The selection of mushrooms in produce aisles everywhere has been expanding lately, and for good reason. Mushrooms are loaded with nutritional value, while being low in calories—yet many people overlook them because, well, they’re a little weird.
Yes, a mushroom is a fungus. Sure, that doesn’t sound too appealing, but we’re not talking about toe fungus here! If there’s a type of fungus you do want in your life, it’s mushrooms. Consider this: Mushrooms are the only source of vitamin D you’ll find in the produce aisle, and unless you drink fortified milk or eat cod liver oil, it’s pretty hard to get in your diet. They also contain some fiber—about a gram per cup. While that might not sound like much, the type of fiber is beta-glucan, which is beneficial for blood sugar and cholesterol management. Oh, and did I mention a cup of mushrooms is only 20 calories?
Also, mushrooms tantalize your tastebuds with something called ‘umami’ (pronounced o’o-MAH-mee’), which is the fifth element of taste after sweet, salty, bitter and sour. Mushrooms are dynamic because they’re savory, with a hearty flavor that comes to life even more when they’re cooked. They taste almost meaty, but without the fat and cholesterol found in many animal proteins.
Not sure what variety to pick up on your next grocery run? Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular types of mushrooms—and what makes each so great:
White button mushrooms: Also known as ‘crimini mushrooms,’ these are probably the most common type of mushrooms you’ll see at salad bars and supermarkets. These guys contain selenium, a trace mineral that’s important for cognitive function and a healthy immune system—and supports prostate health.
Portobello mushrooms: Portobellos are an excellent source of riboflavin (also known as vitamin B2), a vitamin that is important for energy production because it helps the body break down carbohydrates into sugar for fuel. Portobellos are also a good source of selenium.
Porcini mushrooms: Many of us don’t seem to get enough potassium—but luckily porcini mushrooms are a good source of this mineral, which keeps your brain, heart, and muscles functioning properly. Porcinis also contain ergosterol, a compound needed to make vitamin D3. Finally, these mushrooms possess antioxidant properties that may help the body ward off damage from free radicals.
Reishi mushrooms: This variety is trendy right now for its potential immune system and cardiovascular benefits. These ‘shrooms pack beta-glucan, that type of fiber I mentioned earlier, which also helps activate and support the function of immune cells. Reishi mushrooms also contain ganoderic acid, a substance that is said to support healthy cholesterol levels.
Shiitake mushrooms: Shiitakes are a good source of soluble fiber, which supports healthy cholesterol levels. They also contain those beta-glucans found in reishi mushrooms. Plus, shiitakes contain a compound called lentinan, which helps to strengthen the immune system.
Maitake or ‘Hen of the Woods’ mushrooms: These mushrooms actually resemble the feathers of a fluffed chicken and are a popular ingredient in dietary supplements and powders. Preliminary animal studies suggest these funky-looking mushrooms may promote a healthy insulin response and support healthy blood sugar levels.
You can probably find many of these mushrooms fresh in the produce section of the supermarket, but you can also buy them canned.
Cleaning fresh mushrooms can be a little tricky: They’re all dirty but you’re not supposed to wash them! (Trust me, they get slimy and lose flavor.) Instead, try wiping your mushrooms off with a damp paper towel before prepping and cooking them.
Ready to make these tasty fungi a more regular part of your grub? Try sautéing mushrooms with other veggies and folding them into an omelet or adding them to your next stir fry. You can even mix diced mushrooms into ground meat or poultry when making burgers—their flavor and texture fit right in.
One of my favorite ways to eat mushrooms is simple: I sauté a variety of mushrooms with olive oil and garlic. Fragrant and flavorful!
Your refrigerator guide to fungi:
Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.