Nature’s Superfood

The facts at a glance

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A Superhealthy Superfood
Mushrooms deserve to be called a superfood as they are nutrient-dense and provide many compounds that contribute to good health.

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Rich in Good Health
Mushrooms are rich in a range of essential nutrients, and provide bioactive compounds like antioxidants and potential anticancer compounds.

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Available and beneficial
A true superfood is easily available, affordable and be simple to consume in amounts that provide a benefit. That makes a serve of mushrooms a perfect superfood.

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Potential for reduced disease risk
Research links mushrooms to a potential reduced risk of long-term disease, making it a stand-out for the position of nature’s top superfood.

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What is a superfood?

The term “superfood” is frequently used by the media, yet there is no formal definition of the term. If there were such a definition then there is little doubt that the mushroom would vie for the #1 position.
Let’s take a look at what we would expect from a superfood. It is likely that a superfood would have the following characteristics:

  • Minimally processed without nutrient enriching.
  • Have nutritional benefits not seen in other foods commonly eaten in its class.
  • Have at least 20% of the daily needs of two or more essential nutrients in a normal serve.
  • Have a high nutrient density compared to its kilojoule content.
  • Provide essential nutrients without increasing the consumption of salt, saturated fat or other compounds linked to poor health.
  • Provide other bioactive compounds such as antioxidants.
  • Have research linking the food to a potential reduced risk of long-term disease.
  • Be easily available and affordable.
  • Be easy to consume in amounts that provide a benefit.

The last two points are important. There is little value in a food providing nutrition and health benefits if it is expensive and difficult to find. Good food needs to be as close as your supermarket or greengrocer. Too many so-called superfoods need to be eaten in large amounts or consumed at every meal, and not easy to find at the supermarket. Mushrooms are a convenient food consumed by four out of five people and can be eaten at any meal. One serve is 100g, which is three button mushrooms or one medium flat mushroom. Easy.

The mushroom as a superfood

Judging against the characteristics of a superfood, it is indisputable that the mushroom is a strong contender for the #1 spot! The mushroom provides the following benefits:

  • Very different to vegetables because it provides nutrients in amounts not usually found in vegetables.
  • A serve provides more than 20% of the daily needs for seven essential nutrients – riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, copper, chromium and selenium. Make that eight if mushrooms are exposed to light (vitamin D).
  • Mushrooms exposed to sunlight (or the UV light in sunlight) will naturally generate vitamin D. There are some vitamin D mushrooms on the Australian market that provide a day’s supply of vitamin D in just one serve.
  • Low in kilojoules, making them perfect for a healthy weight.
  • Help with appetite control so that you don’t overeat. Eating mushrooms daily is associated with better weight control.
  • Provides good nutrition without adding fat, cholesterol or sodium to the meal.
  • Enhances the flavour of dishes because it has the fifth flavour, umami, which is the savoury flavour naturally present in mushrooms.
  • Has an antioxidant capacity similar to, or better than, common vegetables.
  • Provides bio-active compounds that appear to improve immune function and potentially lower the risk of common diseases like heart disease and cancer.
  • Is as close as your supermarket or greengrocer at a cost of about $1 per serve.

There is no doubt that the mushroom is a food that punches nutritionally well above its weight.

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Mushroom eaters are better eaters

An analysis of the 24-hour dietary recalls of nearly 25,000 adults revealed that they were nutritionally better off when they ate some mushrooms (O’Neill 2013). Those eating mushrooms, about one in 10 on the day of the diet recall, ate more protein, thiamin, niacin, folate, copper and selenium, and their Healthy Eating Index (HEI) was higher, when compared to those who didn’t eat mushrooms that day. Mushrooms are rich in niacin and the minerals copper and selenium.

With a higher HEI the mushroom eaters also enjoyed more vegetables, especially the dark green and orange varieties, more grains and more milk. This suggests that mushroom consumers generally eat better than the non-consumers. It is good news that mushrooms are associated with smarter eating choices.

References

  • O’Neill CE, Nicklas TA, Fulgoni VL. Mushroom intake is associated with better nutrient intake and diet quality: 2001-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Journal of Nutrition & Food Science 2013; 3 (5) http://www.omicsonline.org/mushroom-intake-is-associated-with-better-nutrient-intake-and-diet-quality-2155-9600.1000229.pdf (10.4172/2155-9600.1000229)