Mushrooms: from what age can children eat them?

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Catherine Le Nevez
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September, time for mushrooms. And the classic question about children returns on time: can they eat them or not? From what age are they allowed?

The toxicologist Francesca Assisi medical director of the Poison Control Center of the Niguarda Hospital in our city and author of an information booklet on the prevention of mushroom poisoning distributed by the Ministry of Health, she has no doubts:

"No mushrooms to children under 12, not even occasionally".

The nutritionist pediatrician also has a similar opinion Theresa Capriati, of the Artificial Nutrition Operational Unit of the Bambino Gesù Pediatric Hospital in the city. "Mushrooms are absolutely to be avoided in preschool, when the child has not yet reached a full maturation of the intestinal enzymatic structure necessary for their digestion. nutritional value (they can be replaced by other safer foods and with equal, if not greater, nutritional value) may involve a certain amount of risk even at this age ".

According to Capriati, in short, with older children a little common sense should be used:

“In fact, it is useless to take a risk knowing that you can safely eat something else”.

Mushrooms for children: it is better to avoid even the occasional consumption

Obviously, when we talk about the consumption of mushrooms by children we are referring to however edible mushrooms, certainly not at poisonous species. The risks associated with the consumption of the latter are well known and that is real intoxications (the so-called "mushroom poisoning"), which in some cases can be fatal or lead to organ transplant (kidney or liver).

"The fact is that even edible mushrooms can be indigestible and cause vomiting and diarrhea and if vomiting and diarrhea are important, it leads to dehydration, which can be critical for a child ", explains Assisi. Who deals with the subject with great competence and passion:" I have been dealing with this problem since 1992 - he remembers - and on balance facts I have seen far too many older children, of school age, end up in hospital after eating edible mushrooms. These are situations that may require important therapies and which can become critical: this is why I believe it is better to use the utmost caution. It is also better to avoid occasional consumption: it is obvious that not all children would be sick after eating mushrooms, but if we allow the exception and then something really happens? ".

Read also: Mushrooms in pregnancy, how to behave

The possible risks of consuming edible mushrooms by children

Although they are generally considered to be a vegetable, mushrooms have characteristics that distinguish them from plants, such as the possession of cells coated with walls of chitin, an indigestible fiber also present in the exoskeleton of insects "explains Capriati. And not only that: they also have ahigh percentage of sugars such as trehalose and mannitol that children cannot "manage", because they are constitutively deficient in the enzymes responsible for their cleavage.

"Let's take the porcini mushrooms", says Capriati. "Each single mushroom can be more or less rich in trehalose (generally it is more so when it is young): when the content of this sugar is high and perhaps the mushroom is eaten raw, severe food intolerances can occur upon ingestion in individuals - such as children - who do not produce sufficient amounts of trehalase, the enzyme capable of digesting it. Symptoms? Abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting".

And again: mushrooms rich in mannitol can exert an action on the intestinal mucosa which can lead to diarrhea, especially if the mushrooms are eaten raw. "In addition to the fact that up to a certain age children are devoid of trehalose - continues the nutritionist - we add the fact that, even if the enzyme exists, children often tend not to chew or do not chew sufficiently and this does not favor its action, increasing the risk of unpleasant reactions ".

Read also: Forbidden foods (at least) up to the child's three years

Fungi, food infections and allergies

That's not all, because mushrooms can also be a real one receptacle for bacteria, potentially pathogenic, and if eaten raw this constitutes an obvious problem, with the risk of food poisoning. "The development of gastrointestinal symptoms (abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, even fever) after the ingestion of mushrooms, especially if raw or undercooked or if badly stored. We recall in this regard that prolonged storage, especially at room temperature, represents a sure source of risk".

Obviously, the correct storage of mushrooms and their cooking before consumption should eliminate most of the risk of toxic infection, "but the problem of children with respect to these reactions - underlines the nutritionist - is always linked to their low body weight, for which a toxicity threshold has been established for a specific bacterial presence, it is normal that the same quota can more easily reach the toxicity threshold in a child than in an adult ".

Finally, there is the risk of food allergy to fungi, which manifest themselves with symptoms

  • oral,
  • gastrointestinal,
  • cutaneous,
  • respirators,
  • vassal

although they have only been described for some types of mushrooms, including the common cultivated champignon and a boleto belonging to the so-called "porcini" family).

Read also: Weaning and food allergies: when to introduce risky foods

Mushrooms seen by the nutritionist

"From a nutritional point of view, mushrooms - with obvious differences from species to species - bring a lot of water, few calories and few proteins, which are however of high biological value (comparable more to those of meat and fish than to those of vegetables) "says Capriati. Then there are sugars, including trehalose and mannitol, fiber and a small amount of fat. "Mushrooms are also a good source of micronutrients such as vitamins, including B12, and minerals."

But beware: even if in some ways these nutritional characteristics may appear interesting, the other side of the coin - that is, the indigestibility and the risk of toxic infections - they absolutely do not justify the consumption of mushrooms by children, nor regular consumption by adults.

How to consume them safely, after 12 years

Here are Teresa Capriati's advice:

  • Mushrooms must be of controlled origin and if collected personally (which is not advisable if you are not an expert) they must be subjected to the evaluation of the mycological inspectorates of the ASL who carry out the recognition free of charge;
  • mushroom picking should always take place in areas that are not exposed to heavy metals (like the edges of the roads), because the mushrooms behave like sponges that absorb these microelements adding to the risk of intolerance / indigestion also that of metallic contamination;
  • mushrooms must be consumed cooked (or rather well cooked);
  • at the time of cooking they should be healthy and fresh and in good condition;
  • during cooking it is useful keep the lid off in order to evaporate any thermolabile toxic substances and at the end of cooking it is good throw away the cooking water;
  • do not exceed 200-300 g of mushrooms per week (fresh weight).

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