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Experts say mushrooms contain potassium, B vitamins, and other healthy nutrients. Studio Firma/Stocksy
  • A new study has linked eating mushrooms to reduced risk of depression.
  • Study authors believe an antioxidant called ergothioneine may be responsible for this effect.
  • Mushrooms are the best dietary source of ergothioneine.
  • Mushrooms also contain several other health-promoting nutrients, including various B vitamins, vitamin D, and zinc.

Not only are mushrooms a nutritious food to eat, they may also be beneficial to your mental health, according to a group of Penn State College of Medicine researchers.

In a new study, the Penn State team reported that people who consume mushrooms have a lower risk of developing depression.

Djibril Ba, lead researcher and a recent graduate from the epidemiology doctoral program at Penn State College of Medicine, said this may be due to the fact that mushrooms contain minerals such as potassium and the amino acid ergothioneine, which can lower the risk of anxiety and depression.

“Ergothioneine, a powerful antioxidant present in high levels in mushrooms, can only be obtained through dietary sources,” Ba told Healthline.

He said mushrooms are the largest dietary source of ergothioneine.

“Having high levels of ergothioneine in the body may help to prevent oxidative stress, which is known to play a significant role in the development of various neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression,” Ba noted.

According to background information given in the research paper, mushrooms also contain other substances, such as vitamin B12, nerve growth factor, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory agents, that have been linked to reduced anxiety.

To carry out the study, researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2005 to 2016.

Altogether, 24,699 people with an average age of 45 years were included.

The team used up to 2 days of 24-hour dietary recall to ascertain how often people ate mushrooms. A patient health questionnaire was also used to assess whether the participants had depression.

While researchers found that college-educated, non-Hispanic white women were more likely to eat mushrooms, this, as well as other confounding factors, were adjusted for in the analysis, Ba said.

Compared with participation with the lowest mushroom consumption, those who had moderate to high intakes had a lower risk of having depression.

However, eating more mushrooms was not necessarily better. The people with higher consumption fared about the same as those with a moderate level of consumption.

Ba noted one study limitation was that they did not have data about the specific types of mushrooms people ate.

“Food codes issued by the USDA were used to determine mushroom intake. Therefore, some entries may have been misclassified or inaccurately recorded,” he said.

Study authors also said the research was limited by the fact that it was a cross-sectional study.

In other words, it was simply a snapshot of where people were in that moment. It tells nothing about their behavior over time.

This makes it difficult to determine cause-and-effect relationships between variables.

Antonette Hardie, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said mushrooms have a number of health benefits.

They contain vitamin D, which promotes a good immune system, bone health, and improved mental health. Their potassium content is helpful in lowering blood pressure.

Certain varieties of mushrooms also contain zinc, which promotes optimal growth in infants and children, and it’s also vital to our immune systems, Hardie told Healthline.

Shereen Jegtvig, a nutritionist and author who teaches at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, further noted that mushrooms contain the antioxidant selenium.

Mushrooms also contain copper, which aids in energy production and iron utilization, as well as B vitamins such as niacin and pantothenic acid, which help your body generate energy from the foods you eat.

They’re also “super low” in calories, Jegtvig told Healthline. One cup of raw mushrooms has fewer than 20 calories.

As far as how to increase your mushroom consumption, Jegtvig said there are many ways to serve mushrooms.

She suggests searching for some recipes and trying all the kinds of fresh mushrooms available in your local grocery store.

“They’re so versatile and savory,” she said.