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The Nutritional Superiority of Mushrooms

Updated on February 24, 2011

The mushroom is not a vegetable; it’s not even a plant. Its evolutionary origin is between plant and animal; it’s actually a fruit body of a fungus. Mushrooms are closer to animal foods than plant foods; on a cellular level fungi and animals have more in common than they have with plants. Because of the similarities with animal foods, mushrooms are often used as a meat substitute for vegetarians.

Mushrooms provide a range of nutrients. What makes them unique is that they contain significant amounts of B group vitamins and essential minerals, which is unusual for a non-animal fresh food. Some mushrooms lose up to 20% of their nutrients when cooked; shiitakes and Portobello mushrooms only lose a small amount when cooked.

Antioxidant Content

  • Rates as the top 5 highest antioxidant food source in comparison to other vegetables
  • Contains more selenium than any other fruit and vegetable produce, with the exception of garlic, but this is commonly used as an herb. Selenium is a mineral that works as an antioxidant to prevent heart disease, some cancers and diseases associated with ageing. It also plays a vital role in immune system function and male fertility.
  • Best food source of erogothioneine – a naturally occurring antioxidant. 


  • Antioxidants are not destroyed or deactivated by cooking, unlike most other foods.

Vitamin B

Contains significant amounts of:

  • Riboflavin (Vitmain B2) - maintains healthy red blood cells
  • Niacin (Vitamin B3) - promotes healthy skin and efficient functioning of the digestive and nervous system
  • Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5) - promotes hormonal production and important for nervous system functioning
  • Biotin - helps with food metabolism
  • Enoki mushrooms are a good source of folate (important for cell division and DNA synthesis, especially important during the early stages of pregnancy).

Minor source of Vitamin B6 (helps with amino acid metabolism and production and circulation of antibodies).

Vitamin D

Mushrooms are the only non-animal fresh food source of Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps build and maintain healthy bones by helping the body absorb calcium. Mushrooms, like humans, produce Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Growers can increase its Vitamin D levels by exposing them to ultraviolet light (UV) and as little as 5 minutes of UV exposure can produce a significant amount of Vitamin D.


According to the 2010 American Dietary Guidelines, 600 International Units (IU) of Vitamin D is recommended for children and most adults per day. Maitake mushrooms are the richest source of Vitamin D, providing 1.6 times the daily recommended intake. Portabellos exposed to UV light and dried shiitakes (exposed to UV light during the drying process) have significantly more Vitamin D than their non UV exposed counterparts. Wild European mushrooms, such as the chanterelle and morel, are also a good source of Vitamin D, representing around 30% of daily Vitamin D intake. Refer to the Vitamin D Values of Mushroom Varieties table above for more information. Values are based on a serving size of 84 grams.

Minerals & Other Nutritional Benefits

  • Good source of copper (assists in production of red blood cells) and potassium (assists in blood pressure control).
  • Minor sources of iron (important for red cell functioning), zinc (promotes cell reproduction, tissue growth and repair), magnesium (assists with energy and protein production, nerve and muscle cell maintenance) 
  • Virtually no sodium, cholesterol or fat
  • Contains more protein than most vegetables
  • Is a filling and hearty low energy dense food, which potentially reduces the overconsumption of food.

Comparison of Nutritional Content amongst Different Mushroom Varieties

 Vitamin B Group Comparisons

  • Riboflavin (Vitamin B2): good sources - enoki and shiitake (cooked); excellent sources - white mushroom, crimini, oyster and Portobello
  • Niacin (Vitamin B3): good sources - white mushroom, crimini; excellent sources - enoki, oyster and Portobello
  • Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5): good sources - white mushroom, crimini, enoki, oyster, portobello; excellent sources -  shiitake
  • Thiamin (Vitamin B1): good sources – enoki
  • Folate: good sources - enoki

Mineral Comparisons

  • Copper: good sources - white mushroom, oyster; excellent sources - crimini, shiitake, Portobello
  • Selenium: good sources - white mushroom, portobello; excellent sources - crimini, shiitake
  • Potassium: good sources - crimini, enoki, oyster, Portobello
  • Phosphorus: good sources - crimini, enoki, oyster, Portobello

Dietary Fibre Comparisons

Enoki mushrooms are a good source of fibre, the remaining mushroom varieties are a minor source of fibre.

Medicinal Mushrooms

For thousands of years eastern cultures have been using mushrooms for medicinal purposes. The nutritional and bioactive compounds in mushrooms are of great interest to the medical, scientific and research communities. Mushrooms are currently the subject of several scientific studies to determine their role in reducing the risk of breast and prostate cancer and curing cancers. Research suggests that its bioactive compounds have anti-tumour activity and the ability to suppress tumour metastasis. Medicine mushrooms include maitake, shiitake, reishi and cordyceps. There’s even a journal dedicated to cutting edge research on medicinal mushrooms called the International Journal for Medicinal Mushrooms and an International Medicinal Mushroom Conference held every two years (next conference is in September 2011).

For further information, see the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre website, the Cancer UK Report on Medicinal Mushrooms and the Mushroom Council.


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