The health benefits of mushrooms
Rich in antioxidants and vitamin D, and with increasing research showing its brain-boosting properties, mighty mushrooms are more than just a delicious autumnal ingredient. We explore some of the health benefits of this quiet superfood as it comes into abundance this season.
Made up of mainly protein and fibre, mushrooms are a good source of B vitamins as well as selenium – an antioxidant that helps support the immune system and protect cells from free radical damage. Concentrations of this antioxidant depend largely on the type of soil the mushrooms are grown in. However, a recent study has also shown that cooking methods can impact selenium levels. While boiling and frying were shown to negatively impact a mushroom’s nutritional profile, grilling and microwaving mushrooms significantly boost their antioxidant activity.
The only plant-based source of vitamin D, mushrooms, just like human skin, produce this vital vitamin when exposed to sunshine. Vitamin D is essential for maintaining bone density, thus reducing the risk of fracture, arthritis and osteoporosis. It also plays a key role in strengthening the immune system and has been associated with reduced risks of a variety of common diseases, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and depression.
A top tip is that you can actually increase mushrooms’ vitamin D content at home by leaving them in a sunny spot on the windowsill
With the NHS recommending vitamin D supplementation between September and March, mushrooms are a delicious way to protect our stores as the days get shorter. In fact, recent studies have shown that, when compared with taking supplements, regularly eating mushrooms is an equally effective approach to increasing and maintaining vitamin D levels. A top tip is that you can actually increase mushrooms’ vitamin D content at home by leaving them (underside up) to soak up some of the sun’s ray son a windowsill.
While all mushrooms pack a nutritional punch, more research is being undertaken to uncover the medicinal properties of specific varieties. The Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus), for instance, is being investigated for its brain and nervous system-enhancing properties. One 2017 study suggested that it may stimulate nerve growth factor production – that is, a protein that can help to reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases. Similarly, a 2010 study undertaken at Kyoto University has shown that Hericium erinaceus can also help to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety.