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Foraging for mushrooms may not be the best way to reap mushrooms’ nutritional benefits.

Mushrooms are some of the most interesting native foods on our planet. Although often thought of as a vegetable, mushrooms technically are not plants. Rather they are fungi. But these fungi have some amazing health benefits. They’re low in calories and are packed with essential vitamins and minerals.

Not only are mushrooms a healthy addition to your diet, but they’re loaded with rich umami flavor. There are many interesting types of mushrooms, from button and cremini to portobello, oyster and chanterelles. Some are commonly stocked in grocery stores while others are more obscure, found only in specialty markets, high-end restaurants and online retailers.

Some people even make an adventure out of foraging for their own mushrooms in the wild or even in more urban locales. However, it’s important to know what you’re doing if you forage for mushrooms because some varieties of these fungi can be poisonous and may lead to serious illness or even death if consumed.

Although experiencing the ultimate in farm-to-table eating may entice you to want to put on your hiking boots to search for your own mushrooms, health experts recommend that you keep your mushroom consumption focused on those you buy from a reputable retailer. That’s because even if you follow the hottest foragers on social media or read a few guidebooks, it can be difficult to tell the difference between delicious, edible mushrooms and those that are toxic.

Some mushrooms have lookalikes that may appear to be one of the “good guys” but they’re not. And even a small taste of a poisonous mushroom can land you in the hospital or can even kill you. Although not a common occurrence, one hospital in the heart of Philadelphia treated five patients in two days who were sickened by mushrooms. Two of the patients picked the mushrooms in an open field in the city, another in a local park and one in their neighbor’s backyard.

Assuming you’re going the route of eating only commercially sold mushrooms that you know won’t make you sick, here are some of the health benefits you may reap:
  • Lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Mushrooms are a great source of potassium, which can lower the tension in your blood vessels and negate the impact sodium has on your blood pressure. The fiber they contain can also help you keep cholesterol levels in check.
  • Better immune response. The anti-inflammatory effects of mushrooms can make your immune system operate more efficiently. This can help your body better fight off illnesses and foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria.
  • Reduced risk of serious diseases. Although an exact cause-and-effect relationship cannot be proven, mushrooms may help lower your risk of serious diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
  • Overall good nutrition. Mushrooms contain a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, including vitamin D, potassium, magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, thiamin and copper, among others. They’re also low in fat, cholesterol and sodium and high in fiber. Low in calories and with a meaty texture, mushrooms are a healthy substitute for meat in many dishes.

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Date Last Reviewed: July 20, 2023

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Jane Schwartz, RDN, CLT

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