Mushrooms 101: Benefits, Side Effects, Nutrition, Types, and More

Medically Reviewed
variety of mushrooms and knife
Don't cut off and discard the stems from your mushrooms — they're edible and just as nutritious as the main part of the fungi.Sean Locke/Stocksy
Sliced mushrooms on your salad. Creamy mushroom soup. Mushrooms sauteed and grilled as a side. There are so many delicious ways to use mushrooms in your meals. And these days, people and companies alike are experimenting with mushrooms, from using mouth sprays that promise greater wellness

to seeking out potential mental health-boosting magic mushrooms, or psilocybin, which some people are microdosing.

Here's the dirt on these trendy fungi, including an explainer on what scientists do and don’t know about them in terms of their health benefits and risks — and how health experts recommend incorporating them into your health and wellness routine.

What Are Mushrooms?

We might include mushrooms in a meal as we would a vegetable, but “mushrooms are fungi, which puts them into an entirely separate food kingdom,” says Kim Bedwell of The Mushroom Council in Redwood City, California. Mushrooms grow in the wild outdoors, though those are not the varieties typically eaten. For consumption, mushrooms are grown indoors year-round. (Fungi fact: They don’t need light to flourish; instead they get their nutrients from the compost they grow in.)

Common Questions & Answers

What are the health benefits of mushrooms?

Mushrooms are low in calories and fat, contain a surprising amount of protein, are a good source of blood pressure-regulating potassium, and are high in selenium, a mineral with antioxidant properties. They may also play a role in cancer prevention, and some varieties are excellent sources of vitamin D.

Which mushrooms are poisonous?

Avoid eating wild mushrooms, as there are many varieties that cause side effects from nausea and vomiting to respiratory or organ failure and death. Stick to mushrooms found at your grocer, which are safe to eat.

What is mushroom coffee?

Mushroom coffee is a drink that’s made with a blend of ground coffee and medicinal mushrooms. Some varieties you might find in a mushroom coffee product include chaga mushroom, reishi, or cordyceps, which are added to potentially support immune health, relieve stress, and support cognition.

Are mushrooms good for the brain?

Research suggests the antioxidants in mushrooms may help preserve neuronal health and potentially lower the risk of mild cognitive impairment, early memory loss that can sometimes progress to Alzheimer’s.

What is psilocybin?

Psilocybin is the psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms that people use for its hallucinogenic effects. There is some preliminary research looking into using psilocybin in the treatment of mental health conditions.

Types of Mushrooms

White button mushrooms are the most popular variety. You may also find the following edible mushrooms at your grocery or specialty store or at the farmer’s market:

  • Crimini (Baby bella)
  • Portabella
  • Shiitake
  • Oyster
  • Enoki
  • Beech
  • Maitake
  • Morel
  • Porcini

Mushroom Nutrition Facts

Below are the nutrition facts for three popular varieties of mushrooms, per 3.5 ounces:

White button

Calories: 31

Protein: 2.9 grams (g)

Fat: 0.4 g

Carbohydrates: 4.1 g

Potassium 373 milligrams (mg)

Selenium: 20 micrograms (?g) (an excellent source)

Crimini (Baby Bella)

Calories: 30

Protein: 3.1 g

Fat: 0.2 g

Carbohydrates: 4.0 g

Potassium 380 mg

Selenium: 15.3 ?g (an excellent source)

Portabella

Calories: 32

Protein: 2.8 g

Fat: 0.3 g

Carbohydrates: 4.7 g

Potassium: 349 mg

Selenium: 14.7 ?g (an excellent source)

Forms of Mushrooms

You may be most familiar with fresh mushrooms that you slice up for a salad or sauté for a stir-fry, but mushrooms come in a variety of other forms, too. At specialty grocers, health food stores, or dietary supplement stores and online retailers, you can also find mushroom-based supplements, nutraceuticals (whole mushroom-based products) drinks like mushroom tea, and mouth sprays. While some of these products have been researched, in general, more data is needed in the form of clinical trials to know exactly how effective they are and how they work, and there’s also a need for mushroom supplement production — from mushroom growing to supplement manufacture and testing — to become standardized to ensure that these products do what they say they do.

If you use these forms, make sure to tell your doctor, just as you would talk about any other vitamins, minerals, or supplements you’re taking.

What Are the Possible Health Benefits of Mushrooms?

There are a lot of good things to say about mushrooms. “Mushrooms are low in calories and saturated fat and they add all these micronutrients, flavanols, and phytochemicals to your meal,” says Katherine Brooking, a New York City-based registered dietitian. Here are some health benefits to keep on your radar:

  • Improved gut health: Mushrooms supply prebiotics, which feed probiotics, the beneficial bacteria in your gut, research shows.

  • Benefits blood pressure: One of the perks of mushrooms is that they offer some potassium, a mineral that helps keep blood pressure levels healthy.

  • May help prevent cancer: There are two powerful antioxidants packed into mushrooms: ergothioneine and glutathione. These have been shown to defend against oxidative damage; some research suggests that eating mushrooms regularly may be associated with a lower risk of cancer.

  • Cuts unhealthy fats in your diet: Mushrooms have a savory, also called umami, taste that can sub in for some of the ground beef in a recipe or can stand in for a steak in a vegetarian meal. At the same time, they’re low in calories and fat. Some research suggests that using them as a meat substitute can decrease your risk of dying from any disease.

    In many causes, mushrooms are also less expensive than meat, especially the white button variety, Brooking says.
  • Good for your brain: Consuming more than two servings of mushrooms per week is linked with a 57 percent lower risk of mild cognitive impairment compared to eating the fungi fewer than once a week, perhaps thanks to their antioxidant ergothioneine, one study suggests.

  • May be a future mental health treatment: Some research facilities are researching psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound in magic mushrooms, as a future therapy for depression.

  • Support bones and immunity (when they’re exposed to UV light): Some mushrooms are exposed to UV light as they grow, which generates vitamin D, a nutrient that helps maintain strong bones and supports immunity.

    A half cup of UV-exposed white mushrooms contains about half of your daily value for D.

What Are the Potential Side Effects of Mushrooms?

The risk of side effects from mushrooms depends on where you’re getting the mushrooms from and what kind you’re eating. “Broadly speaking, mushrooms are extremely safe for the varieties that you find in your grocer,” says Brooking. On the other hand, “it’s recommended that you do not pick wild mushrooms, unless you are an expert in the field. There are thousands of varieties of mushrooms, and some are poisonous,” she explains.

Eating wild mushrooms can result in a variety of possible side effects, and most commonly those are nausea, vomiting, cramping, and diarrhea, which can show up within 20 minutes to four hours of eating. Other signs and symptoms of mushroom poisoning include excessive salivation, sweating, and tearing, confusion, delusions, convulsions, and these largely depend on what type of mushroom is eaten. It’s important to know that mushroom poisoning can be fatal, as it can lead to organ damage and failure.

Another category is “magic” mushrooms, which contain substances such as psilocybin and psilocin that cause hallucinations and delusions.

While these have been used for centuries, the psychedelics can lead to “bad trips” by causing anxiety, especially when taken at higher doses.

Though psilocybin is considered one of the “least toxic drugs known,” it’s not without risk. Using the substance can also lead to panic attacks, paranoia, mood swings, nausea, and tremors.

How to Select and Store Mushrooms

Mushrooms have different flavor profiles depending on the variety, says Bedwell. The type that you choose to ultimately eat will depend on your taste preferences. For instance, a “super-mild” mushroom is the white button mushroom, which you often see on pizza and at the salad bar because they really go well with any other veggie, she says. (This is a great gateway mushroom if you’re just starting to eat them.)

Stronger flavored mushrooms include maitakes and lion’s mane or pom-poms. Maitakes have a rich earthy flavor that can stand up to the task of being an entrée, while lion’s mane has a seafood flavor that pairs well with shellfish and fish, Bedwell explains.

After choosing and buying mushrooms, your goal is to keep those fungi dry in order to prolong their life. Store in the fridge unwashed.

How to Eat Mushrooms

“Once you are ready to use them, you can either brush the dirt off or give them a quick rinse, but try to avoid fully submerging in water,’ says Bedwell.

When preparing mushrooms, don’t cut off and discard the stem, it’s edible, she says. If the bottom of the stem is dry, go ahead and trim that off. Then, chop, slice, or dice as the recipe directs.

Not sure what to whip up? The good news about mushrooms is that they are entirely versatile. They can both hold their own in a salad or disguise themselves as meat.

Bedwell recommends blending mushrooms, which means chopping them up really small and mixing with ground meat in recipes for burgers and meatballs. The umami flavor of mushrooms pumps up the flavor in these recipes even more.

Go back to basics and pop mushrooms in the oven and roast them, suggests Bedwell. Toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, and thinly sliced garlic and roast for 20 minutes at 400 degrees F.

Toss them in wherever you can. That means slicing to put on top of a salad, stirring into a soup while cooking, or chopping to add into a frittata, says Brooking.

Make them the star of the show. Because mushrooms have that meaty quality, they can hold their own. Turn mushroom caps over and fill with tomato sauce, sprinkle with mozzarella and dried oregano, and broil for pizza mushrooms. Slice for a mushroom stroganoff. Or grill portobello caps. Then, dig in.

Mushroom Recipes

Scallion Jalepe?o Popper Stuffed Mushrooms: Create an ideal appetizer (it’s spicy, it’s cheesy) from Ambitious Kitchen that crowds will love.

Mighty Mushroom Blended Burger: Diced mushrooms blend effortlessly with ground beef for a healthier take on a burger that has a really rich flavor in a recipe from The Mushroom Council.

Amazing Mushroom Bowls with Kale Pesto: Pinch of Yum combines smoky-sweet marinated mushrooms with pineapple and bell peppers, and tops it all over rice and dollops kale for a lunch or dinner-worthy meal.

Non-Dairy Cream of Mushroom Soup: Registered dietitian nutritionist Joy Bauer purees mushrooms, cannellini beans, and broth to create a silky-smooth soup that only tastes really rich (but doesn’t contain a lick of cream).

Smoky Shiitake Quesadillas With Avocado Cream: Spiced-up shiitakes and grated cheddar are tucked away in tortillas (substitute whole-wheat flats if you’d like) and topped with a Greek yogurt-based avocado cream from How Sweet Eats.

Summary

Mushrooms are a healthy and flavorful ingredient to add to a variety of dishes, from appetizers to soups and salads, and as a side or the main dish. “They’re nutritious but they add that umami sense of richness that enhances the flavor of any dish. This makes mushrooms really important from a nutrition standpoint but also to make healthy food taste great,” says Brooking.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  1. People Are Microdosing for Mental Health. But Does It Work? The New York Times. February 28, 2022.
  2. How Mushrooms Grow. Mushroom Council.
  3. Mushrooms, White Button. USDA.
  4. Potassium.?National Institutes of Health. March 26, 2021.
  5. Selenium.?National Institutes of Health. March 26, 2021.
  6. Mushroom, crimini. USDA.
  7. Mushroom, portabella. USDA.
  8. Cardwell G, Bornman JF, James AP, et al. A Review of Mushrooms as a Potential Source of Dietary Vitamin D. Nutrients. October 2018.
  9. Vitamin D. National Institutes of Health. August 17, 2021.
  10. How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure. American Heart Association. October 31, 2016.
  11. Ba DM, Ssentongo P, Beelman RB, et al. Higher Mushroom Consumption is Associated with Lower Risk of Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Advances in Nutrition. March 16, 2021.
  12. Ba DM, Gao X, Muscat J, et al. Association of mushroom consumption with all-cause and cause-specific mortality among American adults: prospective cohort study findings from NHANES III. Nutrition Journal. April 22, 2021.
  13. Feng L, Cheah IKM, Ng MMX, et al. The Association between Mushroom Consumption and Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Community-Based Cross-Sectional Study in Singapore. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. March 12, 2019.
  14. Carhart-Harris R, Giribaldi B, Watts R, et al. Trial of Psilocybin versus Escitalopram for Depression. New England Journal of Medicine. April 15, 2021.
  15. Mushroom Poisoning Syndromes. North American Mycological Association.
  16. Bienemann B, Ruschel NS, Negreiros MA, et al. Self-reported negative outcomes of psilocybin users: A quantitative textual analysis. PLOS ONE. February 21, 2020.
  17. What are the long-term health implications of psilocybin? Drug Policy Alliance.
  18. Venutrella G, Ferraro V, Cirlincione F, et al. Medicinal Mushrooms: Bioactive Compounds, Use, and Clinical Trials. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. January 2021.
  19. Jayachandran M, Xiao J, and Xu B. A Critical Review on Health Promoting Benefits of Edible Mushrooms through Gut Microbiota. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. September 2017.
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