Although there are over 10,000 different kinds of mushrooms out there, only a small fraction are actually worth eating. The most common mushrooms include button, cremini, portobello, shiitake, maitake (hen of the woods), enoki, chanterelle, morel, oyster, and porcini. While each of these mushrooms have different flavor profiles and best uses, they’re all extremely nutritious. Major benefits include:
1. A Lowered Cancer Risk. According to a review of 17 cancer studies conducted between 1966 and 2020, just an 1/8 of a cup of mushrooms per day may decrease your risk of cancer by as much as 45 percent! The reason? Mushrooms are rich in the antioxidant ergothioneine that slows or prevents cellular damage. All mushrooms contain ergothioneine, but shiitake, maitake, and oyster mushrooms contain more.
2. A Boosted Immune System. Mushrooms may be small, but they’re also mightily powerful nutritional powerhouses. They contain vitamin B6, vitamin D, and selenium, all of which support a healthy immune system.
3. A Reduced Sodium Intake and Lower Blood Pressure. Mushrooms pack a double whammy when it comes to cutting back on the salt. Not only are they low in sodium, but their natural umami (savory) flavor helps you cut back on added salt that can contribute to high blood pressure. Mushrooms are also rich in potassium—another nutrient that can help lower blood pressure.
4. Healthy Cholesterol Levels. By swapping red meat for mushrooms, you’ll not only be minimizing calories and saturated fat, but certain types, like shiitake, contain eritadenine, a compound known to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood.
5. Cognitive and Brain Health Protection. Cognitive and neurological decline with age is a very real concern, but there is promising evidence that mushrooms, which are rich in polyphenols, may help slow or prevent mental decline. They’re also good sources of antioxidants—including glutathione and ergothioneine (mentioned above)—which may help prevent neurological degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
6. A Healthy Gut Microbiome. A healthy gut is linked to many benefits, and mushrooms can help you obtain them. The polysaccharides found in mushrooms are not only an excellent prebiotic that nourishes healthy gut bacteria, but they pass through stomach acid unchanged—meaning they can stimulate healthy bacterial growth in the colon as well.
Functional Mushrooms—The Other Fantastic Fungi
Functional mushrooms, also known as functional fungi, adaptogenic mushrooms, or medicinal mushrooms, are used to support health and wellbeing—specifically in treating stress and damaging chronic inflammation. Unlike the mushrooms you find in the grocery store, functional mushrooms are not eaten raw, cooked into sauces or soups, or mixed into your morning omelet. Instead, these are meant to be taken in capsules, powders, or tinctures—or blended into coffee, tea or smoothies. Popular types of functional mushrooms include:
· Lion’s mane: A powerful supporter of all aspects of cognitive health including memory, concentration, clarity, and the prevention of depression and anxiety. It also promotes the creation of nerve growth factor (NGF) which may protect and regenerate brain tissue. Like other mushrooms, lion’s mane is rich in antioxidants that can reduce inflammation and ease symptoms of inflammatory conditions like IBD.
· Cordyceps: A boon to physical fitness, energy production, and immunity, cordyceps promote healthy blood flow, stimulate ATP, and increase lactate threshold (endurance). Research also shows that it helps balance hormones that can increase energy and stamina in people with fatigue.
· Chaga: A potent source of immunity- and beauty-boosting antioxidants, chaga boosts cytokine production, supports white blood cells, lowers inflammation, promotes metabolic and digestive health, and prevents/reduces damage caused by oxidative stress.
· Reishi: A multi-faceted mushroom, reishi can promote restful sleep, improve mood, stabilize blood sugar, support immunity, and may even lower excess fat storage. Reishi mushrooms also contain ganoderic acids which protect and support the liver and aid your body’s natural detoxification processes.
· Turkey tail: Like other functional mushrooms, turkey tail is a rich source of antioxidants making it an anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting powerhouse that may even aid in the treatment of certain types of cancer. Studies show that it may reduce or inhibit tumor growth as well as prevent the growth and spread of colon cancer cells. Its high polysaccharide content also supports a healthy gut.
Mushrooms are getting more—and well-deserved—attention from researchers and new potential health benefits are being discovered and studied every day. If you want to know more about how healthy foods and supplements can support your health and wellness goals, please contact me. Together we can build a nutritional plan and navigate the world of supplements to help support your quest to feel your best.