AICR HealthTalk: Mushrooms as a Vegetarian Option Over Meat

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Each week, Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, discusses hot topics where diet, nutrition, and cancer collide, for the American Institute for Cancer Research.

This week, she addresses whether mushrooms will work as a vegetarian alternative to meat.

Q: Are mushrooms a good vegetarian alternative to meat?

A: Mushrooms are not a substitute for meat nutritionally because they are not equivalent in protein amount or quality, and they do not provide comparable amounts of iron, zinc or vitamin B-12. On the other hand, mushrooms do provide a variety of nutrients with just 15 calories in a whole cup of raw chopped or sliced mushrooms. For example, they are a good source of the mineral selenium, an antioxidant that may play a role in reducing risk of chronic diseases.

Mushrooms do have a “meaty” texture and add a flavor known as “umami” that tends to be very satisfying, which makes them ideal to include in pasta sauce, stews, casseroles, chili and other mixed dishes to maintain a rich flavor and texture while reducing or eliminating the meat they contain. In dishes that contain large amounts of meat, replace a quarter to a half of the meat with mushrooms to make the dish lower in calories and still delicious. You can also create a vegetarian dish by substituting mushrooms for all the meat or poultry in a recipe. However, in this case, make sure the meal also includes a good source of protein, for example, at least a half-cup of dried beans or quarter-cup of nuts.

This strategy can help you follow a cancer-protective plant-based diet by keeping animal protein to no more than one-third of your plate. You can also reduce risk for colorectal cancer by eating no more than 18 ounces of red meat weekly to meet one of the recommendations for cancer prevention from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

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