A Review Of Mushrooms As A Potential Source Of Dietary Protein

A Review Of Mushrooms As A Potential Source Of Dietary Protein

ABSTRACT: Mushrooms represent an unexplored world of sustainable, extremely healthy, and complete potential protein sources in the face of rapidly increasing populations and consequential climate change. Mushrooms’ ability to grow on any organic material could allow farmers in more rural communities to get more dietary protein from the plants they grow, which could also reduce burning of agricultural waste and methane from livestock, large climate change factors. Mushroom-based proteins (or mycoproteins) are widely overlooked in many cultures despite the fact that some common mushrooms contain more complete protein than chicken breast, are cheap to produce, low in cholesterol, extremely satiating, sustainable, and come with a wide range of powerful health benefits. In the future, mushrooms could serve as an important resource to feed the world and heal the planet at the same time.



Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi usually from the basidiomycota family and have been an important food source for humans for centuries (Stamets, 2005). At least 3000 species of mushrooms are edible and are an excellent source of proteins containing all 9 essential amino acids, as well as vitamins, and minerals, and a good source of carbohydrates, healthy fats, and nucleic acids, all while being cholesterol-free (Assemie & Abaya, 2022, Derbyshire, 2020). Mushrooms can grow on just about any organic matter, which could make them an important, sustainable, and healthy food source as human populations continue to rise (Dahmardeh, 2013). Mushroom-based proteins (or mycoproteins) are widely overlooked in many cultures despite the fact that some common mushrooms contain more complete protein than chicken breast, are cheap to produce, low in cholesterol, extremely satiating, sustainable, and come with a wide range of extra health benefits; modern society needs more dietary mushrooms in order to move into an uncertain future with overpopulation and climate change. 

Mushrooms contain 100-350g of crude protein per kilogram of total mass (Stamets, 2005). One-hundred grams of chicken meat contains 25g of protein, meanwhile, as shown in this figure, many common mushrooms, like the button mushrooms, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms outperform chicken meat by up to 8 grams per 100 (USDA). Mushroom protein content is impressive, but the quality of the protein is even more so, one study from Wang et. al. in 2001 shows that Oyster Mushrooms, Pleurotus ostreatus, grown on spent wheat grain used for making beer containeed 18 different types of amino acids, including all nine that are essential to human well being (Rana et al., 2015). Countless people on the planet do not have access to high quality protein sources and so suffer from various forms of malnutrition such as kwashiorkor and marasmus (Souza Filho et al., 2018). If spent grain and agricultural waste went into making mushrooms, we could produce them at 10%- 17% biological efficiency (mostly in the form of protein), and then still move them on to be more easily digested livestock feed after (Wang et al., 2001). If communities that burn their agricultural waste put it into growing mushrooms, they could get up to 38% more edible protein out of their crops in the form of mushrooms, at least in the case of one study done on pea-processing byproducts (Souza Filho et al., 2018). Humans grow the crops and use them to feed the animals. We control the land in so many ways to grow the crops, but somehow mushrooms, the decomposers, have been left out of that equation. As a consequence of this neglect, society is unaware of the myriad health benefits found by eating mushrooms as a protein source, and the planet has suffered from the methane that comes with livestock farming.

A graph of mushroom dietary information from fantastic fungi

Mushroom protein is not only sustainable and potentially widely accessible, it is also extremely healthy in ways one might not expect. One study in 2011 found that mycoprotein causes a smaller insulin response than an isocaloric whey protein drink and improves insulin resistance for up to 3 hours, suggesting that a switch to mushroom based proteins could help prevent type 2 diabetes, as it plays a role in glucose homeostasis (Bottin et al., 2011). Increased rates of mycoprotein consumption in a society could lower rates of diabetes and increase overall fitness. Mushroom proteins have also been found to help regulate both total and LDL cholesterol, as well as increase satiety (Souza Filho et al., 2018). Mushrooms have been found to be even more satiating and easier to digest than chicken breast, probably due to high chitin and beta-glucan composition of the fibers in the proteins (Souza Filho et al., 2018). This may also serve as an explanation to the insulin controlling properties of mycoproteins. Higher levels of satiety lead to lower levels of energy intake, which means that an adoption of mushrooms into the western diet could serve to lower rates of obesity and diabetes. Mushrooms are waiting for their “superfood” moment. 

Globally, there are more than 3000 mushroom species that are considered to be edible, and only about 100 that are grown on a commercial scale (Reis et al., 2012). Some studies done by Paul Stamets and his team yielded 1388 grams of mushrooms per two kilograms of grain used as substrate (Stamets 2005). It is hard to imagine the possibilities that this variety and growing power could represent to the state of public health and food stability of humankind. Science has learned many surprising things in recent years about the benefits of eating mushrooms. One especially exciting study from 2012 shares a novel discovery in which mushrooms that are exposed to UV light for around 30 minutes after picking produce increases in vitamin D content of 20-40 times those who are kept out of sunlight. (Ahlawat et al., 2016, Stamets 2005). Currently, milk is the number one source of vitamin D in many western diets, but dairy production practices are unsustainable and inhumane. With the right practices, mushrooms could replace milk as the number one source for vitamin D as well as make it more widely available around the world. These discoveries hardly scratch the surface of the potential that modern mycological research has been presenting. Various mushrooms have also been discovered to have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumor, antiviral, properties, as well as helping with blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, immune system, kidneys and liver, lung health, and nerve health (Stamets 2005). There may be no end to what we can learn from mushrooms once we start trying in earnest. 

Humankind needs mushrooms. They create the soil from which the plants grow. Life on earth doesn’t exist without them. They represent a nutritious and potentially hunger-securing protein source, especially for more impoverished nations, which are good for health in many ways. Uptake in mushroom consumption could help to combat climate change by reducing methane from livestock, and pollution from burning crops. In order to move forward as good stewards of the earth, and to ensure our own survival and health, we must change our eating habits. Mushrooms may be one of the most powerful tools for the job. 

Image 1: (Stamets, 2005)

Image 2: (Rana, et. al., 2015)

Image 3: (Bottin, et. al., 2011)


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Bottin, J., Cropp, E., Ford, H., Bétrémieux, L., Finnigan, T., & Frost, G. (2011). Mycoprotein reduces insulinemia and improves insulin sensitivity. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 70(OCE6). https://doi.org/10.1017/s0029665111004575

Dahmardeh, M. (2013). Use of Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) Grown on Different Substrates (Wheat and Barley Straw) and Supplemented at Various Levels of Spawn to Change the Nutritional Quality Forage. International journal of Agriculture and Forestry, 3(4)(138-140).

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Souza Filho, P. F., Nair, R. B., Andersson, D., Lennartsson, P. R., & Taherzadeh, M. J. (2018). Vegan-mycoprotein concentrate from pea-processing industry byproduct using edible filamentous fungi. Fungal Biology and Biotechnology, 5(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40694-018-0050-9

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