Mushrooms are weird as hell. Some grow in caves, some can kill you and others can make you enter a time warp that bends reality and helps you make friends with talking bear-men (s’up, Grar-R’owth, be seeing you later).
Overall, edible mushrooms are super freaking healthy, but being the nitpicky types we are, I asked nutritionist David Friedman, author of Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction, to help me rank some of the most common types — from superfood to… well, you’ll just have to keep on reading.
First, though, Friedman has a few tips for storing mushrooms. “Don’t store them in the container or plastic bag that they’re sold in, as this will create moisture, a breeding ground for mold,” he says. “Instead, place the whole, unwashed mushrooms in a brown paper bag and fold the top of the bag over, then stick the bag into the produce compartment of your refrigerator. This will absorb all the excess moisture from the mushrooms so they don’t get soggy or moldy.”
Armed with that advice, let’s rank some shroomies…
1) Shiitake: “In Asia, the health benefits of shiitake mushrooms are legendary, and they’ve been used medicinally for centuries, particularly as a natural remedy for colds and the flu,” Friedman explains. “They’re good sources of folate [which helps make DNA], vitamin B2 [which helps the body turn food into energy], vitamin B6 [which helps create red blood cells and vitamin B3 [which reduces cholesterol], along with pantothenic acid [which also helps make blood cells]. One advantage of shiitake mushrooms over other varieties is that they contain vitamin D2, vitamin D3 (which is normally produced by human and animal skin) and vitamin D4 — vitamin D is crucial to our immune system, bone health and cellular growth.”
“Shiitake mushrooms are also chock-full of amino acids, which help with energy, mental focus and immunity,” Friedman continues. “They also offer an essential fatty acid called linoleic acid, which helps aid in weight control and muscle growth. Additionally, shiitake mushrooms contain a compound called lentinan, which possesses antiviral capabilities, antimicrobial properties and slows the growth of tumors.”
Got high cholesterol? Shiitake are good for that, too. “They have potent cholesterol-lowering effects thanks to two compounds called chitin and eritadenine, which have been shown to inhibit an enzyme involved in producing cholesterol,” Friedman explains. “Additionally, they contain a fiber called beta-glucans, which has also been shown to lower cholesterol.” Friedman adds that shiitake mushrooms have antiviral capabilities, antibacterial functions and antifungal properties. They also help stabilize blood sugar, and may reduce atherosclerosis — that is, plaque buildup in the arteries.
2) Oyster: “These are low in calories and rich in fiber, protein, selenium [which may help prevent cancer], niacin [aka, vitamin B3] and riboflavin [aka, vitamin B2],” Friedman says. “Oyster mushrooms also contain an active compound called benzaldehyde, which has potent antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, research shows oyster mushrooms may significantly reduce blood glucose levels. They have also been shown to help lower cholesterol levels.”
Similarly: “These healthy varieties of fungi have been found to have a relaxing effect on the smooth muscles of the arterial walls, thus effectively lowering blood pressure,” Friedman continues. “But the most impressive health benefit of oyster mushrooms is their ability to fight cancer cells: A study conducted by the Methodist Research Institute’s Cancer Research Laboratory in Indianapolis found that oyster mushrooms are able to inhibit the growth and spread of breast and colon cancer cells. They also have therapeutic effects against colorectal tumor and leukemia cells.”
3) Morels: “Unlike most store-bought mushrooms, which are farmed, morels are wild mushrooms,” Friedman explains. “Mushroom enthusiasts, foraging chefs and commercial harvesters have to travel through the forest to hunt for these distinctive honeycomb-topped little treasures. They’re hand-picked, difficult to find — and therefore, they can be quite expensive.”
They’re also, once again, super healthy. “Morels are a great source of protein, copper [which helps produce red blood cells], potassium [which keeps muscles healthy], magnesium [which supports the immune system, among other things], zinc [which also supports the immune system], selenium and B vitamins,” Friedman says. “According to the USDA, morels rank as one of the highest sources of vitamin D among edible mushrooms — 100 grams of raw morels contains 34 percent of your daily required levels of vitamin D. Morel mushrooms also contain more fiber compared to most other types of mushrooms due to their highly fibrous honeycomb-shaped flesh, and dietary fiber is beneficial for maintaining the health of the digestive system.”
“Morels are rich in polysaccharides as well, which improve liver and pancreas function. Polysaccharides can also reduce serum lipid peroxidation, increasing the activity of an enzyme called superoxide dismutase (SOD), which plays a critical role in reducing oxidative stress implicated in atherosclerosis and other life-threatening diseases,” Friedman continues. “SOD may also aid in reducing internal inflammation and lessening pain associated with conditions such as arthritis.”
These shroomies can prevent cancer, too, among other things. “Morels have been used in traditional medicine for centuries for their potent antioxidative and anti-inflammatory activities,” Friedman says. “Due to their immune-stimulatory and anti-tumor properties, they may help protect against heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Research also shows that morel extract has remarkable liver detoxification properties, which can aid in protecting the body against the toxicity caused by chemotherapy and antibiotic drugs. The antioxidants contained inside morel mushrooms are potent and have been shown to inhibit lipid peroxidation — a process involving tissue damage, which can lead to inflammation inside the body.”
Friedman does, however, warn that you have to be careful when purchasing morels. “Be sure to look for morel mushrooms from trusted distributors,” he suggests. “Due to their rarity and natural difficulties that come with being grown commercially, it’s easy for people to fall for cheap imitations.”
4) Porcini: “Porcini mushrooms are typically reddish-brown in color and possess a thick stem,” Friedman explains. “They’re low in calories and rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals — including iron [which supports red blood cells], vitamin A [which supports eye health], vitamin C, potassium and calcium [which supports bone health]. On top of that, one ounce of porcini mushrooms contains seven grams of protein. They’re also a rich source of antioxidants, including beta-carotene [which contributes to healthy skin and hair] and lycopene [which helps with heart health and cancer prevention].”
“Several studies have shown that porcini mushroom extract is able to destroy human colon cancer cells,” Friedman continues. “Research shows they may help prevent the likelihood of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Porcini mushrooms also have anti-inflammatory effects that may help reduce asthma severity. But the most impressive health benefits of this particular mushroom are its high levels of ergothioneine and glutathione — potent anti-aging compounds that have been shown to improve human health span and reduce aging.” For this reason, Friedman says porcini mushrooms have been deemed “the mushrooms of youth.”
5) White Button: “In the U.S., white button mushrooms represent 90 percent of the total mushrooms consumed,” says Friedman. “They’re a good source of potassium, B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus [which supports bone and teeth health] and iron. They also contain selenium, a trace mineral that’s important for cognitive function and a healthy immune system — it also supports prostate health.”
“White button mushrooms lead the pack when it comes to their free radical scavenging ability,” Friedman continues. “They promote immune function by increasing the production of antiviral proteins that are released by cells while seeking to protect and repair tissue. A study conducted at Tufts University also found that white button mushrooms increase human T-cells, which are the part of our blood cells that recognize and eventually deactivate or destroy harmful antigens [toxic substances].”
Better yet, white button mushrooms are also cancer crushers. “In June 2010, the Department of Plant Pathology at Penn State released a report stating that button mushrooms have been found effective at treating breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer,” Friedman explains. “In another study published by Cancer Research, they found that eating a half-cup of button mushrooms each day may stop the growth of breast cancer tumors. Considering white buttons are sold year-round and are less expensive than most other mushrooms, these are a great staple to keep in your fridge.”
6) Chanterelle: “These mushrooms are great sources of protein, copper, potassium, zinc and selenium,” Friedman explains. “They have the highest known natural concentrations of B-vitamins (including vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B5 and vitamin B6) compared to any other mushroom, which gives them an edge when it comes to increasing energy and keeping the nervous system healthy. Their high B3 content makes a great treatment for healthy skin and clearing acne when applied to the skin topically — I don’t recommend doing that at restaurants. Meanwhile, their vitamin B6 content helps the immune system work better.”
“Chanterelle mushrooms also have antimicrobial, antibacterial and antifungal properties,” Friedman continues. “Plus, they contain a compound called lanthionine, which helps in the treatment of thrombosis (or blood clots). Research shows that they also have significant wound-healing and anti-inflammatory properties — consuming them helps to repair the epidermal layer by increasing collagen production. These mushrooms are also known to possess powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which is ideal for easing arthritis pain.”
7) Portobello: Similar to many other varieties on this list, portobello mushrooms are high in niacin, potassium, copper and selenium. However, they contain a relatively low dose of vitamin D. “What they lack in vitamin D, they make up for in riboflavin, an important nutrient for energy production, since it helps the body break down carbohydrates into sugar for fuel,” Friedman explains.
“Portobellos also contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA),” Friedman continues. “CLA blocks aromatase, a protein necessary for producing estrogen in women. Since about 70 percent of breast cancers are hormone-dependent, the ability to block aromatase can help reduce and even stop breast cancer.” Additionally, Friedman mentions that portobello mushrooms are a good source of L-ergothioneine, which can help ward off chronic inflammatory diseases, like Parkinson’s.
Vegetarians, take heed: “Portobellos have a similar texture to meat and act as a great alternative for plant-based dieters to use in veggie burgers, fajitas and tacos,” Friedman says. “In fact, portobello mushrooms are often referred to as ‘vegan filet mignon,’ since they can be marinated and cooked on the grill, similar to steak. They make a great protein alternative for meat, containing approximately 20 percent protein based on their dried weight and mass.”
8) Enoki: “Enoki mushrooms are a common delicacy found in Japanese cuisine and are often added to soups,” Friedman says. “They contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals — including vitamin B3, vitamin B5, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, phosphorus, iron, selenium, thiamin, calcium and copper. These mushrooms also contain healthy amino acids, which have been credited for their wide medicinal use in Asia as a remedy for high blood pressure, stomach distress, high cholesterol and liver disease.”
“Enoki mushrooms also contain linoleic acid, which may help break down fats in the body, according to research published in 2015,” Friedman continues. “The array of healthy amino acids from enoki mushrooms may also help to improve mental development and improve memory function for adults and the elderly.”
As if that weren’t good enough, enoki mushrooms also protect our bodies from all kinds of ailments. “Extracts from enoki mushrooms contain ribosome inactivating protein (RIP), which exhibits diverse bioactivities, including anti-tumor, immune-modulatory and anti-human immunodeficiency (aka, anti-HIV) virus actions,” Friedman says. “RIP extracts from this mushroom have also been demonstrated to possess anti-neurodegenerative effects (so they protect nerves and the brain).” So in many ways, it’s the opposite of the more traditional RIP.
“In Asia, an impressive correlation in cancer rate decline has been seen with an increased consumption of enoki mushrooms,” Friedman continues. “The average cancer death rate in the Nagano prefecture was 160 per 100,000 people. Comparatively, this rate dropped to 97 per 100,000 people in families of enoki growers.”
9) Cremini: “Cremini mushrooms are a great source of many vitamins and trace minerals, including vitamin B2, vitamin B3 and vitamin B5, which is needed to fuel the brain, aid in cognitive health and help prevent fatigue,” Friedman explains. “Research from Penn State shows that crimini mushrooms rank right up there with carrots, green beans, red peppers and broccoli as good sources of dietary antioxidants.” Additionally, much like portobellos, cremini mushrooms contain conjugated linoleic acid, which may help protect against prostate cancer and leukemic monocyte lymphoma.
“Cremini mushrooms have also been used as medicinal mushrooms to make tonics to treat fatigue and low immune function,” Friedman explains. “Some research suggests that cremini mushrooms work by increasing the production of cytokines, a part of the immune system that plays a role in defending the body against pathogens and many illnesses. These mushrooms also contain polysaccharides, which help white blood cells be more active and fight infections.”
10) Psychedelic: “Psilocybin mushrooms — aka, magic mushrooms or shrooms — is the name given to fungi that contain psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychedelic compound,” Friedman explains. “They conjure up images of free-spirited hippies tripping at a Grateful Dead concert, but just like cannabis has gained acceptance for helping a myriad of conditions, scientists are now testing psychedelic mushrooms for their health benefits.”
These tests, though, have predominantly focused on their mental health benefits, rather than their nutritional benefits. “Psilocybin mushrooms have been used in therapeutic settings to treat a wide variety of ailments and disorders, including cluster headaches, obsessive-compulsive disorders, anxiety, depression and addiction,” Friedman continues. “But because the federal government classifies psilocybin as a Schedule I drug, research on its therapeutic effects has been limited.”
This may soon change, however. “Last year, Neuropharmacology, a medical journal focused on neuroscience, shared research from Johns Hopkins University on psilocybin and its ability to treat depression and anxiety, as well as help people stop smoking,” Friedman says. “Because of the positive preliminary results, Johns Hopkins has recommended it be reclassified for medical use, as a Schedule IV drug, which is akin to prescription sleeping pills.”
Nutritionally speaking, magic mushrooms are similar to many other mushrooms on this list. They contain an array of B vitamins, vitamin D and vitamin K (which helps with blood clotting). They also boast several minerals, including iron and copper, and contain virtually no calories at all. That said, I definitely wouldn’t recommend eating them in the same amounts you might eat regular, non-psychedelic mushrooms, for reasons I don’t think I need to explain (right, Grar-R’owth?).
Plus, you can still do jail time if you’re caught with them. “In the U.S., possession of psilocybin-containing mushrooms is illegal,” Friedman continues. “So they’re not something to consider adding as a pizza topping… yet.”