For centuries, from ancient healers to modern chefs, humans have been interested in mushrooms. Considered a “trending food” these days, there’s clearly a renewed interest in everyone’s favorite fungus — and the nutritional power it packs.
Like most people with psoriasis, you’ve probably tried (or at least thought about) adjusting your diet to improve your skin condition. While there’s no research that outright shows eating mushrooms affects a person’s psoriasis symptoms, mushrooms are still a healthy addition to many recipes. Here’s some background on the nutritional benefits of mushrooms and how they may fit into your diet.
Mushrooms are naturally low in calories and sodium and free of saturated fat and cholesterol. As a result, they make an excellent addition to any diet, whether or not you have psoriasis.
The polysaccharides (types of carbohydrates) in mushrooms work as prebiotics, meaning they feed healthy bacteria in our guts. This is important because these beneficial bacteria support a range of essential body functions, from digestion to immunity.
Some people with psoriasis (and other autoimmune diseases, too) say that an anti-inflammatory diet reduces the severity and frequency of their flare-ups. In an anti-inflammatory diet, a person limits their intake of saturated fat and refined sugar and instead centers on healthy fats and an array of colorful fruits and vegetables. An anti-inflammatory meal plan includes whole (unprocessed), fiber-rich foods, as well as a variety of different plant sources. (Limiting one’s caffeine and alcohol helps reduce inflammation, too.) Examples of anti-inflammatory diets include Mediterranean and vegan diets.
While there’s no official diet for psoriasis, research suggests that red meat intake promotes inflammatory responses that contribute to psoriasis symptoms. But that’s not the case with mushrooms. Mushrooms actually provide various beneficial phytochemicals that make them a great part of an anti-inflammatory diet.
If mushrooms are grown or dried in an environment that exposes them to ultraviolet light (from the sun or UV lamps), they can be a good source of vitamin D. Vitamin D is thought to protect against respiratory diseases (in children), diabetes, cancers, and other health problems.
Vitamin D also plays an important role in skin health. Research shows that people with psoriasis tend to have low levels of vitamin D. Low levels of the nutrient can contribute to psoriasis lesions. On the other hand, high doses of vitamin D have been shown to reduce skin-cell proliferation and inflammation. Food is the safest source of vitamin D, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.
Read more about vitamin D and psoriasis.
Many supermarket varieties of mushrooms are grown in dark conditions. To find mushrooms treated with UV light (from lamps or sunlight), check the food label or ask the growers selling their crop at your local farmers market.
You can add mushrooms to omelets, pizza, soups, and stir-fry dishes. Just be sure to buy them from a reputable source and wash them thoroughly. You should never pick your own wild mushrooms because it’s easy to confuse safe mushrooms with poisonous ones.
Once mushrooms are purchased, it’s best to eat them within a week. You can extend their shelf life when you store them in an open paper bag, a trick that absorbs the moisture that helps them go bad. Another tip: Wait to wash mushrooms until you’re ready to use them. As for warnings — besides skipping the wild ones — know that mushrooms don’t freeze well.
Mushrooms come in a variety of different flavors and textures. To give them a try, sauté clean mushrooms in a pan with olive oil and add them to rice or pasta dishes. You can also serve them as a stand-alone side dish with fresh herbs or other seasonings.
If you’re hoping to cut back on animal protein, mushrooms can serve as a tasty stand-in for hearty meat-based dishes. Since mushrooms naturally possess a savory flavor (called “umami”) — they add “meatiness” but without the saturated fat of pork or beef. Adding ingredients with umami also lowers the need to salt a dish.
Popular meals with mushrooms include:
Beyond their place in the kitchen, mushrooms have been viewed as medicinal plants for thousands of years. Today, some naturopathic practitioners recommend people with autoimmune diseases regulate their immune responses by consuming non-poisonous mushrooms. But that doesn’t necessarily mean in food form. Health food stores often carry mushrooms that have been crushed into a dry powder that can be brewed into tea or taken as a supplement. Certain mushroom extracts have also been used for medicinal purposes. However, research is still lacking on whether mushrooms in any of these forms are helpful or harmful for people with autoimmune problems.
Although mushrooms are a nutritious addition to most peoples’ diets, concentrated medicinal mushroom products can cause unpredictable outcomes and/or interact with prescription medications. And when in supplement form, mushroom products are not FDA approved as a drug. (If a supplement is FDA approved, it has been extensively studied and shown to be safe. Through the testing that leads to FDA approval, possible drug interactions will also have come to light.) Always talk to your doctor before starting a new dietary supplement.
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Have you noticed any health benefits from eating mushrooms to improve skin lesions, plaque psoriasis, or psoriatic arthritis? How do your food choices seem to impact your skin condition? Post your suggestions in the comments below, or start a conversation on MyPsoriasisTeam.