Are You a Fan of Fungi? New Reasons to Be a Micophile

No one seems to be neutral about mushrooms. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em. I’m officially on team mushroom. How about you?

I’m fervently fond of fungi, and now there are a lot of new reasons why you should be a mycophile too.  That was the topic of my most recent post on WebMD’s blog Real Life Nutrition called Mighty Mushrooms.


Image courtesy of HK2046 on flickr

Scientists are unearthing a variety of potential benefits linked to mushrooms – from boosting our immune system and fighting infections to protecting against heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. Many of the medicinal qualities of mushrooms are traced to beta glucans – the same type of fiber that gives oatmeal its cholesterol-lowering abilities. Mushrooms are also packed with some surprising levels of nutrients, including B vitamins and the minerals selenium, potassium, and copper.

Some of the latest news about mushrooms involves vitamin D. Researchers found that bringing mushrooms out of the dark and exposing them to ultraviolet light causes their vitamin D content to soar, making them an unlikely but significant source of this important bone-building, immune-enhancing nutrient.

Mushrooms are also packed with antioxidants – even more than many deeply hued vegetables, including carrots and tomatoes. When it comes to one particular antioxidant, mushrooms are at the top of the heap. Penn State researchers found that mushrooms are the richest source of ergothioneine. Mushrooms contain 12 times the levels found in wheat germ – once thought to be the highest natural source of ergothioneine.

Other studies suggest mushrooms can help with weight management. That’s not surprising since mushrooms are about 90% water and contain few calories and virtually no fat. Dr. Lawrence Cheskin, director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Baltimore, conducted a study that used mushrooms as a meat substitute. Participants in the study saved 350 to 400 calories a day by using sliced, diced, or ground up mushrooms in place of meat in lasagna, chili and other entrees.

The Mushroom Trend


Fried shiitake mushrooms at La Birreria at Eataly by ChrisGoldNY on flickr

Beyond the renewed attention by the medical community, mushrooms are becoming culinary stars– no longer relegated to the supporting cast in a salad or on a slice of pizza.

These fragrant, woodsy fungi are now featured front and center on restaurant menus, from grilled portabella “steaks” and baby bella mushroom wraps to porcini-laden pastas, warm ragouts spiked with morels, and shitake risottos. Supermarkets now stock a burgeoning array of pre-washed, pre-sliced fresh mushrooms and myriad packages of exotic dried mushrooms – perhaps the greatest evidence of America’s new love affair with mushrooms.

If you don’t think you like mushrooms, it’s worth giving them another chance. Try grilling or sautéing mushrooms in a little olive oil and garlic instead of eating them raw – you might not be as turned off by the texture. Or grill a meaty portabella mushroom cap to use in place of a burger. These flavorful ‘shrooms are a good place to start if you haven’t been a mushroom fan in the past.

What are your favorite ways to enjoy mushrooms?

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  • The vitamin D research with mushrooms is so interesting! Have you tried Dole’s mushroom powder to add to sauces? They’re using it as a vitamin D supplement.

  • I adore mushrooms but married a funghi-phobe. Can you imagine? He also hates goat cheese and olives (other polarizing foods). I love making mushroom pizzas, love mushrooms in eggs and keep dried mushrooms in pantry at all times.

  • I am a mushroom fanatic. Ever since I tasted my first sautéed mushroom, I was hooked. They are the perfect replacement for meat, and soak up the flavor of whatever dish they are in. Because of this, and because of how calorically sparse they are, they are a wonderful tool for weight loss. Thanks for sharing all of this information. It will definitely help me when working with my nutritional clients. Here is a wonderful recipe for healthy stuffed mushroom that I found on “Aggie’s Kitchen”. It is delicious and I hope your readers will enjoy.

  • I like mine simply sauteed in butter. I’m glad to hear they provides some good nutrients – I had thought of them being more like iceberg lettuce.

  • Amy

    I love a rich pasta sauce made from a mix of mushrooms. It’s so meaty and earthy! More flavorful than a ground beef sauce.

  • Out here in India, mushroom forms a staple part of every self-respecting vegetarian’s diet! And diced mushrooms cooked in thick gravies have always been a part of the cooking culture. Though meat eaters avoid mushroom curries, it is not uncommon for an Indian family to order a side dish of mushroom when eating out at a restaurant. I would urge your readers to explore some Indian mushroom recipes online. They will be surprised with the taste and diversity of the recipes that they would find! Search especially for ‘Mushroom Corn Masala Recipe’ which is often cooked by me for dinner and eaten with rotis or naan or even with brown or white rice. As a nutritionist and an anti aging consultant from Mumbai, I always advise mushrooms as a part of a vegetarian diet to those who smirk at the limited options available in a strictly vegetarian diet.

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