,” says Samuels. Simply look for the label that says “enriched with vitamin D” or consider buying wild mushrooms at your local farmer’s market. Here are some other nutritional benefits of mushrooms:
1. Supports heart health
Unfortunately, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. If you’re seeking a natural source of heart-healthy fiber, pop some mushrooms into your cart. Mushrooms contain fiber to not only facilitate smooth digestion but potentially also support heart health by lowering blood pressure.
2. Anti-inflammatory properties
“Mushrooms are rich in antioxidants like selenium that promote anti-inflammatory effects in the body,” says Zhu. These anti-inflammatory properties are linked to improving immune function, and therefore strengthening the body’s response to foreign bodies.
3. Effective in weight loss
If weight loss is your goal, you might like to factor mushrooms into a balanced diet. Mushrooms will keep you feeling fuller for longer and are low energy density foods, which mean there are few calories given the volume of the food. Diets featuring a variety of low energy density foods can help to maintain healthy body weight.
Nutrition by Mushroom Type
There’s a variety of fungi on offer, with more than 10,000 recorded species in existence. Perhaps you love enoki mushrooms in a stir-fry, or can’t get enough of premium porcini mushrooms in a truffle dumpling. But how do they compare when it comes to nutrition?
What different varieties of mushrooms have in common is their richness in B vitamins, selenium, and choline, with all providing similar quantities of nutrients. “All mushrooms contain similar nutrition properties, but from a functional perspective (and while not proven 100%), certain mushrooms contain specific nutrients to support different areas of health,” says Zhu. Here’s some basic mushroom nutrition according to type:
1. Oyster mushrooms: anti-inflammatory powerhouses
Oyster mushrooms are elegant on their own. Pop them on toast for a hearty, simple breakfast, or slow cook them with garlic as a show-stopping confit. But how are they good for you? “Oyster mushrooms contain slightly higher amounts of beta-glucans, which have anti-inflammatory properties that help with oxidative stress,” says Zhu.
A 1 cup serving of oyster mushrooms contains 0.4 grams of fat, 5.6 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 2.8 grams of protein, and 37 calories.
2. Shiitake mushrooms: the immune boosters
Shiitake mushrooms add an earthy, meaty flavor to homemade broths and pack a nutritional punch. “Shiitake mushrooms contain a compound called lentinan, which helps specifically with immune support,” says Zhu. So be sure to stock up on these East Asian favorites around flu season.
A 1 cup serving of shiitake mushrooms contains 0.5 grams of fat, 6.8 grams of carbohydrates, 2.5 grams of fiber, 2.2 grams of protein, and 34 calories.
3. White mushrooms: low in fat, high in protein
White mushrooms, or button mushrooms, are a true kitchen classic. Perfect in a hearty winter pie or when ground down into a filling vegetarian mince. This variety of mushroom contains an amino acid called EGT, which helps to support heart health and maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
A 1 cup serving of white mushrooms contains 0.3 grams of fat, 3.3 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 3.1 grams of protein, and 22 calories. Out of these four common varieties, white mushrooms are your best bet if you need to increase your protein intake. They also contain the least calories and fat.
4. Portobello mushrooms: rich in vitamin B
Here’s a little fun fact, the iconic portobello—truly every veggie burger’s best friend—is the adult version of another popular fungi. “Portobellos are the fully mature version of the white cremini mushroom and provide high amounts of B-vitamins to support a strong metabolism and our energy levels,” says Zhu.
A 1 cup serving of portobello mushrooms contains 0.4 grams of fat, 3.9 grams of carbohydrates, 1.3 grams of fiber, 2.1 grams of protein, and 22 calories.
How to Prepare and Eat Mushrooms
Sometimes, retaining those precious mushroom vitamins comes down to the way they’re cooked.
While you might be tempted to use your microwave for a quick meal, try to keep your mushrooms out of it. “I do not recommend boiling or microwaving mushrooms, as these cooking methods may cause losses in essential water-soluble nutrients, like B vitamins. To preserve nutrient content, I recommend sautéing quickly on high heat or adding mushrooms to soups or stews for low heat cooking,” says Samuels. As mushrooms release a lot of their moisture, you won’t need to go heavy on the olive oil.
Another benefit of eating mushrooms, aside from the nutritional benefits, is the versatility. “Mushrooms work in a variety of dishes. Add them into stir-fries, omelets, or even as a pizza topping. You can also stuff and bake mushrooms (particularly portobello caps!). I love portobello mushrooms grilled—they’ve got a great texture and will take on any flavor you marinade it with,” says Zhu. If cooked mushrooms aren’t for you, Zhu also recommends slicing them up and eating them raw in a salad.
Originally Appeared on Glamour