Food of the Month with Catherine Saxelby

Want to lose weight? Add more mushrooms

Catherine Saxelby

Mushrooms add a rich deep savoury flavour for very few calories and are almost as indispensable as onions in cooking. Think of the difference mushrooms make to stroganoff, risotto, omelet, stir-fries, salads and of course stuffed mushrooms. It’s all due to their high content of glutamate, the naturally occurring version of the favour enhancer monosodium glutamate or MSG. They also have significant quantities of another key flavour compound, salicylate.

At only 23 calories (96 kJ) per 100 grams, mushrooms have what’s called a low ‘energy density’ – they means that they have few calories for their weight or their volume, a big plus these days when so many of our snack foods and take-aways have a high ‘energy density’.


When it comes to nutrition, there are even more bonuses. They have no fat but heaps of B vitamins, especially riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid, which, along with some vitamin D if they have been briefly exposed to sunlight, sets them apart from other vegetables. If they are grown on a compost of horse or chicken manure, they add some vitamin B12 which is often difficult for strict vegetarians to obtain. Being a fruit of a fungus and not a true vegetable, they have little vitamin C or beta-carotene, but are rich in the mineral potassium.

Watching your weight? A recent US study published in Appetite found mushrooms to be an ideal way to cut calories without losing out on flavour or a sense of fullness. You eat well and eat less!

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found they could drop the calorie content of a lunch meal by half if they substituted ground (minced) white button mushrooms for beef mince in familiar dishes like lasagna, ‘sloppy Joe’ (a kind of savoury mince) and ‘chili’ (as in con carne). When asked about palatability, appetite, satiation (post meal fullness) and satiety (general fullness), the study participants didn’t rate the mushroom meals any differently from the beef meals. And despite consuming fewer calories with the mushroom meals, they didn’t compensate by eating more later in the day.

Don’t know about you but I’d certainly be happy to double the amount of mushrooms I add and cut back on the meat or chicken or pasta – and save 20 g of fat and all those calories without feeling any pain. I wouldn’t want a dish composed entirely of mushrooms, but a 50:50 mix of beef and mushrooms in my beef casserole certainly sounds appealing.

Dietitian and popular nutrition communicator, Catherine Saxelby, is the author of Zest and Nutrition for Life


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