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I'm told that young children (like, 1.5 years old) must not be allowed to eat mushrooms, even if they are sourced from a supermarket and properly cooked. The alleged reason is that they can't be digested at this age. When I questioned the source, I was told "I hear it on TV all the time", which sounds a bit dodgy.

I tried finding any advice on this in English and there doesn't seem to be anything, but if I search in Russian I get lots and lots of online articles stating that they are too hard to digest and therefore dangerous. None quote any sources, of course.

So, can children older than 12 months eat properly sourced and cooked mushrooms?

  • My son eats mushrooms all the time, no problems. Not an official answer, but it seems that evidence to the contrary would suffice. Anyway, perhaps it depends on the type of mushrooms. Are the species of mushrooms used in Russia the same as used in America or elsewhere? – Kibbee Nov 9 '11 at 13:46
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    A lot of "children should/shouldn't eat X" are rooted in culture rather than science. So if it's only one region that makes such a claim, then I wouldn't worry too much. Also, "unable to digest" is not really an issue. It'll just come out almost like new. – Jonas Nov 9 '11 at 18:11
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    @Jonas - the reason Russia has a heavy weight as far as that claim is that mushrooms are a big food source in Russia in general. – user5341 Nov 9 '11 at 18:57
  • Maybe they meant "young children must not be allowed to eat psychedelic mushrooms"? – Alain Nov 10 '11 at 17:19
  • Mushrooms of various kinds are a popular food ingredient here in Czech republic, with some meals ("smaženice") prepared with high proportion of mushrooms. It is a common advice not to serve such meals to small children. Article rodina.cz/clanek760.htm lists following reasons: - contain chitin (chitin seems to be proven alergen) - can be toxic - can contain heavy metals – Suma Nov 11 '11 at 12:35
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As stated in the OP, English-language food guides do not mention mushrooms as foods to avoid (example from the UK's NHS). This doesn't necessarily mean that mushrooms are good, since mushrooms may not constitute an important enough food source in the UK, though if they were very dangerous, I would expect to find them listed.

It's not quite clear to me what "Difficult to digest" really means - if the fear is that the mushrooms pass mostly undigested, then mushrooms are not a big problem. Quite a few foods seem to pass through the system hardly digested, for example peas, when the kids cannot chew very well yet, and when their digestive system is still maturing. The only possible concern is that if mushrooms make up an important fraction of the diet, children do not get enough calories (in fact, mushrooms are supposed to help you lose weight, something you're usually trying to avoid in small children).

However, if you understand "difficult to digest" as leading to "feelings of being unwell", the difficult-to-digest mushrooms may actually be slightly toxic. Toxicity is measured in terms of amount per body mass, so the same amount of mushrooms that leads to a slight indigestion (or not even) in an adult could have more severe consequences in a small child. Thus, if you know that specific kinds of mushrooms make you unwell, you shouldn't be giving them to a kid.

In sum, as long as you get properly sourced properly cooked (and reasonably radiation-free) mushrooms that don't make you feel unwell, and as long as these mushrooms aren't making up a large portion of the kids diet, all should be fine.

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    Radiation-free? – Dan Feb 4 '13 at 22:52
  • @Dan: Mushrooms tend to accumulate radiation. This becomes relevant e.g. if the OP is living close enough to Chernobyl. – Jonas Feb 5 '13 at 12:47
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    @Dan: A funny, somewhat related anecdote: I worked at a nuclear power plant for a while, where radiation is measured when you arrive and when you leave. As the story goes, one fellow set off the radiation alarms entering the plant, but it was not clear where he came into contact with radioactive materials. After a lengthy investigation it was determined that the fellow had eaten wild caribou, and the caribou had been eating lichen on radioactive rocks. Enough radioactive material was passed to him from the caribou meat that the detectors went off. – Brian M. Hunt Mar 11 '13 at 12:51
  • @BrianM.Hunt: I knew that some foods are radioactive (bananas for example), but I wasn't aware that common foods like mushrooms could be radioactive enough to be dangerous. – Dan Mar 11 '13 at 19:09

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