Getting enough vitamin D from your diet can be challenging since this disease-fighting nutrient is found in relatively few foods. However, the delicious news is that mushrooms can provide just as much vitamin D as supplements, according to research presented at the American Society for Biochemistry and Microbiology annual meeting in Boston in April.
That’s because mushrooms contain ergosterol, a precursor to vitamin D2, one of the two major biologically active forms of vitamin D (the other is vitamin D3). Mushrooms transform ergosterol into vitamin D2 when they’re exposed to UV light, just as our skin naturally produces vitamin D when we’re out in the sun.
In the study, participants were either given capsules containing 2,000 IU of vitamin D3, 2,000 IU of D2, or 2,000 IU of powder from sun-exposed mushrooms containing D2. The volunteers took the capsules daily for 12 weeks during the winter.
The researchers measured the volunteers’ blood levels of vitamin D at the start of the study, using the serum 25–hydroxyvitamin D test (the most accurate way to check for deficiency). Repeat testing showed that the participants’ vitamin D levels gradually rose for seven weeks, then plateaued for five weeks.
At the end of the study, there was no difference between the supplement users and those who took the powder, suggesting that sun-exposed mushrooms can be a surprisingly powerful natural way to boost vitamin D levels.
A delightfully versatile ingredient, mushrooms can enliven any meal, from a breakfast omelet to dressing up spinach salad at lunchtime, or adding hearty, meaty flavor to a stir-fried dinner. Also try marinating and grilling mushrooms as a savory side dish to serve with chicken or fish. When the stems are removed, the caps make attractive–and delicious–little bowls to heap with your favorite filling. Or sauté chopped mushrooms, carrots, onions, and green bell pepper, then add herbs, garlic and broth and simmer for a comforting soup.
If you’re not a fan of mushrooms you might want to optimize your vitamin-D levels with a high quality supplement.