Top 10 Mushroom Health Benefits
from brain health to weight loss
Mushrooms are (usually) edible fungi that are full of beneficial nutrients. They're so beneficial that centuries ago, only royalty was allowed access to them, as they were considered too "good" for commoners.
Mushrooms have gained popularity among pharmaceutical and nutraceutical companies as of late due to their nearly countless health benefits. It's projected that there are thousands of varieties of mushrooms, out of which only 10% have been identified by scientists! Common edible mushrooms you find on menus and at markets include white (button) mushrooms, portobello, shiitake, maitake, cremini, oyster, and enoki. Less common mushrooms such as agarikon are not typically found in stores and are instead consumed via powders or tinctures.
The nutritional makeup of mushrooms:
Mushrooms are low in carbohydrates and fat but chock full of vitamins and minerals. They are a natural source of vitamins B and D. They are also rich in calcium, protein, iron, copper, and magnesium. They contain antioxidant agents like selenium, vitamin C, and choline that help eradicate free radicals from the body.
10 Health Benefits of Mushrooms:
1. Increase energy, improve recovery, and support metabolism
B vitamins, including niacin and folate, are known for giving the body a smooth, steady supply of energy (versus the jittery energy from caffeine). These B vitamins are in abundance in mushrooms! The B vitamins help the body maintain a fast and efficient metabolism by supporting the body's ability to convert food into energy. They help produce more red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. Vitamin B also helps manage balanced hormonal levels, which improves both emotional and mental health.
2. Support heart health
Mushrooms are naturally high in potassium and low in sodium. Potassium supports a healthy heart and regulates blood pressure. Additionally, vitamin C in many mushrooms may reduce the risk of serious heart diseases. On top of that, the beta-glucans in mushrooms help prevent cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol levels.
3. Promote anti-aging - internally and externally
One of the main factors of aging is free radical damage - and one of the best solutions for this is the power of antioxidants, which mushrooms are full of. Free radicals are everywhere - they are a naturally occurring byproduct of nutrient breakdown within the body, but they're also created by environmental pollution such as UV and sun exposure. These free radicals damage and even destroy the cellular structures, proteins, RNA, and DNA in the body.
Free radicals cause oxidative stress, resulting in loss of skin elasticity and wrinkles. The antioxidants found in mushrooms neutralize the free radicals and can stop or delay damage to cells and reduce the aging process.
4. Boost immunity
Mushrooms support the body's immune system and natural defense against infections by activating the immune cells responsible for destroying pathogens, such as killer-T cells and cytokines.
The beta-glucans in mushrooms also help stimulate the immune system and promote healthy gut bacteria.
5. Support brain health and memory
Mushrooms support cognitive health via two main mechanisms: antioxidants and NGF. Research has shown that adding mushrooms to your diet can reduce the risks of neurological illnesses, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and help improve cognitive health (including memory!). The Lion's mane mushroom is a fan favorite fungi, as its extract stimulates nerve growth factor (NGF) and boosts the regeneration process on a cellular level.
6. Fight cancer
Research on mushrooms' protective effect against cancer is ever-expanding. The sugar compounds in mushrooms known as beta-glucans stimulate the immune system and trigger specific cells and proteins to fight off cancer cells. In lab settings, a particular compound found in mushrooms known as PSK has proven to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Mushrooms also contain essential minerals that the body cannot produce itself, such as selenium, which helps detoxify cancer-causing compounds like benzene, arsenic, and asbestos.
The antioxidants in mushrooms help prevent inflammation, which is the body's protective response to infections and injuries. However, too much inflammation creates even more issues, from heart disease to diabetes and cancer.
The antioxidants in mushrooms help alleviate excessive inflammation and suppress excessive allergic responses.
8. Aid in weight loss
The nutritional makeup of mushrooms - high in protein and fiber and lower in carbs and fat - makes them an excellent component of any diet. Fiber is known to make you feel fuller, thus reducing appetite. Meanwhile, the B vitamins in mushrooms support sustained energy and increase metabolism. Mushrooms are even keto-diet friendly!
9. Support bone health
Mushrooms are an excellent source of vitamin D. Though it's commonly known for its immune system benefits, vitamin D is also vital for the body's ability to absorb calcium, promoting bone growth, which can prevent osteoporosis and even alleviate joint pain.
10. Reduce stress and anxiety
Some mushrooms possess adaptogenic properties, meaning they help the body deal with stress and anxiety. These mushrooms improve mental health and reduce anxiety, stress, and fatigue. They also help enhance the quality of sleep, which also boosts mental health - an upward spiral, if you will!
Should mushrooms be eaten raw or cooked?
It is a common conjecture that vegetables should be consumed raw to get the most nutritional value, but interestingly, this may not be the case with mushrooms.
Mushrooms have tough cell walls that are difficult to digest - and cooking them breaks these walls. Heating mushrooms by boiling, roasting, or grilling them causes their fungal tissues to soften, making it easier for the digestive enzymes in our bodies to get the most nutrients out of them.
Additionally, even when washed thoroughly, mushrooms may have traces of toxins and pathogens like carcinogens. Boiling/cooking mushrooms destroys toxins and carcinogens, enhances beta-glucans, and increases the value of the antioxidants' activity.
Mushrooms are an excellent source for both dietary and medicinal benefits - they're the true embodiment of food as medicine. But, mushrooms as cuisine aren't always everyone's preference, so supplements such as tinctures, powders, and capsules are readily available.
Note: always consult your medical professional before starting a new dietary or functional food program.