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The Food That's Every Healthy Woman's Best Friend

Why there's been an explosion in this product on the market.

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Close up of a woman holding vegetables
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If you’ve seen an explosion in mushroom products on the market — hello, mushroom coffee and mushroom jerky! — you’re witnessing the latest wellness trend. Mushrooms, in fact, are so popular that a recent Mushroom Council survey found that 97 percent of respondents planned to eat the same or more mushrooms in the future. Why are mushrooms having their day? For starters, the plant-based food movement is gaining momentum, and “mushrooms play an essential role in this plant-forward innovation,” says Pam Smith, a registered dietitian nutritionist and president/founder of Shaping America’s Plate.

Plus, because COVID-19 continues to be a global health concern, mushrooms have garnered growing attention for their immune-boosting properties. What’s more, mushrooms are sustainable, an important fact now that climate change is top of mind.

Want to join the mushroom movement? Here are six reasons you should add mushrooms to your diet.

Bolster your immune system

If you want to give your body the tools it needs to build its immune defenses against viruses and other health woes, mushrooms should be part of that playbook. Mushrooms contain a whole list of nutrients (B vitamins, riboflavin, niacin, potassium and selenium) and three essential antioxidants (glutathione, ergothioneine and vitamin D) that increase the level of antiviral and other proteins in your body that support your immune system, says Smith, the author of 17 books, including Eat Well, Live Well and When Your Hormones Go Haywire. The standout in this list? Vitamin D, which not only strengthens your bones, but also regulates the production of proteins your body needs to kill bacterial and viral infections. “Mushrooms are the only food in the produce aisle that contain vitamin D,” Smith says. Mushrooms exposed to UV light are especially rich in vitamin D. Just one portabella mushroom exposed to UV light can provide 120 percent of your recommended daily allowance for vitamin D. When buying mushrooms at the store, check to see if the label says UV light exposed, says Rhyan Geiger, a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Phoenix Vegan Dietitian in Arizona.

Help protect against breast cancer

With the exception of skin cancer, breast cancer remains the most common cancer in women in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Add mushrooms to your diet, and you’ll have a potent ally against this cancer. In one study from the journal Advances in Nutrition, researchers found that higher mushroom consumption was linked with a lower risk of cancer, especially breast cancer. Credit not only mushrooms’ vitamin D, which Smith says is associated with lower risk and better survival from breast cancer, but also their phytochemicals. “They’ve been shown to have antiestrogen properties and can prevent the growth of breast cancer cells and tumors,” she says. Shiitake, maitake and even white button mushrooms are heralded for their anticancer properties.

Aid with sleep

Not sleeping well? That’s always been an issue for women as they transition into menopause, but credit also goes to the pandemic for messing with Americans’ sleep. Could mushrooms help? Yes, as medicinal mushrooms like reishi and lion’s mane have been shown to be a sleep aid. “They have a calming and adaptogenic effect, helping your nervous system adapt to stress, reducing anxiety and boosting mood,” Smith says.

Help balance hormones

Any woman going through perimenopause or menopause knows how wacky those hormones can be. One solution? Eat foods that are rich in plant phytoestrogens and antioxidants — mushrooms included. Mushrooms are rich in B vitamins (riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid), which not only help you maintain healthy digestive and nervous systems but also aid with hormonal balance, Smith says.

Good for your brain

Emerging evidence shows that a plant-based diet is optimal for keeping your brain healthy, even helping prevent Alzheimer’s, something that women are at twice the risk for than men, and mushrooms may be just what the doctor ordered. Mushrooms are actually one of the foods that Dean Sherzai, M.D., and Ayesha Sherzai, M.D., who are codirectors of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University Health in California and authors of The 30-Day Alzheimer’s Solution, recommend eating for a healthy brain.  

Assist weight-loss efforts

If you’re trying to lose or manage weight, consider adding mushrooms to your diet. In one study from the journal Appetite, substituting mushrooms for meat helped participants shed body weight and improve body composition. What’s more, researchers estimated that substituting mushrooms for lean ground beef in just one entrée every week could help people save almost 20,000 calories, which would equal about 5 pounds of body weight in a year, according to the Mushroom Council. “Mushrooms contain fibers and nutrients that increase your feeling of fullness and help tame your appetite,” Smith says.