Mushrooms, our health’s defender!

By ΕLENA TROULLIDOU, Clinical Dietitian-Nutritionist (BSc (Hons), MSc (Hons)),

Mushrooms, our health’s defender!

Mushrooms are a very nutritional part of your diet, since they contain B vitamins, amino acids and just 32 kcals per 100g. Of those calories, about 2/3 are due to carbs contained in the mushrooms whereas the remaining 1/3 is due to the protein content of the mushrooms.

So are mushrooms considered a meat alternative?

The most important source of protein in a human’s diet is certainly derived from animals such as meat, poultry, eggs, cheese and fish which provide the body with high biological value amino acids. On the other hand, mushrooms consist of necessary amino acids as well, which makes them a significant protein source for vegetarians/vegans or for people who are fasting.

How is that possible?

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. If we consider proteins to be a house, amino acids would be the bricks needed to build it.

Twenty (20) different amino acids are needed to compose the proteins in the human body. Some of them can be produced by the human body itself and are, thus, considered non essential. However, there are also nine (9) amino acids that the human body cannot produce on its own and these are called essential or indispensable. These are leucine, isoleucine, methionine, lysine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, histidine and valine.

When a protein source contains an adequate proportion of all nine essential amino acids then it is considered a complete protein, whereas if not all nine essential amino acids are contained adequately then the protein is considered incomplete.

Some vegetable sources of protein contain sufficient values of all essential amino acids but many are lower in one or more essential amino acids. But when a mixture of vegetable-based protein is consumed then the dish becomes a complete protein source of high biological value! So mushrooms for example are rich in lysine and if you combine them with pasta or rice you get a dish with very high protein value!


Nutrients and minerals

  • Mushrooms contain a great number of nutrients and minerals like potassium which is necessary to maintain a fluid and electrolyte balance in the human body. Potassium is also necessary for maintaining a healthy heart and good blood pressure control.
  • Mushrooms are also high in copper as just 100 grams of mushrooms are enough to cover half of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of copper. Copper is necessary for the proper functioning of the cardiovascular system. It is also incorporated in metabolising amino acids and regulates nerve transmission.
  • Mushrooms are an excellent source of Phosphorus, which is important in building and maintaining healthy bones and teeth.
  • Mushrooms also high in antioxidants such as selenium!
  • Finally, mushrooms contain only negligible amounts of sodium, making them a great choice for people with high blood pressure.

Vitamins for a healthy nervous system

Mushrooms are a rich source of vitamins belonging to the B complex. These vitamins are necessary to maintain a good and healthy nervous system and their deficiency has been linked to weakness, fatigue, emotional disturbances and mental confusion.

  • They contain niacin (vitamin B3) which is important for high energy activities in the body.
  • They are also rich in riboflavin (vitamin B2) assists in iron absorption and helps in producing red blood cells.
  • Equally important is thiamine (vitamin B1), which assists in the operation of the cardiovascular and nervous systems.
  • Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) is crucial in metabolising carbohydrates and is important in the biosynthesis of cholesterol.
  • Mushrooms are the only vegetarian/vegan food that is rich in vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 plays a key role in the formation of red blood cells and inadequate intake can lead to Megaloblastic Anemia.
  • Folic acid (vitamin B9) which is required for cell division and multiplication, protein and nucleic acid synthesis (DNA-RNA) and the production of red blood cells.

In addition to the above mentioned vitamins and minerals, mushrooms are high in vitamin D, which helps the human body absorb calcium and maintain healthy bones, strengthens the immune system and is helpful in maintaining a healthy heart and muscular system.

Concluding, mushrooms are an excellent nutritional choice as they offer a great number of precious nutrients and minerals. They are highly recommended for weight control and weight loss as they are very low in calories and are suitable for people with high blood pressure and those following a vegetarian or vegan diet.