Mushrooms are enjoying the type of notoriety mycologists (fungus experts) always dreamed of. Sure, truffles have long been coveted, even while the button kind have been considered a culinary snooze, but go to the grocery store or the farmers market and you’ll find many exotic varieties, such as the tulip-shaped chanterelle, the orange-hued lobster, and the delicate enoki. And it couldn’t have happened to a better spore, since mushrooms possess a stellar nutritional profile.
Mushrooms are the only vegetarian source of vitamin D, which is essential for both bone health and immunity. More of the vitamin is especially helpful in the winter months when we’re getting less of it from the sun. “They’re also packed with beta-glucan, a kind of fiber that may help increase good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol,” says Marni Sumbal, a sports nutritionist and triathlete in Greenville, South Carolina.
Experiment with different types, both for taste and for their unique health benefits. Research from Penn State suggests porcini mushrooms have the highest content of ergothioneine and glutathione, two antioxidants that are thought to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. (Even the much-maligned button mushrooms contain helpful amounts of these compounds.)
Aim to include mushrooms in meals a few times a week. If you’re looking to go easy on red meat (also advisable for your heart), combine chopped mushrooms with ground beef in a 50-50 blend to make umami burgers, or mix them with red sauce for an earthy ragù. Consider it a rare instance in which health nuts and gourmands agree.