4 Fungi Facts To Fuel A Healthy Diet

by Katy Keogh, MS, RDN, LD

Last Updated: July 24, 2020

Mushrooms seem to always be in the dark (food pun intended!) but there’s more to mushrooms than meets the eye. Mushrooms offer a punch of umami flavor - which is a flavor independent to the four traditional tastes of sweet, sour, salty and bitter. With the COVID-19 pandemic giving many of us some unexpected extra time at home, try cooking with new ingredients to discover something new you may love.

Fungi Facts you probably didn’t know:
  1. Mushrooms that are exposed to ultraviolet light (UV) contain 100% of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin D, more than any other plant. Mushrooms are the only plant that has skin like ours, where, when exposed to sunlight or UV light, Vitamin D is formed. Not all mushrooms are exposed to UV light though. Typically, packaging will indicate if they have 100% Vitamin D. Mushrooms not grown under UV light contain a little Vitamin D.
  2. Mushrooms contain a slew of nutrients that can be found in vegetables and meat, grains and beans. A serving (one large portabella or 4-5 medium mushrooms) contains significant amounts of B vitamins, selenium and another antioxidant, copper, potassium, fiber beta glucans and Vitamin D.
  3. Although often served in place of protein, mushrooms aren’t actually high in protein per serving. Mushrooms on average contain 2-3 grams of protein per serving, whereas meat contains about 21 grams per 3 ounces and beans contain about 6 grams of protein per half cup. However, they’re still a nutritious swap for meat and the protein deficit can be made up by either having a larger portion of mushrooms, or pairing them with another high protein food.
  4. Don’t forget to wash your mushrooms. There is always a higher risk of food-born illness if you don’t wash produce. Remember, they’re grown in dirt.

Cooking with Mushrooms

“The Blend”
In culinary worlds, “The Blend” is now a famous culinary technique thanks to the Mushroom Council, defined as “a cooking technique that combines chopped mushrooms with ground meat to make meals more delicious, nutritious and sustainable.” It’s become so popular that there’s even a new coined term and dedicated website: Blenditarian! This concept is supported by famous chefs, recipe developers, dietitians and foodies alike and can be used in all of your favorite recipes: burgers, tacos, meatloaf, lasagna, pasta sauce, meatballs and more. Using “The Blend” technique in meals improves the flavor and reduces the amount of salt needed in the meal, due to the mushroom’s natural umami flavor. This technique also supports more sustainable meals since less meat can be used. Try some of our Flexitarian and Blenditarian inspired tips:
  • Chop mushrooms to the size of ground meat either with a knife or in a food processor.
  • Try sautéeing or baking chopped mushrooms before combining with raw meat in order to reduce the water content and enhance the flavor.
  • Once mushrooms are combined with raw meat, cook meat as you would normally for your recipe of choice: burgers, taco meat, spaghetti, meatloaf, meatballs, etc. Many such recipes are found online.

Go Meatless
You can forget “The Blend” and go all in! Substitute mushrooms 100% in place of meat. The portobello “steak” is probably the most famous use of mushrooms in place of meat. The texture, size, and umami taste properties make it a comparable substitution for a steak or burger. Flavor portobellos or chopped mushrooms with olive oil, garlic, herbs/spices and even cheese. Since mushrooms are spongy, they will soak up flavors, and due to the umami, they will also enhance other flavors in the dish. Season well for optimal enjoyment.

Gourmet Fungi
Mushrooms are most often used as a complement to a main dish, but they don’t just have to tag-along. Here are some easy ways to prepare mushrooms as the main feature of your mail.
  • Stuffed mushrooms – Both medium and large mushrooms are perfect for stuffing with lots of goodies. Try experimenting with versatile flavors you can use in stuffed mushrooms. Look in the nooks and crannies of your kitchen, add a little of this, a little of that and voila – you have a stuffed mushroom! Try portobellos, crimini or brown mushrooms as your vehicle. Below is a cheat sheet for the base ingredients in a filling so that you can swap and combine as you like. Choose at least one ingredient from each column, combine in a bowl, stuff into cleaned, destemmed mushrooms and bake or broil until done:
    Fungi Facts Chart Fungi Facts Chart Don’t feel confident free-styling your own recipe? Then check for a stuffed mushroom recipe online.
  • Exotic mushrooms - Crimini, shiitake, enoki, are examples of exotic mushrooms that can really amp up the flavor and visual appeal of a meal. Try sautéing a gourmet blend of mushrooms with olive oil or margarine and herbs, and serve as-is or over a bed of greens. If you want to take it to the next level, stir in some cream or plain Greek yogurt to the mushroom mixture after cooking and serve over arugula.

As we finally enter the summer months, now is the perfect time to explore working with mushrooms on your grill. Try cooking a portobello “steak” and add in some grilled veggies to make a healthy, plant based meal. Have fun exploring all of the ways to utilize mushrooms as a quick, low cost way to bring more nutrition to your plate.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

Katy Keogh, MS, RDN, LD

Katy Keogh, MS, RDN, LD

A mom of 2 little kiddos and over 15 years’ experience in nutrition, Katy enjoys helping her patients squeeze good nutrition and activity into an already “full” life and find their own balance with nutrition and health while still enjoying food to the fullest. She is an expert in weight management, mindful eating, digestive health, anti-inflammatory nutrition, culinary nutrition, cooking/baking, and any other topic related to food! Outside of work, you’ll find her traveling, walking, jogging, beer tasting, and eating gelato.