Research & Education

Protein Options in Mushrooms

In a previous article, we highlighted the nutritional benefits of medicinal mushrooms, exposing how these fungi possess powerful antioxidant and immune-enhancing properties, are a rich source of prebiotic fibers, and a dietary source of vitamin D. Mushrooms have been used for thousands of years, dating back to ancient Egyptian and Chinese cultures, to promote longevity and general health and treat various diseases. Recently, specific mushroom varieties have re-emerged in the spotlight and have flooded health-food-store shelves due to their nootropic properties, most notably their ability to enhance mental function, cognition, and physical performance.

Beyond their wide array of medicinal values, edible mushrooms are boasted for their nutritional content. These fungi (and powders derived from them) are considered an excellent source of digestible plant-based protein. In fact, in populations who do not consume animal proteins (either due to lack of availability or religious beliefs) mushrooms are used to combat protein deficiency and as a supplement to cereal grains. The protein present in mushrooms contains all nine essential amino acids (EAAs), in contrast to most other plant-based protein options which are typically missing one or more EAAs. Moreover, mushrooms have a high branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) composition, which is usually only found in animal-based protein sources.

In fact, mushroom proteins rival the quality of what is seen in animal-derived protein sources, including protein powders, and are nearly equivalent to the protein quality found in meat. The in vitro protein digestibility (IVPD),  protein digestibility corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS), essential amino acid index (EAAI), and protein efficiency ratios (PER) showed favorable results in research, demonstrating that the amino acid content in mushrooms is comparable to that of ovalbumin and surpasses soybean and wheat scores (WHO/FAO reference standards). Both cooked and uncooked mushrooms contain high-quality proteins that are easily absorbed and bioavailable, denoting its superiority to other protein sources. In a randomized crossover study that assessed the difference in satiety levels between mushrooms and meat, participants expressed significantly less hunger, a greater sense of fullness, and reduced prospective consumption after consuming the mushroom meal compared with those participants given meat.

A novel approach to consuming mushrooms is as protein powder, specifically shiitake fermented plant-based protein. This form of protein powder is a palatable option with a neutral, earthy taste and matches the amino acid profiles of whey and soy isolates, validating the potential for therapeutic use in clinical practice. As previously mentioned, mushrooms are rich sources of phenolics, flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamin antioxidants which play a role in the reduction of oxidative stress (a form of inflammation) in the body that is generally associated with chronic conditions and metabolic derangement.

The combination of these notable health attributes and high protein content, whole mushrooms - and mushroom-based protein powders - may be efficacious for patients as an adjunct to other dietary or therapeutic protocols that may already be in place, such as anti-microbial, or anti-viral protocols. Mushroom-based protein is a suitable option for those who suffer from allergies or who are unable to consume whey, soy, or wheat-based proteins. Because it delivers on amino acids and has high amounts of the coveted BCAAs, it may also be a great option for athletic or highly active patients because of their role in building muscle and burning fat. The complete protein composition found in mushrooms is a great alternative to bridge the gap for vegans and vegetarians who may be burnt out on other traditional plant-based protein sources such as pea, rice, and other grains and legumes. Furthermore, due to their high digestibility, mushroom protein sources may be a superior option for those with indigestion or malabsorption issues, especially those with lowered enzymes and stomach acid who are unable to properly digest animal proteins. Whether a patient presents with complications or not, recommending mushroom-derived protein intake may be an advantageous suggestion to improve overall health.



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