We all know that eating a diet rich in fruit and veg is essential for our immune system, powering us with the vitamins and minerals needed to fight infections and feel energised.

But did you know that mushrooms contain some unique micronutrients that aren’t found naturally in any other food?

With the spread of the coronavirus around the world since March 2020, we’ve all been concerned about keeping our immune systems working at their best. Sales of health foods and food supplements have skyrocketed as people try to boost their immune systems and stay healthy! Although our immune systems are complex and are made up of many different things, the food we eat can support our body to function at its best when faced with infections and viruses.

Mushrooms are a source of Vitamin D – important for immunity

The role of vitamin D in supporting our immune systems has been getting a lot of press in recent years. Our body creates vitamin D when our skin is exposed to direct sunlight, so health professionals across Britain and Ireland recommend we take a supplement during the winter months.

Food sources of vitamin D that most people know about include oily fish and egg yolks, but mushrooms are amazing in that they can create Vitamin D in the same way we do – through exposure to sunlight!

Naturally containing provitamin D, mushrooms left in sunlight or placed under a UV lamp can become an excellent source of Vitamin D. Mushrooms are therefore one of the only unfortified, plant-based sources of this essential vitamin.

During the current Covid-19 pandemic, some studies suggested that having a vitamin D deficiency could make the illness worse. The risk of having a deficiency is higher when people are indoors in winter, and even more heightened during lockdown when we spend even more time indoors. Certain people are even more at risk of developing a deficiency of vitamin D, like people with darker skin.

Mushrooms also contain other unique nutrients

Mushrooms also contain what clinical nutritionist Dr Greger, of nutritionfacts.org refers to ‘myconutrients’ – these nutrients may help us make antibodies. On his website, he also describes how some studies have shown that mushrooms are anti-inflammatory – a quality that helps the body fight disease. 

In a study at Penn State University, researchers found that mushrooms have the highest amounts of the antioxidants ergothioneine and glutathione than any other food, both important antioxidants that are even more powerful when working together.

The many health benefits of mushrooms

You wouldn’t know it from looking at the writing on the packaging, but mushrooms are rich in an array of nutrients that are hugely beneficial to our health. 

Mushrooms contain:

  • Potassium, which is necessary for the normal functioning of all cells.
  • Selenium, which contributes to the maintenance of healthy hair and nails and is also important for the immune system.
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) needed for the reduction of fatigue.
  • Pantothenic acid, helping your metabolism and supporting normal mental performance.
  • Copper, helping your metabolism and nervous system function normally.
  • Folate, which contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.
  • Biotin, which lays an important role in the health of your hair, skin and nails.

Who would have thought the small, humble mushroom could have so many benefits?!

Of course, the immune system is complex, and you can’t eat a lot of just one food to have overall good health. We all need to consume a rich and varied diet to get a wide range of nutrients to support our immune system.

What’s clear is that mushrooms have some amazing immune-boosting properties and play an important role in a healthy immune system.