Why mushrooms are good for you and baby

By Glenn Cardwell, Australian Mushroom Growers

It won’t surprise you that the mushroom is not an animal. However, it may surprise you that neither is it a plant. That means it is not a vegetable, even if you treat it like one.

We usually eat from two biological kingdoms, plants (e.g. legumes, vegetables, fruits and grains) and animals (e.g. fish, meat, dairy and insects). However, the third food kingdom, the mushroom (fungi) kingdom, has nutrition and eating properties very different to vegetables, where mushrooms are commonly placed in a culinary sense.

The flavour

Why do you enjoy mushrooms? Because you love the rich savoury flavour, which comes from the natural amino acids in the mushroom. They are a big favourite with vegetarians and vegans as they have a different flavour to plant foods. When adding mushrooms to recipes the advantage to your health is that you can use less salt, or no salt at all, because mushrooms become the flavour enhancer. Of course, less salt helps to keep a healthy blood pressure through pregnancy.

The nutrients

Rice cereal is commonly the first solid food offered to infants around 6-8 months. Mashed fruit (e.g. banana) and mashed vegetables (e.g. potato) soon follow. Mushrooms can be one of the first foods offered to infants. Make a mushroom soup (without salt, remember) and offer it separately or add a little to some mashed potato or pumpkin. The equivalent of one and a half cooked button mushrooms will provide a range of B group vitamins and minerals (Table 1).

Table 1 - vitamins and minerals per 50g serve mushrooms (child serve)

Nutrient Mushroom 50g Infant daily needs Approx. % of
infant daily needs
Vitamin B12 (mg) - Riboflavin 0.18 0.4 4
Niacin equivalents (mg) 1.8 4 45
Pantothenic acid (mg) 0.67 2.2 30
Biotin (mcg) 4.5 6 75
Vitamin D (mcg) retail stores 1.15 5 23
Vitamin D (mcg) in light-exposed mushrooms 5-7 5 100
Copper (mcg) 179 220 80
Selenium (mcg) 7.7 15 50
Phosphorus (mg) 55 275 22
Potassium (mg) 155 700 22
Chromium (mcg) 6.7 5.5 100

mg = milligrams; mcg = micrograms

Of course, Mum gets a nutrition boost during pregnancy from including mushrooms in her diet (Table 2). The mushroom nutrients complement those found in fruits and vegetables. The B vitamin needs are slightly increased during pregnancy, mainly to ensure the normal growth of the baby. One serve of mushrooms (100g or 3 button mushrooms) has:

  • One third of the daily needs of the B vitamins, riboflavin and biotin
  • A quarter of the daily needs of the B vitamins, niacin and pantothenic acid
  • All the daily needs of vitamin D in light-exposed mushrooms
  • A quarter or more of the daily needs of the essential minerals selenium, chromium and copper

Mushrooms do provide vitamin B12, but only on small amounts.

Table 2 - vitamins and minerals per 100g serve mushrooms (adult serve)

Nutrient Mushroom 100g Approx. % of daily
needs in pregnancy
Vitamin B2 (mg) Riboflavin 0.37 32
Niacin equivalents (mg) 3.7 25
Panthothenic acid (mg) 1.15 25
Biotin (mcg) 8.9 33
Vitamin D (mcg) retail stores 2.3 23
Vitamin D (mcg) in
sun-exposed mushrooms
10-15 100
Copper (mcg) 342 25
Selenium (mcg) 15.4 25
Phosphorus (mg) 110 10
Potassium (mg) 310 10
Chromium (mcg) 13.4 40

mg = milligrams; mcg = micrograms

Vitamin D

About one in four women are vitamin D deficient, rising to be more than one in three during the winter months. Without sufficient vitamin D during pregnancy the mother may not reach her weight gain targets and the baby may have poor skeletal development. Vitamin D is particularly important in assisting the absorption of calcium from the digestive system. That means there is a synergy between calcium and vitamin D, both needing each other to promote healthy bones in mother and child.

It can be difficult to get all your vitamin D from food as there are so few sources, such as oily fish, margarine, eggs and D-fortified milk. Breast milk is not particularly high in vitamin D, and may be even lower in mothers who are vitamin D deficient. Low levels of vitamin D in infants can cause rickets (yes, we still see rickets in Australia). Babies who are especially prone to rickets are those born to mums already low in vitamin D, dark skinned or living in the most southern areas of the country. You can see it is important that mums get some sunlight exposure as well as eating foods that are good sources of vitamin D.

Mushrooms naturally produce vitamin D when they are exposed to sunlight (or any source of ultra violet light). If you ever picked mushrooms from the wild, they would have been high in vitamin D, due to their brief sun exposure. Recently the government’s National Measurement Institute (NMI) analysed the vitamin D in regular retail mushrooms from the five main Australian cities and found they had an average of 2.3 mcg/100g. That’s 23% of your daily needs from a serve of mushrooms.

These same store-bought mushrooms can naturally produce 10-15 mcg vitamin D per serve after being placed in the midday winter sun for 30-120 minutes. In summer, only 15 minutes of sunlight will do the same job. You can see that mushrooms can be a simple and delicious way to help people get their daily vitamin D needs, especially if they are unable to get adequate sun exposure.

The mushroom we usually eat in Australia is Agaricus bisporus, although you will commonly know them as buttons, cups, portabello, or Swiss browns. Mushrooms are low-fat, low-carbohydrate, low kilojoule, yet nutrient-rich popular food that complements the nutrition profile of vegetables, and remains the only natural, non-animal source of the vitamins D. They are always popular because they add a unique savoury flavour to dishes.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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