Mushrooms: A True “Superfood”
The term “Superfood” is tossed around a lot these days in advertising, newspapers and
magazines. But just what is a “Superfood”? There is no universally agreed upon definition.
Certainly there is no official or scientific definition of the term. Some so-called superfoods are
promoted as having almost magical health-promoting properties. These claims may be used to
justify higher pricing of these food items. Some dieticians take issue with this hype and claim
that it may be misleading to consumers. “The term ‘superfood’ is at best meaningless and at worst
harmful,” states Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St. George’s hospital in London. Other
dieticians take a more moderate position on the use of the term. Various regulating agencies
have begun to weigh in on the issue. In fact, in the European Union, legislation bans the use of
the term superfood unless it is accompanied by a specific authorized health claim that explains to
consumers just why the product is so good for their health1.
So, just what sort of nutrition and health promoting properties would qualify a food to be called
a “Superfood”? Recently, several dieticians were asked how they would define a superfood2.
Although there was no complete agreement among the dieticians, it has been suggested
that in order for a food to belong in the “Superfood” category, it should have the following
1. Be minimally processed without nutrient enriching
2. Have nutritional benefits not seen in other foods commonly eaten in its class
3. Have at least 20% of the recommended Daily Value (DV) of two or more essential nutrients in
a normal serving
4. Have a high nutrient density compared to its calorie content
5. Provide a concentrated, complex, high-quality supply of essential nutrients without increasing
the consumption of sodium, saturated fat or other compounds linked to poor health
6. Provide other bioactive compounds such as antioxidants
7. Have research linking the food to a potential reduced risk of long-term diseases
8. Be easily available and affordable
Based on these criteria, mushrooms would undisputedly qualify as a true superfood.
● Although mushrooms should be cooked in order to make them easier to digest and to increase
the bioavailability of health-promoting factors, they require no other processing. They are a
natural food product with no added synthetic nutrients.
●Being neither a fruit nor a vegetable, mushrooms essentially belong to a class of their own.
They provide both macro and micronutrients in amounts not usually found in vegetables and, in
many respects; mushrooms have more similarities to meat than to vegetables. Additionally, they
contribute the savory “Umami” flavor dimension (the “fifth taste sensation) to dishes.
● Depending on the species of mushroom and its method of cultivation, a single serving of
mushrooms may provide more than 20% of the recommended Daily Value of Vitamin D, Vitamin
B2, niacin, copper and selenium. They can also be good sources of potassium, dietary fiber and
● Mushrooms are very low in calories and contain significant amounts of dietary fiber making
them an ideal diet food.
● Although mushrooms may not score as high in ORAC values (a test tube estimation of
antioxidant potential) as some berries and tropical fruits, mushrooms contain significant amounts
of powerful antioxidants such as L-ergothioneine and selenomethione.
● Mushrooms provide a dense and complex array of nutrients without adding fat, cholesterol or
sodium to the diet.
● Regarding research linking specific foods to the reduced risk of long-term diseases, mushrooms
are without equal. There are literally thousands of scientific research studies that have built upon
over 3,000 years of Traditional Medicine experience with the healing properties of mushrooms.
Mushrooms have been shown to possess powerful anti-tumor, anti-cancer, anti-mutagenic,
anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. They are known to be strong modulators of the human
immune system and have been used not only to strengthen our immune system’s action against
attacks of infectious agents, but also have been proven to be useful in treating autoimmune
disorders such as allergies, asthma, arthritis and some types of diabetes.
● Common button mushrooms are available in every produce department and, in
recent years, previously “rare and exotic” species such as Maitake, King Trumpet and
Beech mushrooms are becoming available nation-wide at affordable prices.
Thus, while many foods have been hyped as being superfoods based upon poorly defined and
substantiated claims, by all measures, mushrooms are a true “Superfood”. SF
1. “Superfood ‘ban’ comes into effect.” BBC News. June 29, 2007
2. Glenn Cardwell. “Australia: What is a superfood?”, Mushrooms and Health Global Initiative
Bulletin, August 2009, Issue #7, page 4.