Could mushrooms hold the key to solving the obesity epidemic?
By: Dr Nor Hazlina Hashim
According to the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS), one in two Malaysian adults is currently grappling with overweight or obesity. What’s even more concerning is the persistent upward trajectory of obesity rates in Malaysia, with projections indicating a further increase in the coming years. A report by the World Obesity Federation predicts that by 2035, a staggering 41 percent of the country’s adults will be classified as obese.
In 2020, statistics revealed that Malaysians consumed mushrooms at a rate of only 1.0 kg per person annually, a figure that has gradually inched up to 2.4 kg per person. Despite this upward trend, mushroom consumption in the country still remains relatively low, even though varieties like grey oyster, black jelly, ganoderma, and Shiitake thrive in local cultivation.
It is apparent that many individuals may not be fully aware of or informed about the numerous health benefits associated with mushroom consumption. Over the years, mushrooms have been the subject of various health-related myths, spanning both modern and traditional remedies, and cutting across different cultures. These myths have attributed mushroom consumption to a range of health benefits, from medical advantages and anti-aging properties to longevity, detoxification, and even weight loss solutions.
Each species of mushroom boasts its unique set of nutritional advantages, thanks to its rich content of protein, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. A study conducted by researchers at the Department of Biomedical Science, Universiti Malaya (UM) has shed light on the role of polysaccharides, specifically beta-glucans, in facilitating the breakdown of fat through the influence of various cellular processes, including cellular glucose uptake. This study primarily focuses on grey oyster mushrooms and significantly indicates that incorporating them into one’s diet may expedite weight loss.
Now, it is high time for Malaysians to consider the potential health benefits of grey oyster mushrooms as a viable alternative to traditional diet and exercise programs for weight management. Mushrooms have long been a staple ingredient in numerous dishes of typical Malaysian cuisine, and due to their widely recognized scientific benefits, they are frequently featured as an essential component on restaurant menus.
Most types of mushrooms offer a distinct flavour profile that complements a wide range of cuisines, making them a versatile addition to any dish or culinary creation. In the case of grey oyster mushrooms, they are commonly used in soups like tom yam or clear broth, as well as in porridge and mixed vegetable dishes, where their unique flavour and texture have made them a favorite among chefs.
In another study conducted by UM in the field of consumer psychology, a survey was administered to approximately 350 respondents within the Klang Valley region. The research findings unveiled that, among the seven food combinations incorporating grey oyster mushrooms in dried powder form, including frozen meatballs, pasta, pizza toppings, rice-based dishes (such as porridge), seasonings (cubes/paste), snacks (biscuits/chips), and soups, it was the inclusion of mushrooms in meatballs that garnered the highest favourability among consumers.
Similarly, in a related study, the majority of consumers expressed a preference for various mushroom varieties, with button mushrooms (20%), shiitake mushrooms (15%), grey oyster mushrooms (14%), and white oyster mushrooms (13%) ranking at the top. Consumers appear to be particularly drawn to mushrooms for their perceived health benefits, which include cognitive enhancement, antioxidant properties, anti-aging attributes, anti-cancer potential, cholesterol reduction, blood pressure management, and heart disease prevention, with 44% of respondents citing health-related reasons for their attraction to mushrooms. Additionally, 37% of consumers were enticed by the taste and aroma of mushrooms, while 19% considered mushrooms as a protein source, with some individuals adhering to a vegetarian diet.
Indeed, mushrooms are a convenient addition to one’s diet, as they can be easily preserved with minimal effort. These fungi can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator, and their shelf life can be extended through drying or freezing methods. Given their simplicity in preparation, they can be seamlessly incorporated into daily meals.
Presently, cultivating mushrooms, especially grey oyster mushrooms, has become an uncomplicated endeavour. You can readily procure them online, either in their fresh form or as powdered extracts, with many online retailers offering convenient home delivery services. Alternatively, you have the option to initiate your mushroom garden, whether it be on your balcony or in your backyard. When sustainably grown, this fungus holds the potential to provide a sustainable and boundless source of food.
In conclusion, grey oyster mushrooms constitute a valuable dietary addition to a wide range of common recipes. Mushrooms, owing to their remarkable nutritional profile, culinary adaptability, sustainable cultivation, and ease of preservation, offer an excellent means to augment daily culinary offerings. Individuals of all ages can reap the benefits of incorporating mushrooms into their diets, especially those who are overweight or obese, as part of a holistic approach to healthy weight management, aimed at reducing the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and other infectious ailments.
The author is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Management and Marketing, Faculty of Business and Economics, Universiti Malaya, and one of the researchers for IIRG005-19HWB research grant.