Mushroom Council to invest $1.5m in nutrition and plant-based research

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags mushrooms Nutrition Plant-based foods

A $1.5 million injection into mushroom-based research will look at how the ingredient can help brain and cognitive health and form part of a nutritious diet, including plant-based diets.

The Mushroom Council, a trade association whose members produce or import around half a million pounds of mushrooms in the US each year, will invest $1.5 million in various research projects aimed at broadening the understanding of mushrooms’ nutritional qualities and overall health benefits.

The $1.5 million investment will be divided between six different research projects conducted by nutrition scientists across two years.

The final list:

  • Nutrimetabolomics and markers of health promotion of mushrooms in healthy eating patterns.
  • Modeling the effects of substituting or adding a full serving of mushrooms to healthy eating patterns.
  • Insights into mushrooms’ relationship with cognitive health in older adults.
  • Study on mushrooms’ impact on brain health in animal modeling.
  • Investigating mushroom consumption and preference among preschoolers.
  • Analysis of mushrooms for bioactives/ergothioneine for inclusion in USDA database.

The mushroom boom

Mushrooms' health halo has been growing in recent years​ due to a rise in interest in adaptogens - the idea that certain foods, including mushrooms, can adapt their healing properties to the body's specific needs -  and healthy plant-based diets. In 2017, sales of mushrooms in the US generated nearly $5bn in revenue, according to market research firm Grand View Research, and the market is expected to rise to $7.4bn in the next three years.

The Mushroom Council's choice of research topics taps into current trends and aims to plug gaps in scientific knowledge.

Although mushrooms are a fungi, food grouping systems include mushrooms in the vegetable subgroup. The dietary guidelines for Americans ​[between] 2015 to 2020 and going forward to 2020 to 2025 – recommend several healthy eating patterns. This research will look at mushrooms’ contribution to these patterns, which suggest a shift to more plant-based diets," ​said Mary Jo Feeney, a food industry consultant who oversees the Mushroom Council nutrition research program research.

According to Feeny, the link between mushroom intake and cognitive and brain health, which features on the list twice, is an important area for future research.

“There have been some observational studies, pre-clinical studies in rodents and limited human intervention studies some using medicinal mushrooms.  However, there is limited information on the benefits of common dietary mushrooms making this research of importance,” ​she told FoodNavigator-USA.

Additionally, if mushroom bioactives such as ergothioneine were added to the USDA database, researchers could quantify the intake of such bioactives and design clinical studies to investigate their effects in a variety of conditions, she explained.

The Council did not disclose details of which researchers or academic institutions would carry out this research or the breakdown of funding for each research topic.

However, Feeney said the final results would be published in peer-reviewed journals, which the trade group would use as the scientific basis for health professional and consumer-focused communications.

The food industry is increasingly looking to certain forms of fungi to make food healthier.

Brands such as Quorn make meat alternatives with plant-based mycoprotein while US company MycoTechnology uses the enzymes and metabolites from the fermented filament-like roots or mycelium of mushrooms to reduce bitterness, allowing manufacturers to decrease the amount of added salt or sugar in food and drink products, although the Mushroom Council research does not cover these areas.

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