Some experts suggest that even edible, everyday mushrooms should be cooked. We consider some evidence.
Dr. Andrew Weil says that all mushrooms are essentially indigestible if eaten raw because of their tough cell walls, and that to release their nutrients, they must be cooked. More importantly, he says, certain mushrooms contain small amounts of toxins, including a compound considered carcinogenic, which is destroyed through cooking because these compounds are not heat stable.
The compound in question, agaratine, is most commonly found in the mushrooms belonging to the genus Agaricus. This includes the common white or button mushroom—your everyday supermarket variety that is commonly found raw at restaurant salad bars:
- A study in the 1990s found that agaratine has a carcinogenic effect in the bladder of rats, while another study found cell mutation effects in mice that could lead to cancer.
- However, extrapolating from the study, the risk was found to be quite low—a lifetime cumulative cancer risk of about two cases per 100,000 lives.
- Other rodent studies have found that agaratine in mushrooms had no carcinogenic effects at all.
Since agaratine is destroyed through cooking, the cautious consumer may wish to sauté, bake, or broil their mushrooms—the common white ones, in particular—just to be safe.
Do not, however, forgo mushrooms altogether! As Dr. Mercola points out, about 100 species of mushrooms are currently being studied for their health-promoting benefits, with a half dozen of them notable for their ability to boost the immune system.
While more exotic species are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for a variety of important conditions, even white button mushrooms can help weight management, improve nutrition, and increase your vitamin D levels.
Cordyceps mushrooms (also called caterpillar fungus) increase ATP production, strength, and endurance, have anti-aging properties, protect liver and kidneys, and can even repair damage from stokes. Shiitakes have antitumor properties, are both antiviral and antibacterial, stabilize blood sugar, and reduce atherosclerosis and cholesterol. Reishi has similar properties but is also an anti-inflammatory, an antifungal, and reduces prostate-related urinary symptoms in men.
So eat your mushrooms—but for maximum nutritional value (and to get rid of any toxicity), you might want to give them some light cooking first! You don’t need to use too much heat. Indeed, studies are showing that cooking at too high a temperature is causing health problems for us, in particular the creation of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). Cooking at under 300 degrees seems generally safe, and of course it depends on what you are cooking. We’ll return to this interesting subject in another article.