The mushroom ingredient is typically found in many recipes, but have you wondered what their benefits are? Read on to know the importance of mushroom not just in our health but also on our planet.
Environmental and Health Benefits of a Mushroom
Mushrooms as Powerful Disease Fighters
There are over a million types of fungi covering the planet and 270 that have healing properties we know of. We share the Earth with 25% mycelium that is like the tree roots of mushrooms.
Mycelium Definition: The vegetative part of a fungus that consists of a mass branching, thread-like hyphae.
It turns out that even the common mushrooms we consume are powerful disease fighters, anti-inflammatory, super tasty, a great source of vitamins/minerals, and have the potential to save the world.
We now know that eating just five of these fungi, of the white button variety, can help fight tumor growth in breast cancer cells. At the Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope in CA, they found and reported that these fungi shut off the estrogen capabilities of the cells to bring them back to almost baseline.
Turkey tail mushroom species have been deeply studied by a mycologist, Paul Stamets.
They even cured his mother of stage 4 breast cancer. Oddly enough, we share 80-85% of our DNA with the mushroom kingdom, and that is perhaps why it is such powerful medicine.
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Most of these fungi are valued for their anticancer and antioxidant effects. The edible varieties are loaded with enzymes, selenium, copper, niacin, potassium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin D (if they are grown in the sun), and folate.
They are definitely a superfood that can boost athletic performance and brain power.
Shapes and Sizes of These Fungi and Their Corresponding Health Benefits
The following shapes and sizes of mushrooms have their corresponding health benefits we can take advantage of:
- Reishi – increased athletic performance, sleep help, promotes heart and liver health, antihistamine, and anticancer
- Chaga-High – an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals, beauty mushroom, digestive aid, and has potassium, magnesium, and zinc
- Turkey Tail – anticancer, fights cold and infection, lowers cholesterol, and helps with joint health
- Cordyceps – enhances physical performance, anti-asthma, increases ATP production, and promotes liver health
- Lion’s Mane – delicious, promotes memory and concentration, and enhances the nervous system and immune system
- Maitake – manages weight and reduces the risk of obesity, balances blood sugar, and supports digestion
- Shiitake – delicious, promotes skin and liver health, and lowers cholesterol
- Zhu-Ling – anticancer, antitumor, stimulates the immune system, and promotes liver health
- Oyster – lowers cholesterol, makes skin lighter, and improves mood with B vitamins
- Button or Cremini – anticancer, antioxidant, nutritious, and delicious
Where They Grow Matters
Just like all foods, where this species of fungi is grown has a large impact on their health benefits. As we do, mushrooms will soak up vitamin D when placed in the sun.
Those that are wild-sourced and collected from trees are also imbued with the healing properties of that tree. For example, chaga mushrooms grown on birch trees will have betulinic acid that is absent in conventional chaga.
Betulinic Acid Definition: A naturally occurring triterpene present in the white birch tree’s bark. The acid is said to be useful against fighting melanoma by targeting tumors without touching healthy cells.
The fruiting bodies of these fungi, or their flowers, like what we buy at the grocery store are more potent with healing properties. Check them to make sure the source of your medicinal mushrooms and culinary was obtained with intention.
The Trending Mushroom Coffee
Yes, mushroom coffee drinks are the new trendy beverage that is making your coffee into a power drink to enhance performance at the gym or as a general immune booster you can safely take daily. These drinks are an easy way to get the mushroom health benefits in a drink that many of us already consume – coffee.
A simple stir into some hot water and you are all set, no wild foraging or long lines, just a powerful healing drink that some say tastes just like coffee with a hint of earthiness.
Click here to check out Four Sigmatic. We think it is pretty tasty!
We don’t think about our immune system until we get sick, but wouldn’t it be smarter to take care of it while we are well? These fungi have the ability to gently stimulate the body while keeping the jitters at bay with regular intake.
These Fungi Can Save the Planet
Mushrooms will transform waste like diesel spills and plastics. Chernobyl cannot even stop the tenacity of the fungi.
At the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a study performing various experiments was conducted by researchers with oyster mushrooms that brilliantly cleaned up diesel-contaminated soil. The bacteria died, whereas the oyster mushroom cleaned up the toxic oils and bloomed huge bouquets of these fungi all over the pile.
Scientists are still identifying species of mushrooms under rocks and clinging to old growth forests. We still have much to learn from this kingdom.
One other reason to protect our old growth plants and forests is for the wisdom we have not yet gathered from its dense understory. We are still learning about the great value in our wild mushrooms, and it is our job to make sure there are places for our fungi friends to thrive.
Very much like bacteria, they are found everywhere. Mushrooms are the next frontier in scientific research for saving the planet, but for as much as we have known for thousands of years, we are still learning more about the benefits for our health.
Lion’s mane is a magical nerve growth superstar showing potential for healing Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease with cognition, leg cramps, anxiety, and more. There is new research on fungi in the gut that may be a superhighway detox for the body.
Try Four Sigmatic for a new way to “drink your coffee” but get the health benefits of the mushroom!
They Need to be Cooked to Get the Benefits
It may be surprising to you, but raw mushrooms are not good for you. They need to be cooked to reap the benefits.
Agaritine is a toxin found in small amounts of these raw fungi that is destroyed in cooking. Seven minutes will do the job.
Nutritional Value of Mushrooms
These fungi are naturally low in calories, cholesterol, fat, and sodium. This is the reason why they are considered as “functional foods.”
One cup of sliced or chopped raw white mushrooms contains the following:
- 2.3 g carbs
- 1.4 g sugar
- 0.7 g dietary fiber
- 2.2 g protein
- 0 g fat
- 15 calories
In purchasing mushrooms in grocery stores, choose those that are unbruised, dry, and firm and avoid those that appear withered or slimy.
There may be many types of these fungi, but most of them provide just the same amount of nutrients per serving regardless of the size or shape. Store them in the fridge with your vegetables and do not trim or wash them if you are not going to use them.
You can add dried mushrooms or its extracts quickly to your everyday meals to get the health benefits of the fungi at maximum levels. Follow these quick tips:
- For a more tasty dish, saute any type of these fungi with onions.
- Top any salad with boiled and sliced mushrooms.
- Add sliced mushrooms to your omelets during breakfast.
Be Careful in Collecting Raw Mushrooms
Enjoying a day among the tall trees can be a great way to spend an afternoon looking for mushrooms. But, it is essential to find a local guide to help determine what types could be toxic in the area.
The raw mushroom health benefits are off the charts, but dining on the wrong one can be lethal, such as those in the Amanitas family (Death Caps and Destroying Angels). Those that collect on trees are usually safe, but you do not want to guess.
You can’t really tell which one is edible and not by simply looking at a mushroom. The thing is to not eat any type of mushrooms if you are not 100% sure.
When thinking of a superfood to add to your diet, experiment with the many types of mushrooms there are. Even getting 3-4 servings a week in your soups, stews, or coffee can already boost your immunity and stave off tumor growth.
If you are looking for those Beta-glucans (one of the types of compounds that keeps your immune cells awake) or ergothioneine for lowering your inflammation, mushrooms fit the bill.
Ergothioneine Definition: An amino acid found mostly in mushrooms that are typically used in medicine for treating or reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cataracts.
A Short History of These Fungi
Reishi mushrooms have been revered for over 2,000 years in China. It was known as the “fountain of youth” and a “Shen Tonic” that nourishes the spirit.
Reishi is the most well-studied herb on the planet.
A fossil was uncovered in Saudi Arabia that suggests there may have been forests of these giant fungi as tall as trees. They are believed to be 420 to 350 million years old.
Still today, the largest organism on the planet is a fungal network.
The story goes that Sherpas in Bhutan went high altitudes with yaks. These yaks were exhausted from their arduous journey.
The Sherpas found them eating the cordyceps on the ground, and they had gained new strength and vigor. The Sherpas decided to try this mushroom and got the very same results.
Try some cordyceps drinks and see if it gives you an added boost.
Mushroom health benefits are indeed worth to highlight because they can generally help the body in fighting diseases and strengthening the immune system. Just be careful in picking raw mushrooms and seek professional help if you are not sure of what you collected is edible and not poisonous.
Which type of mushrooms do you like or is your favorite? Let us know in the comments section.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on March 15, 2017, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.