White, crimini, portabello, baby bella; I was pretty surprised when I found out all these types of mushroom were technically the same fungus: agaricus bisporus (known commonly as the common mushroom). The different names comes from their natural variance in size, color, and maturity. As far as nutritional qualities there isn’t much deviation between the various kinds. Are mushrooms are healthy? Thanks for asking! As it happens, there are a number of benefits to noshing your ‘shrooms, as well as some good reasons to be cautious.
Vitamins and minerals: The agaricus bisporus mushrooms are a good source of several B vitamins, including B2, B3, B5, B1, and B6. They’re also great sources of selenium, copper, phosphorus, and potassium.
Conjugated linoleic acid: The common mushroom is a good source of conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA. CLA is a well studied fatty acid with notable benefits, including some impressive anti-cancer properties. CLA also appears to improve cardiovascular health and reduce body fat (though conflicting studies exist). The agaricus bisporus mushroom is also shown to be an aromatase inhibitor, a property which is often attributed to its CLA. Aromatase inhibitors block some production of estrogens and result in higher testosterone levels–this is especially beneficial in preventing breast cancer. CLA is relatively unaffected by cooking.
Immunity: The agaricus bisporus mushroom is known to improve immunity. This is likely because the mushrooms contains various compounds that increase natural killer cell activity. NK cells are white blood cells that help destroy tumors and virus cells.
Carcinogens: It’s important to note that the agaricus bisporus mushroom has some carcinogenic properties. This is likely due to argitine, a mycotoxin shown to cause cancer in animal studies. Argitine is found at high levels in agaricus mushrooms, but the amount is significantly reduced by cooking. However, because some studies have demonstrated carcinogenic potential even after cooking, there are most likely other cancer causing chemicals in mushrooms, some of which do not appear to be heat sensitive.
My recommendation is to always cook your mushrooms–this will cause a partial loss of the vitamin content, but eliminate at least some of the cancer causing chemicals. Personally, I think the different varieties of agaricus bisporus mushrooms have numerous benefits making them well worth eating, but in moderation. If you feel the apparent risk isn’t worth the reward there, avoid them. No need to worry yourself about it.
Note: The majority of studies cited above used rat or mice models in their experiments. These types of studies may not be as accurate as when performed on humans.