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Mushrooms: A window into the future of sustainable nutrition

Kushal Banerjee

Assistant Professor

Department of Biotechnology, Kalinga University, Naya Raipur


In the last few decades, humanity has faced an array of issues stemming from overpopulation, natural calamities, environmental problems and various global conflicts. All these problems were already hampering our global food supply, but they have been even more exacerbated by the recent Covid-19 pandemic which struck a heavy blow to the Sustainable Goals of the United Nation to provide equitable food supply to the world and eradicate malnourishment and related diseases.

Although recent studies indicate a decrease in the overall global population rate, the population of developing regions like Africa, Asia and the Middle East is still expected to grow. These developing regions are therefore facing the maximum risk of diseases stemming from food scarcity and nutrient deprivation.

The obvious rectification of food scarcity is to increase our agricultural productivity. But, according to recent estimates, agricultural productivity is already growing at a higher rate than the population growth rate. This raises serious concerns about whether the available arable land is even capable of sustaining the growing population or not. Moreover, an increased dependence on agricultural, meat and fishery industries come with their own share of problems ranging from a rapid depletion of natural resources, increasing greenhouse gas emissions as well as an increased cost of products which might not be feasible for the common populace.

In light of these facts, it becomes pertinent to look for alternative sources of nutrition to alleviate some of the stress on the more traditional sources of nutrition. Mushrooms represent one such source of nutrition which has been gaining increased popularity since the last few decades.

The interest in mushrooms as an alternative source of nutrition is multi-faceted. First of all, out of all the mushroom species whose nutritional profiling has been done, a good percentage demonstrate a high protein content, sometimes even higher than traditional plant sources and milk. Mushrooms are also a rich source of carbohydrates and dietary fibre and contain relatively small amount of fats and lipids. Mushrooms exhibit a complete amino acid profile and contain a good amount of essential fatty acids. This allows their potential incorporation into a healthy, balanced diet.

Mushrooms also exhibit a diverse profile of vitamins, polysaccharides, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and secondary metabolites such as phenols, terpenoids, flavonoids, tannins and saponins, which impart them various nutraceutical and therapeutic properties such as antioxidant, anticancer, anti-fatigue, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, hypoglycaemic, hepatoprotective and hypotensive effects, anticoagulation, immune-modulating activities, as well as  cholesterol and body fat reduction among others. So, there is an opportunity of the potential incorporation of these mushrooms as nutraceuticals in our regular diets.

Moreover, compared to traditional sources of nutrition like agriculture, mushrooms also require relatively less land and water resources for their propagation. The lower dependence on resources allows us to cut down on the cost of their production, and with a proper understanding of their cultivation, employment opportunities can be generated for the working-class population.

Although research regarding mushrooms has gained considerable traction in the last decade, still only about 10% of the total mushroom species of the world has been explored. This leaves a wide avenue for the discovery of novel sources of nutrition and nutraceuticals among mushrooms from unexplored regions of the planet. This goes to show that proper utilization of this valuable resource can go a long way towards developing a sustainable and functional source of food for the upcoming generations!

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