The Health Benefits of Mushrooms

The health benefits of mushrooms are not what we usually contemplate when making healthy choices. You’re not alone. Few people picture domed mushroom caps when asked to think of deliciously healthy food. And frankly, that’s an injustice.

The Health Benefits of Mushrooms

Fungi Fright

Maybe people get turned off from fungi because they’re frightened of the poisonous kind. Perhaps they had “this one horrible night in college,” or perhaps that spongy texture isn’t their thing. Whatever the reason is, they should get over it because mushrooms are seriously good for you.


Before delving into why you should incorporate more mushrooms into your meals, let’s be clear on the kind we’re talking about: Agaricus bisporus. When this mushroom is immature and white, you probably call it a white or button mushroom. When it’s immature and brown, they are called crimini, baby Portobello, or baby Bella, and when they’re fully mature, you know them best as Portobello.

Great Source of B-Vitamins

Besides being delicious, these mushrooms (primarily crimini and Portobello) are a great source of B-Vitamins, like riboflavin, niacin, folate, and thiamine. These vitamins are kind of like nature’s anti-aging treatment, as they keep your eyes, skin, and hair healthy. They’re also essential for a healthy metabolism and nervous system.

Great Source of Antioxidants

Mushrooms (specifical crimini) are also a great source of antioxidants, including ergothioneine, zinc, manganese, and selenium. Of them, the most studied is ergothioneine, an amino acid-like molecule that’s shown to help prevent oxidative damage to DNA and proteins. It’s important to note that oxidative damage is generally one of the causes of diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s, and antioxidants help counteract it by neutralizing free radicals. Since mushrooms are chockfull of antioxidants, they are often used in cancer studies.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid

Most of these studies have been on two types of cancers: breast and prostate. A unique fatty acid called CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) found in mushrooms has played a significant role in cancer studies. This acid binds to enzymes in the cancer cells and inhibits their ability to produce estrogen. And, since some breast tumors rely on estrogen to grow, CLA’s ability to block the enzymes is pretty essential, helping to prevent or control this type of tumor. In prostate cancer, CLA plays a similar role by blocking a different enzyme (known as 5-alpha reductase).

A Healthy Choice

So, while maybe they’re not your favorite food, mushrooms do play an important role in our diets. They provide us with necessary vitamins and minerals, help protect us from diseases, and, most importantly, taste great while doing it.

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© Featured photo by Olha Afanasieva from Getty Images