Healthy Mushroom Benefits
Mushrooms have been used as medicine for thousands of years. Wild mushrooms were used by the ancient Greeks to provide strength for warriors in battle. Mushrooms were considered 'Food of the Gods' by Ancient Romans. The Chinese culture has treasured mushrooms as an “elixir of life.”
Traditional Chinese medicine continues to highly value medicinal mushrooms.
Mushrooms are considered a vegetable when it comes to dietary recommendations, but they are actually neither a plant nor animal. They belong to the fungal kingdom, and have several key differences that distinguish them from plants and animals. For example, unlike plants and animals, fungi have no chlorophyll and exist on decaying material.
Yet fungi have received only a small fraction of the attention they deserve.
The best estimate suggests that there are between 2.2 and 3.8 million species of fungi on the Earth. As many as 10 times the estimated number of plant species.
At most, a mere 8% of all fungal species have been described.
Read More: How Mushrooms Heal Our World
More than 2,000 varieties of mushrooms are edible, but the most common is the white button mushroom. Other popular eating mushrooms include cremini mushroom, portobello mushroom, enoki, oyster, maitake and shiitake.
Mushrooms are grown in nearly every US state, but Pennsylvania produces approximately 60% of the total mushroom yield. Mushrooms have a unique nutritional profile, containing B vitamins, selenium, copper, potassium, beta glucans, and powerful antioxidants glutathione and ergothioneine.
Mushrooms are a great source of vitamin D, and produce even more of this vitamin when exposed to UV light. This makes them a great friend during the COVID-19 pandemic, when getting enough vitamin D is especially important.
Love Mushrooms They'll Love You Back
Any type of Mushroom can provide fiber and protein and is popular in vegetarian diets. Healthy mushrooms provide all the essential amino acids and have higher protein content than most vegetables. They are also low in fat, calories, and sodium, and do not contain cholesterol, sugars or gluten. However, more research is needed to fully understand the benefits and why are mushrooms so good for you.
Mushrooms are reported to include antimicrobial, anti inflammatory, anti diabetic and other properties helping to eliminate free radicals.
Mushrooms contain special nutrients, as well as bacteria, yeasts and molds that appear to have health potential. Studies show that mushrooms are linked to anticancer activity, antioxidant action, and immune boosting benefits. They have also been shown to benefit blood lipids, glucose and red blood cell production, as promote healthy gut bacteria.
Robert Beelman, director of Penn State Center for Plant and Mushroom Products for Health, has been investigating the benefits of mushrooms. He and his team found mushrooms have high amounts of ergothioneine and glutathione. This may protect against oxidative stress associated with diseases of aging, cancer, coronary heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
Countries like France and Italy, have lower incidences of neurodegenerative diseases. Those with low levels of ergothioneine are more prone to diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Whether this is a correlation or causation is unclear.
The benefits of mushrooms vary by species. Beelman and his team found the highest amounts of ergothioneine and glutathione to be in porcini mushrooms. The more common mushroom types, like grocery store white button, had less of the antioxidants.
Animal studies have reported that shiitake mushrooms have anti-tumor, cholesterol lowering and antiviral properties. Enoki mushrooms appear to also have immune boosting and anti-cancer effects.
Maitake may have anti-cancer, antiviral and immune system boosting properties, and may also reduce blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Include Mushrooms as part of your healthy diet
Mushrooms can be enjoyed raw, or cooked and added to eggs, pizza, stir-fries and numerous dishes.
Beelman recommends consuming three ounces of button mushrooms, or one ounce of specialty mushrooms (shitake, oyster, or maitake) daily.
He notes that cooking mushrooms does not appear to significantly affect the nutritional benefits in mushrooms. Mushrooms can be used a side dish or added to your favorite recipe to reduce calories and fat, while boosting nutrition.
Mushroom powder can be added to soups, sauces or smoothies for an extra boost of nutrition. Always buy mushroom powder from a good source with third-party verification to insure it is safe.
Read More: Truth About Extracted Mushroom Powders
Note: There are approximately 70 to 80 species of poisonous mushrooms. It is recommended to get mushrooms from a trusted source. If foraged, be sure to have an expert verify they are safe. Seek medical advice when taking mushrooms for any health condition.