Smart Fuel: Mushrooms

MushroomsNeither plant nor animal, the mushroom usually gets lumped in with the former but genetically it’s closer to the latter. In fact, mushrooms and people are members of the same biological superkingdom, Opisthokonta, which excludes plants; we shared a common ancestor with fungus about 600 million years ago. But while mushrooms are an odd genre of organism, that’s nothing compared to what lies beneath and supports them. The mushroom is just the fruiting body of the underground network of fungal threads known as the mycelium.

What’s so interesting about the mycelium?

It’s been called the “natural Internet,” transmitting data along its fibers using the very same neurotransmitters (serotonin, melatonin, and others) we mammals use to think thoughts. Other fungal transmitters, like psilocybin and psilocin from “magic mushrooms,” are similar enough to serotonin that they’re able to interact with our serotonin receptors and produce mystical, psychedelic experiences when we eat them.

It can break complex structures into simpler compounds. Certain mycelia have been shown to break down plastics and petroleum products, pesticides, and other contaminants into their constituent, less-toxic parts.

It’s enormous. A single mycelium network can cover thousands of acres, making it the largest single organism on Earth.

It participates in a kind of marketplace, extracting nutrients from the soil, transforming them, and using them to barter with plants for energy derived from photosynthesis. In this way, it supports the entire plant kingdom.

If you’re interested in this stuff, Paul Stamets is the go-to mycelium guy. His TED talk from a few years back is incredible, as is his book Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Save the World.

Okay, okay. That’s interesting enough, but are mushrooms good to eat?

Well, if you asked representatives from the hundreds of human cultures across the globe that have utilized wild edible fungus, the answer would be yes. Humans have probably always eaten mushrooms, since mushrooms grow wild everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. The barren North African desert has edible fungi (desert truffles). Even Antarctica’s got fungi. No word on their edibility, though.

Mushrooms may not be the richest source of the better known micronutrients – your magnesiums, calciums, vitamin Cs, vitamin B12s, vitamin As – but they’re good sources of relatively rare nutrients like selenium, copper, and pantothenic acid. Fresh mushrooms also enjoy sunbathing, synthesize a good amount of vitamin D in response to it that we can utilize and absorb when we eat them. You can even buy some mushrooms from the store, lay them out on a plate in the afternoon sun for a couple hours, and they’ll synthesize vitamin D. Cool, huh?

But the real interesting properties of mushrooms lie in the compounds that don’t appear in FitDay or the USDA nutrient database. Many, perhaps most edible mushrooms contain substances with therapeutic, medicinal, or otherwise pharmacological effects. Let’s look at a few of them:


Shiitakes are denser, heavier, and higher in protein and iron than most other varieties. They’re also more expensive, but they’re probably worth it for the potentially therapeutic compounds:

L-ergothioneine is an antioxidant cytoprotectant, meaning it protects cells from oxidative damage. Some researchers think it might “represent a new vitamin” because it can only be obtained through diet. Shiitakes are by far the best source of L-ergothioneine.

Lentinan is a shiitake polysaccharide with anti-tumor and immune boosting effects. In people with depressed immune systems, lentinan can provide a needed increase.


Don’t be fooled by its near paucity of mainstream nutrients. In animal models of arthritis, the lowly white button mushroom reduces the severity. It also elicits a heightened immune response, but only when co-administered with an immune insult (lipopolysaccharide/endotoxin). Simply feeding a mouse lots of white button mushrooms without giving it a reason to require an immune response has no effect (and rightly so). Also, high consumption of button mushrooms has been inversely linked to ovarian cancer in women.


Criminis are young, nubile portobellos. Portobellos are actually just old, crotchety criminis. And both criminis and portobellos are the same species – agaricus bisporus – as the white button mushroom. So everything mentioned in the last section applies here, too. As for portobellos, they’re famous for “replacing” meat in burgers and sandwiches, but I like portobello mushrooms much better with meat. How about instead of switching out the beef patty for a portobello, we replace the buns with the portobellos?


Ah, man, nothing like a chanterelle sliced and cooked in some broth and butter. It can really make a man overlook the lack of solid research into the mushroom’s health benefits. Eh, some vitamin B12 that may or may not be inactive and preliminary in vitro indications of chemoprevention are good enough for me!


Porcini mushrooms are invaluable when cooking Italian food, so it’s okay that there’s not much solid evidence for miraculous health benefits. They do, however, help hypertensive rats manage their blood pressure and improve the metabolic abnormalities often associated with hypertension.


They appear on tree trunks, require delicate handling to avoid breaking, and may (big “may”) mimic nerve growth factor enough to stimulate the formation of new synapses. Oyster mushrooms also show anti-candida activity and contain a wealth of antioxidant compounds.

Lion’s Mane

I wrote about this already, but it tastes like lobster and could potentially improve your cognition, so I’m going to reiterate. Lion’s Mane usually comes dried and may reverse mild cognitive decline in the elderly, help people with nerve damage regenerate destroyed nerves and regain their ability to walk, and act as a nootropic in healthy people.

As you can see, every mushroom people have looked into seems to be good for us. And there are some commonalities that keep appearing: some interaction with nerve growth factor, cognitive function, immune function; a host of antioxidant compounds. Great in omelets, perfect alongside a steak, and ideal for boosting the immune system.

A few tips:

  • Cook them. Fungal cell walls are made of chitin, the same “fiber” found in insect carapaces. Chitin can be difficult to digest, but heat breaks it down, making the mushroom easier to digest and unlocking the nutrients. A sautéed mushroom also just tastes really, really good.
  • A real simple, foolproof way to cook mushrooms (any mushroom I’ve come across) is to slice them and saute in butter and/or olive oil for about five minutes, or until they begin to soften and darken. Then you add a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, a few dashes of balsamic vinegar, some red wine, or maybe some good beef or chicken stock. Anything that you can reduce will work. Reduce that down over low heat until the sauce gets syrupy. Sprinkle sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste.
  • I suggest checking out the dried mushroom aisle of an Asian grocery. Those are great to add to soups and stews (no rehydration required), and there are just so many interesting kinds to choose.
  • And go to the local farmer’s market. There’s usually a mushroom guy there with dozens of varieties that you’d never find in a grocery store. He can tell you what they taste like, how to cook them, and what to expect from them because he most likely cultivated them. Make friends with the mushroom guy.
  • Wild edible mushrooms abound, but so do poisonous varieties. To avoid getting sick, contact your local Mycological Society; they’re also everywhere. They’ll set you up with guided shroom-hunting tours with local experts, so you know what to look for and what to avoid. You might also check for a mushroom hunting group near you.
  • If you want to grow your own, I suggest checking out the Shroomery forums. Its members focus on cultivation of psychedelic species, but they’re also very knowledgeable about edible cultivation. There’s also a good board dedicated to mushroom hunting and proper identification where you can provide photos and a description (following a template provided by the regulars) and get expert opinions on whether the mushroom you picked is deadly or delicious.

I hope this post has piqued your curiosity and your appetite. It’s long overdue that we start incorporating more mushrooms into our Primal way of eating.

What’s your favorite type of mushroom and how do you like to cook it?

TAGS:  smart fuel

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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68 thoughts on “Smart Fuel: Mushrooms”

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  1. In truth, I’ve been eating more mushrooms since I’ve gone Primal/Paleo. I always like to eat them with steak or veal, since it adds that extra flavour. Also I’ve actually eaten burgers with portobello mushrooms as the ‘buns’, but I only use one mushroom for the bottom and make it like an open sandwich, with onions and shreddded lettuce on top.

    1. Well, I would like to come over and have dinner at your house! Did you cook the “bun” first? I’m thinking that will be a meal soon in my world….. so I guess you could come to my house…. he he he. The two Steph’s eating shrooms. 😛

    2. Portobello mushrooms buns, that’s absolutely genius! Going to have to try that soon.

  2. Fresh shitaki mushrooms are really cheap at my local Asian market. I can get a huge package of them for about $3.50.

    A friend of mine is a mushroom hunter. Once you know what to look for, identification isn’t any more complicated than identifying other plants. They just have their own particular plant parts and identifying characteristics to look for.

    1. Ditto on the fresh shitaki at our Asian market…such a deal! Usually I coat them with a little olive oil and roast the entire batch at 375°F or so for about 15-20 minutes. The ones that arent eaten immediately go into salads, etc. They are definitely firmer in texture but pleasantly so.

  3. Might have to try the portabello mushrooms as a bun alternative.

    Could they be toasted a bit to give them a bready crunch?

    1. Need high heat to sear them or could roast them. Mushrooms have a high water content. (That’s why dehyrdated mushrooms are so expensive by weight.)

  4. Do you know the mushroom man, the mushroom man, the mushroom man….

      1. Everything in life is brighter when your pupils are dilated.

  5. I never realized mycological societies were so abundant and vibrant.

    This post is begging for more recipes…..

    Lots of mushrooms can also stand in as a good substitute for meat if you cook them well…..they make a great burger.

  6. “One side makes you smaller and the other makes you tall, go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall”

  7. I sent the study on Oyster mushrooms to my nutritionist because I know she advises against eating mushrooms/pistachios/peanuts/vinegars/fermented teas etc. when fighting candida. She did point out that it is just the lipid extract that has shown beneficial support, not the effect the mushroom in it’s entirety.

    1. Can she back up why she advocates the avoidance of those types of foods? Apply cider vinegar actually helps in warding off candida

  8. Stuffed mushrooms! Snap off stems, coat in olive oil, bake on each side a few minutes to release the juices, stuff and broil. Tons of great recipes out there. I’ve been experimenting using canned artichoke hearts (squeeze out juices and chop), shredded or crumbled cheese, and leftover cooked chopped chicken liver. An egg and some coconut flour to hold the stuffing together if you want to be fancy. A package of medium sized mushrooms fits perfectly in the toaster oven, quick and easy appetizer while waiting on dinner.

  9. I love fungi and am lucky to have an Asian market stocking everything on this list and more . They have enoki, hen of the woods, king trumpet, maitake, beech buttons and these blackish frilly ones I have never tried. Enoki mushrooms are particularly good in cold salads. The king trumpets are great in coconut milk based Thai soups. Wok fried shiitaki, broccoli and bacon is a weekly staple. Thank you for the inspiration to expand the mushroom meal options starting with the development of a cauliflower “rice” risotto flavored with reconstituted dried porcini, pancetta and grass fed butter as the core components. When perfected I may submit as it seems so nutrient dense, flavorful and of course, primal.

  10. Don’t forget to place your mushrooms in direct UV light to enhance Vitamin D content!

  11. Check out and their Fit-Cross aka Paleo Burger. Not only is the meat pasture raised and finished beef, but the “buns” are portobellos. You can even get sweet potato fries on the side, but I’m not sure what kind of oil was used for frying.

    In another site, I saw somebody replacing bean with chopped shrooms. Just cut them up into bean-sized pieces. Growing up on Red Beans and Rice in New Orleans and Pintos in Austin, that sounds like a good way to get my bean fix without beans.

    1. Yes! I replaced the beans in chili with chopped up schrooms. 🙂

    1. It’s not official jaeger sauce I think, but I make something similar when I prepare German food.

      Cut up mushrooms and an onion and saute them with some fat for a few minutes. Turn up the heat and lightly brown the mushrooms. Add heavy cream and a little salt and simmer until the sauce thickens. You can add some peppercorns (black, white or green).
      What makes it even better is to omit the salt and add in some lavas leaves if you have them on hand. Pour the sauce over a schnitzel naturel or other lean pork cut. (It does not taste good with the fatty parts)

      No artificial thickeners needed!

    2. Speaking of Jeager(meister), I tried a similar drink recently, I think called Perdot, and was told it’s from France (can’t find anything after two googles so I give up).
      It has a strong licorice taste so I watered it down a lot for sipping. it’s too expensive for me but there’s something to possibly try.
      Yeah, sorry MDA, I’m talking about drinking again.
      But here’s another tip: fresh squeezed lemon juice (since I’m hesitant to trust the stuff in plastic bottles for fear of plastic contamination) or apple cider vinegar. They enhance wine (and tea) and make disgusting drinks taste lest disgusting.

      1. Animanarchy, you probably had pastis – a licorice apéritif. The most famous brand is Pernod Ricard, which is probably what you’re remembering.

  12. I love mushrooms, but sadly my husband and kids hate them so I don’t buy them often. I love marinated portobello and also stuffed with sausage, but they are so good sauteed and stuck in an omelette too. Maybe I do need to buy them again!

  13. Does anyone know how if any pesticides are used to grow these mushrooms? Is buying them non-organic ok?


      This site says that mushrooms do indeed have pesticides used on them. It makes sense to me, I went wild mushroom hunting for a class over the summer, and the bugs were crazy! I am still getting the flies out of my house! Reminds me that I need more apple cider vinegar, lol

    2. I read somewhere that mushrooms absorb chemicals from their environment like sponges, including toxins, and it was recommended that they only be consumed if they’re organic.

  14. I’ve been buying bags of dried shiitake from the Asian market here, as they keep well and are much less expensive than fresh. I also grind to a powder and use this powder to season meats and veggies for an incredible savory taste… something I can’t really do with fresh mushrooms.
    Do dried have the same health benefits as fresh, or am I better off buying small quantities of fresh mushrooms when I’m ready to use them?

  15. must…resist…urge…to make mario and magic mushroom references

  16. Our Earth has a brain and the mycelium can save the world. It almost seems boring to even talk about whether mushrooms are “good” for “us”. But good to know, nonetheless. I love mushrooms.

  17. Yumm, I love my mushrooms sautéed in butter then I stir in a decent blob of sour cream, freshly ground salt and pepper and it’s all good to go.

    Great with steak, chicken, I have even tried tried with fish as well!

    If I want fancy and have a little more time, I’ll add some onions and spinach if you are interested in the recipe for that.

  18. I love mushrooms cooked in butter and garlic – perhaps some rosemary too. Yesterday, at work team lunch, I was struggling to pick primal friendly dishes from a Spanish tapas menu. But found and ordered mushrooms pan-fried with garlic, chili and sherry vinegar. Coupled it with some chili mussels. Yummy, yummy in my tummy!

    1. Some of the tastiest mushrooms I’ve ever eaten were at a tapas bar in Spain, sauteed with slivers of jamon serrano. I think there was some sherry & maybe onions in there too. Heavenly!

  19. That vitamin D thing is crazy! I am definitely going to give my mushrooms a sunbath from now on!

    Thanks for an inspiring post.

  20. I have a strong hankering for steak and mushrooms now….. good for me, tastes good, I know how to make them….. All I have to do is buy them.

    1. And that right there is the problem, since mushrooms tend to be expensive (well, so does everything else) or else I’d probably eat a lot more of them. I wonder if I can go into a store, stuff my pockets with them, and use as an excuse if security stops me that I just haven’t washed my clothes in a while.

  21. I LOVE mushrooms. But I read that they are not best for expecting mothers. Does anyone have any information on mushrooms and pregnancy? (For future reference…..)

    1. My OB told me to avoid the wild varieties, but she advocated a diet rich in the store bought varieties (for mom’s who could eat them, I am very unfortunately allergic). I imagine that if you listen to your body, you would be fine.

      1. Thank you!

        I have already been dodging them a bit, but now I can at least remove them from my “avoid” list!

  22. Living in Japan gives me GREAT access to shrooms 🙂 Grass-fed meats and butter, nuts and fats other than veggie oils are eitehr very expensive or hard to come by here. I do shrooms a lot to compensate this. I’m particularly fond of “nabe” which is a “hot-pot”. You put pork, Pak-choi,carrots and radish in it too. It’s amazing!

    1. Also living in Japan. For butter, I recommend YOTSUBA (???? butter from Hokkaido, it is very reasonably priced (250-300 yen) and so tasty I sometimes just eat it by itself. They have different varieties including fermented butter (??????, which tastes amazing! sure if you can read Japanese or not but at least you can see what the packages look like! I like the ones in the tubs.)

      For animal fats, you can get the little cubes of animal fat for free in the grocery store next to the meats. Usually they are in small plastic bags. I usually grab some of those every time I go to the grocery store.

      1. Hi J.K.
        Thanks for the tip on the fermented butter. Hadn’t heard of that one. Free lard cubes? Yeah I love those 🙂

      2. I definitely second the recommendation of Yotsuba’s fermented butter! It’s easy to find in the regular supermarkets around here, and I have been known to take a spoon to it…

        Seijo Ishii has a fairly good selection of oils, including some decent coconut oil options, although I don’t know whether they have many stores outside Tokyo. They’re good for more obscure ingredients in general, but not particularly cheap 🙁

        Would also be interested to hear if anyone has any other tips about meat, or non-farmed fish–there’s an abundance of good value fish available, but I don’t know what is or isn’t wild-caught (only where it was caught). At least we do have lots of delicious varieties of mushrooms everywhere, though! (If only my roommate didn’t hate them all…)

    2. Where do you get the grass-fed meat? I can find it only in expensive upscale supermarkets in Tokyo and through The Meat Guy in Nagoya. It’s all imported, too. Nothing local.

  23. Great post, I love mushrooms and am looking into foraging for them here in California.

    I don’t think selenium, copper, and pantothenic acid are all that rare in a Paleo animal seafood based diet though. Pantothenic acid is found in all foods (pan means all as is often pointed out) and there is no evidence of deficiency in the diet (it would be serious though as it is part of Coenzyme A). I’ll take it anyway and all nutrients happily.

    The vitamin D found in plant foods including fungi is Vitamin D2. D2 can be metabolized by humans but not so well. D3 is the human form of Vitamin D and what we make from the sun and what we best metabolize. D2 supplementation of foods is rare nowadays.

  24. There’s a great Chanterelle spot near me that is a closely guarded secret. We can pull 60 lbs a year out…Forest bathing is great, forest bathing + chanterelle hunting is better! Fresh, dried, and frozen, I sure hope there are benefits…other than delirious deliciousness.

    Also, Mark, I acknowledge your butter and broth, but urge you to try butter and smoked turkey fat (skimmed drippings of the smoked Thanksgiving sacrifice) in equal parts in your next batch. My wife ate that, eggs, and bacon every day for a month of her pregnancy. My son will be one soon and just had his first chanterelle…I think he remembered it; yep, that good–flavor so powerful he tasted it in utero!

  25. This reminds me of high school, when friends of mine would be bragging about their mushroom “trip” that they had over the weekends!

    It’s amazing what a single plant can do for us human beings. It’s also not surprising that there are the poisonous kinds that we should avoid of this plant. I should probably take notes of which ones are not poisonous so if I’m ever in need of surviving in the wilderness, it would come into use!

    Thanks for this Mark!

  26. Sadly I hate everything about mushrooms, except the health benefits.

  27. Just saw a new recipe on one of my fave cooking sites for sweet and sour mushrooms:

    Don’t try to substitute the water dropwart (minari) with basil or anything else – nothing subs well for it. But the recipe works without it.

    I am careful buying dried mushrooms from Asian stores – I won’t buy any food products from China.

  28. I’ve always loved mushrooms, and love incorporating them into my meals (liver and onions + mushrooms, anyone?)! Thanks for all the info…I love learning more about the things I love to eat!

  29. Shiitake mushrooms always make me nauseous. They sometimes me me want to vomit. Quite a few people experience side effects from them.

  30. I love Armillaria mellea (honey fungus) and Armillaria ostoyae. With onion in omelette. nom!

  31. Does anyone use Reishi or Chaga and what is the best way to consume for max health benefits?

  32. I’ve made some soups with mixed dried mushrooms that turned out really well.
    I used a bunch of them and cabbage as the main ingredients with onions, some greens, whatever other vegetables were in the fridge, a variety of herbs and spices that I didn’t shy on, hot sauce, worcestershire sauce, and added a chunk of cheese into my bowl right after serving so it melted. I couldn’t stop going back to the kitchen and eating more (and adding more sauce and cheese) until I’d had too much.

  33. I don’t the mechanism by which mushrooms synthesize vitamin D but I wonder if it reduces the amount of any other nutrients in them. It has to come from somewhere.
    Same with leaving plants out in the sun or exposing them to UV.

  34. I hate cooking / frying anything (as the fumes fuck with my skin and make me gag, so I never actually cook anything in this way at all, but other people do it near me and I have to leave the room) and just eat everything raw except eggs which I heat up in a microwave. Do I have to cook mushrooms? Can’t I just blend them with olive oil and just eat the result? My diet is basically oatmeal, jam, and fruits all day and I eat as much as I can possibly stuff into my stomach constantly (and I never feel hungry btw, not even if I run out of food for days, I just never experience desire to eat; I only eat to live). According to your chart here: I am in the danger zone, as I eat WAY OVER 300+ carbs every single day, but I am actually trying very hard to gain weight and am 6’4″ and inclined to using up all energy I ever attain on intense physical exertion and meditation. I have never been overweight in my life and struggle to keep my weight up. I am looking to increase my fat intake massively as I have little fat in my diet and have a lot of fatigue lately. I only do odd jobs for money and am so poor, most of my food I get for free, so it limits what I can eat but I’m trying to find nuts, seeds, avocados, and other good fat sources. I right now have olive oil and that’s basically my only source of fat other than eggs and a little odd meat here and there. I want to find food like roots/vegetables/mushrooms to combine with my olive oil as I feel that consuming the olive oil just by itself like I’ve been doing does not seem to be that great for my body for some reason, I think perhaps I need to combine it with blended roots/vegetables/mushrooms.

    tl;dr can I just blend the mushrooms with olive oil and eat it raw? …or maybe heat the mushrooms up in the microwave a bit then do that?