Even if you eat them raw in a salad, mushrooms are on fire right now. In 2019, sales of mushrooms and mushroom products increased by 33% compared to the previous year, according to the industry magazine Nutritional Insights declared in 2021.

Nutrition experts are enthusiastic about mushrooms. “Mushrooms are low in calories. They also provide a slew of macro and micronutrients, especially B vitamins, selenium, zinc, and copper,” says Katherine Brooking, RD, registered dietitian in New York City and co-creator of the weekly Appetite for Health news series. . B vitamins are important in making energy in cells, she explains. And selenium is a powerful antioxidant, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements, while zinc and copper are essential for a strong immune system.

It’s clear that whole mushrooms that you eat raw or cook for use in recipes are beneficial to your health, and it’s those, rather than processed mushrooms, that we’re focusing on in this story. . Other forms — supplements, nutraceuticals, and mouth sprays, for example — may offer other benefits, but more research is needed.

The most popular mushroom produced in the United States is the white button mushroom, says Kim Bedwell of the Mushroom Council. “Other varieties, such as cremini — also known as baby bella — and portobellos are becoming increasingly popular,” she says. You’re also more likely to find specialty mushrooms (such as shiitakes, oysters and maitakes) at traditional grocery stores, she says. You have plenty of choices, depending on your taste preferences – and that means plenty of ways to enjoy the following seven health benefits of mushrooms.

1. Mushrooms Support Immunity and Bone Health

When exposed to UV rays, mushrooms generate vitamin D, according to an October 2018 review publication Nutrients. (Half a cup of UV-exposed raw white mushrooms contains 46 percent of your daily value of D, notes the NIH.) And that’s an incredible nutritional benefit for a vegetable (er, mushrooms). “There really aren’t many food sources — especially plant sources — of vitamin D,” says Brooking. “The vitamin plays an incredibly crucial role in immune and bone health.” As the Nutrients a review of research points out, the recommended amount of vitamin D supports muscle function, reduces the risk of falls, and may have anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, and heart-protective properties.

Your own body makes D from sun exposure, but several factors can affect your risk of this vitamin deficiency. You may be deficient if you don’t get enough sunlight, don’t eat enough in your diet, or have certain medical conditions that affect absorption, such as Crohn’s disease, osteoporosis, or kidney disease or chronic hepatic, according to MedlinePlus.

When shopping for vitamin D-rich mushrooms, look on the front or bottom of the package for this information, Bedwell says. Another way to tell if your mushrooms are high in vitamin D is if they cover at least 20% of the Daily Value, or DV, per serving. You can find this information on the nutrition facts label. Also make sure to pay attention to the expiry date and eat the mushrooms before that date, as this will ensure that you are still getting a good amount of vitamin D, the Nutrients study notes.

2. Mushrooms May Support Gut Health

Your gut contains trillions of bacteria, and eating mushrooms can help populate your digestive tract with the right balance of bacteria to keep your digestive tract healthy and boost your immune system, notes a September 2017 review. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. “The research on fungi and gut health is early but really compelling. Mushrooms contain prebiotics, which are the nutrients that probiotics feed on,” says Brooking. Therefore, mushroom prebiotics can help the growth of this beneficial bacteria. Probiotics are live microorganisms, or bacteria, that can provide health benefits to the body by aiding digestion and producing nutrients, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

3. Mushrooms are good for your blood pressure

A whole portobello mushroom—those popular large mushrooms—provides 306 milligrams (mg) of the important mineral potassium, according to the USDA. Potassium helps control blood pressure by counteracting the effects of sodium and improving blood vessel function, according to the American Heart Association. How? More potassium in your diet promotes the excretion of sodium in your urine. The heart health benefits don’t stop there. Mushrooms may also help improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels and reduce inflammation, according to a May 2021 review American Journal of Medicine.

4. Mushrooms have been linked to cancer prevention

Consider adding mushrooms to your cancer prevention diet. People who regularly ate more mushrooms had a 34% lower risk of cancer than those who ate the least, particularly for breast cancer, in a meta-analysis of 17 studies. Advances in nutrition published September 2021. Mushrooms are rich in antioxidants, particularly ergothioneine and glutathione, which can protect cells from damage.

That said, not all research has found positive associations. In a prospective cohort study involving more than 100,000 men and women, researchers concluded that participants who ate five servings of mushrooms per week did not have a lower risk of 16 different cancers than those who rarely ate mushrooms, for example. Cancer prevention research in August 2019.

5. Mushrooms may promote longevity when replaced with red meat

Mushrooms add an umami, or savory and meaty, flavor to foods. “They’re the perfect addition to add in place of or in addition to meat in many recipes,” says Brooking. As part of a large prospective cohort study published in April 2021 in Nutrition reviewResearchers found that study participants who ate one serving of mushrooms daily compared to those who ate one serving of processed or red meat had a 35% lower risk of death from any cause.

The possible reason is that in addition to containing these antioxidants, ergothioneine and glutathione, mushrooms are also low in calories, sodium and fat, and high in fiber, the study authors report. At the same time, people who ate mushrooms tended to have healthier diets, so it’s unclear whether mushroom consumption alone was responsible for the participants’ longer lifespans.

6. Mushrooms May Boost Brain Health

We all want to stay alert as we age, but 12-18% of people aged 60 or over suffer from mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition that is sometimes a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease and affects memory, thinking and judgment, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. A healthy diet is important for an aging brain, and mushrooms can be one of them. In a study of 663 adults aged 60 and over in Singapore, those who reported consuming more than two servings of mushrooms per week were 57% less likely to develop MCI than those who ate less than once per week. week, according to a March 2019 study. studying in the Alzheimer’s Disease Journal. (The study used golden, oyster, shiitake, white button, dried and canned mushrooms.)

A possible reason for their protective cognitive properties? Ergothioneine, which is not only an antioxidant, but also has anti-inflammatory properties, both of which can protect against neuronal damage.

7. Some psychoactive mushrooms are a possible treatment for mental health issues

There’s a lot of talk about the use of psilocybin, a hallucinogenic compound found in “magic mushrooms,” as a psychedelic treatment for conditions like depression and PTSD. And, when done under careful supervision, these therapies show promise: in a small study (59 people) published in the New England Journal of Medicine in April 2021, a six-week course of psilocybin was found to be just as effective as escitalopram, a standard antidepressant, in relieving depression. (As well as being a small trial, there was also no placebo, which limits the strength of the results.)

Currently, major research facilities, such as the Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics at Massachusetts General Hospital, are studying psilocybin as a therapy for treatment-resistant depression because psychedelics may be helpful in facilitating new neural connections. That said, this type of treatment is in the future. Although psilocybin may be used in certain specific research settings, it is currently a Schedule 1 substance (meaning it is currently illegal for personal use in the United States) and does not is not approved for medical use, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.