To begin, a little nutrition humor:
Q: Who would be the best food to hang out with... a strawberry, a banana or a mushroom?
A: A mushroom of course, because he is a "fun-gi."
There are over 10,000 known types of mushrooms. Mushrooms are classified in the vegetable category per dietary recommendations, but they are actually a type of fungus. One cup of mushrooms provides 15 calories and 2.2 grams of protein. The role of mushrooms in diets and health has been documented throughout human history. Early Greek, Egyptian, Roman, Chinese and Mexican civilizations valued mushrooms as a culinary delicacy and as medicine.
Mushrooms are a good source of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. They can also provide close to 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D in three raw ounces (if exposed to ultraviolet light from the sun or sunlamp for a few hours before harvest or 15 minutes after harvest). The body turns vitamin D2 into the active form of vitamin D, which it needs to absorb calcium and keep bones healthy. Vitamin D has also been reported to have anti-cancer activities against many cancer types, including breast cancer.
Antioxidants protect cells from damage that can cause cancer. The body makes some of the antioxidants that it uses, but it relies on foods like fruits, vegetables and grains to obtain the rest of the antioxidants it needs. Beta-glucans, a soluble fiber found in mushrooms, can boost the immune system and may help the body fight cancer, infection or other diseases. Per the research, higher mushroom consumption was associated with a lower risk of total cancer1, especially breast cancer.
One of the most studied mushrooms is the reishi. The reported benefits of this mushroom are many, including preventing aging and enhancing the immune system, treatment of cancer and treatment of the flu. Evidence from many studies has demonstrated that reishi may have anti-cancer benefits as well. While there is no strong evidence to justify the use of reishi mushrooms as the main treatment for cancer, it could be given along with treatment to potentially enhance tumor response and immunity. The difficulty, at this point, is translating Eastern practices into acceptable evidence-based Western therapies. Because most supplements, like mushroom supplements, are not regulated, it is important to use products that have a third-party testing certification to ensure the product contains what the label says. Major third-party testers include US Pharmacopeia, NSF International and ConsumerLab.com.
Per the American Institute of Cancer Research, no single food can protect one against cancer alone. Research shows that a diet filled with a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and other plant foods helps lower one’s risk for many cancers. Mushrooms can be included in a healthy diet with a variety of other plant foods!
- Ba D, Ssentongo P, Beelman R, et al. Higher Mushroom Consumption Is Associated with Lower Risk of Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Adv Nutr. 2021 Oct 1;12(5):1691-1704, https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmab015.