The Good Carbs in Mushrooms
I get it — the very idea that carbohydrates can and should be part of a healthy diet is sacrilege in many corners of the American diet industry.
Low-carb diets like Atkins and the keto diet have exploded in popularity as health “experts” promise that the cause of obesity, high blood sugar, and other diseases stem from the excess of carbs in North American diets (compared to protein and fat).
At best, that’s a half-truth. It’s true that in addition to extremely sedentary lifestyles, diets that are high in calories and carbs may cause health problems, but it’s not the full story.
The problem is that focusing on the word “carbohydrate” doesn’t provide enough information. Not all carbs are created equal, and some are far more beneficial for health than others. The kind of carbs you consume can have drastically different effects on your health and body.
We know mushrooms aren’t typically included in the average list of carbohydrate sources, but they may be an ideal carbohydrate that’s been hiding in your grocery store all along.
Wait...Aren’t Carbs Unhealthy?
If you move, you should eat carbohydrates. Unless you follow an extremely strict ketogenic diet — which involves getting up to 80 percent of your calories from pure fat, at which point your body starts using fat for fuel — your body requires carbs for energy, whether that involves lifting weights or just walking to the bathroom.
But it’s true that some carbs can have less desirous effects than others.
“Simple carbohydrates, like those found in white sugar, pasta, and refined flour, break down very quickly in the stomach,” says Leyla Shamayeva, MS, RD, a New York City-based dietitian and journalist. “The sugars rush to the bloodstream, causing a quick spike in energy that’s followed by the all-too-familiar crash later on.”
It’s not that there’s no place for simple carbs in a diet. They can be handy before or after intense activity, and the effect on blood sugar can be attenuated if they’re consumed with protein, fat, or fiber (or a combination of the three).
That said, many folks consume meals and foods that consist mostly of refined carbs, which in addition to causing significant spikes in blood sugar are usually low in nutrition[*].
Low Carb Mushrooms
With any food, it’s important to look at the bigger picture. Mushrooms are an amazing place to get your carbs, but they have an enormous amount of benefits that are unrelated to the carb content.
Mushrooms are lower in carbohydrates (and calories) than pretty much any other vegetable. If you look at the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference you’ll see the carb count of a full cup of raw white mushrooms is only 2 grams of carbs[*]. With 0.7 grams of dietary fiber in that same amount, it’s only 1.3 grams of net carbs.
Especially when you’re eating a functional mushroom powder of Reishi, Lion’s Mane, and Chaga, the max amount of carbs you’ll be consuming is 4 grams carbs for an effective serving. Most likely it’s only 1 gram of total carbs.
Types of Carbs in Mushrooms
Polysaccharides in Mushrooms
A polysaccharide is a chemical compound made up of chains of complex carbs. You’ve probably heard of starch, glycogen, and cellulose. Those are all polysaccharides, and as a carb-conscious human you’re watching out for them. But they aren’t the only polysaccharides.
Fungi have unique and, frankly, magical polysaccharides that do many things in the human body. As one example, preliminary research suggests that the polysaccharides in maitake may support blood sugar management[*].
Beta-Glucans in Mushrooms
Another type of polysaccharide (carb) in mushrooms are beta-glucans. You’ve probably heard of them before. They are where many of the health benefits of functional mushrooms come from, especially for immune function.
Some research shows that the polysaccharides, especially beta-glucan, activate cells that make up your immune system called leukocytes[*].
“Beta-glucan was originally shown to stimulate a variety of cells the body uses to defend itself naturally, like macrophages and T-cells,” says Shamayeva.
One of the most interesting pieces of research was a review of 62 studies on polysaccharides that was published in “Nutrition Journal.” The studies included rodent and human research, and the authors concluded that "numerous dietary polysaccharides, particularly glucans, appear to elicit diverse immunomodulatory effects in numerous animal tissues, including the blood, GI tract and spleen”[*].
The beta-glucans and other polysaccharides in mushrooms are definitely “good carbs” with many benefits for your body. If you’re prioritizing carbs due to a restriction like in the keto or Atkins diet, you want to fit in the best options.
Additional Nutrients in Mushrooms
“Fortunately, I think mushrooms are now finally being viewed as foods that have nutrients that are good for you as opposed to previously, when I think people felt like mushrooms are just low in calories,” says Mary Jo Feeney MS, RD, FADA, a dietitian and consultant for the United States’ Food and Agriculture Industries. “Of course, they have almost no fat and do help to fill you up with fewer calories. But they’re also an excellent source of biotin (B7), pantothenic acid (B5), selenium, copper, and riboflavin (B2).”
We know — those aren’t usually the nutrients that most people think of when they think “nutritious superfood.” But that’s why mushrooms are such an excellent addition to your diet: they provide the nutrients you might not know you need.
Biotin, for example, is also known as vitamin B7 and was once known as vitamin H. It plays a key role in the body, supporting the health and proper function of the skin, hair, nails, nerves, digestive tract, metabolism, and cells[*].
One of the most interesting nutritional properties of mushrooms is that they provide vitamin D, a nutrient that humans are usually only exposed to through sunlight.
“Many commercial mushrooms are exposed to ultraviolet light to increase their vitamin D content to a hundred percent of the recommended daily intake,” says Feeney. “Mushrooms raised the conventional way would still have limited vitamin D, but consumers can actually improve that aspect by putting them in the sun for several minutes, which will increase the vitamin content.”
On the nutrient-dense functional mushroom side, preliminary studies on mice has found that Lion’s Mane can help fat metabolism when on a high fat diet[*]. They’re also looking into whether Reishi can help your body adjust to a high-cholesterol diet[*].
Carbs in Four Sigmatic™ Mushroom Products
Yes, mushrooms are an entirely suitable choice for those on a ketogenic or low-carb diet. If you’re restricting carbs, make it the low-carbohydrate foods that will do the most for your well-being.
Mushroom Elixirs? ✅ Yes (1 gram carbs)
Mushroom Coffees? 👍 Yes (0 grams carbs)
Mushroom Matcha? 💚 Yes (<1 gram carbs)
Mushroom Lattes? 🤷♂️ Maybe (2–3 grams carbs)
Mushroom Cacaos? 😬 Maybe (4 grams carbs)
Mushroom Lemonade? 🤔 Maybe (4 grams carbs)
Mushroom Mocha? 💬 Maybe (4 grams carbs)
(And of course, if you’re looking at non-Four Sigmatic products, check the nutrition facts panel).
Best Ways to Prepare Low-Carbohydrate Mushrooms
I’ve written a whole post about cooking with exotic low-carb mushrooms, but some more tips for low-carb mushroom recipes:
Add Olive Oil for Better Nutrient Absorption
“If you’re using Vitamin D- enriched mushrooms, a little bit of oil helps the absorption of that particular vitamin,” says Feeney. “But the thing is that people usually stir-fry them very quickly anyway, so the way consumers eat mushrooms usually helps retain their nutrients. That’s a benefit too, that you don’t have to cook them very long.”
Personally I love a high-quality Italian olive oil.
Heat Quickly to Help Retain B Vitamins
High heat and water is likely to reduce the B-vitamins — biotin, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid — however, the minerals are more stable and should be largely retained through any cooking process.
But if the loss of B-vitamins is a concern, which may be the case if you avoid animal products, try stir-frying them in a wok very quickly, or adding them in the last 10 minutes of making a stew. A great stir-fry can be made with other low-carbohydrate veggies like bell peppers and green beans.
Mushrooms Have a Place on Your Plate
It might sound far fetched, but whether you’re on a low- or high-carb diet, or if you simply want to eat whole, healthy foods, mushrooms have a place on your plate. The carbohydrates they provide are unbelievably nutritious and packed with good polysaccharides and beta-glucans that will add the good carbs and nutrients into your diet that you need.
To learn more about the carbs in mushrooms, check out our FREE Mushroom Academy.