From bolstering your immune system to pleasing your palate, there are countless reasons to love mushrooms! Eating a more plant based diet, starting with MeatFree/Meatless Monday and expanding from there is the cornerstone activity of Good4All. Being mindful about food-where it comes from, what nutrients it provides, and how it is consumed undergirds a healthy mind, body, and spirit; and ultimately planet. We are deeply grateful for the work of father and son team, John and Ocean Robbins of The Food Revolution Network and their commitment to healthy, ethical, and sustainable food for all. Please visit their website for fascinating articles, recipes and information about the upcoming Food Revolution Summit. The following article on mushrooms is offered by permission and was originally featured on the Food Revolution Network website. To read the original article in its entirety, click here.
What Are Mushrooms?
(Originally written/published by Ocean Robbins on the Food Revolution Network website.)
Mushrooms are mainly found in forests and areas with a lot of moisture. They are classified as a saprophage (a fancy word of Greek origin, meaning “eats rotting stuff”), and therefore don’t have chlorophyll, so they don’t require sunlight to grow. Saprophages tend to grow in peat, on logs or trees, and in soil, and thrive in moist environments by extracting nutrients from dead and decaying plant and animal matter.
Although mushrooms are often lumped together with vegetables and other plants, technically, they aren’t plants at all. Mushrooms are fungi — as are yeasts and molds. Fungi get their own kingdom, just like plants and animals.
Types of Edible Mushrooms?
There are approximately 14,000 different species of mushroom, which includes edible, inedible, poisonous, and psychoactive. Out of the 300 edible species, 30 have been domesticated, and 10 are commonly grown commercially for consumers. The most common edible mushrooms are:
- White (includes white button, portobello, and cremini)
- Lion’s Mane
- Turkey Tail
- Hen of the Woods
You have likely seen many of these either at the grocery store or perhaps used in dishes on a restaurant menu.
In case you’re under the impression that ordinary white mushrooms are like white rice and white flour — devoid of nutrients — let me reassure you. The common button mushroom is actually one of the most nutritious varieties out there. In fact, no matter what type of edible species you choose, mushrooms are tremendously nutritious, adding a wide range of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals to your diet.
Mushrooms are also a rich source of antioxidants that counteract the damaging effects of free radicals. And certain types of mushrooms have been studied for their medicinal benefits, including boosting your immune defense, supporting brain health, regulating blood sugar levels, and improving exercise performance.
7 Health Benefits of Mushrooms
1. They are good for your immune system.
In a 2011 study led by researchers at the University of Florida, participants who ate a four-ounce serving of shiitake mushrooms each day for four weeks had better-functioning gamma delta T-cells and reductions in inflammatory proteins. The researchers concluded that regular mushroom consumption could enhance the immune system while reducing excessive inflammation.
2. They may have anti-aging properties.
Mushrooms are high in antioxidants, compounds that fight the free radicals and oxidative stress that are responsible for damage to cells from diseases like cancer, coronary heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. A study conducted by Penn State University in 2017 found that mushrooms are especially high in two antioxidants, ergothioneine and glutathione. And some species contain more than others. While the research is preliminary, Porcini mushrooms appear to be the best source of these two antioxidants. And another piece of good news is that levels of ergothioneine and glutathione are unaffected by cooking.
3. They may have anticancer properties.
Researchers from the University of Western Australia in Perth conducted a study of 2,000 Chinese women, roughly half of whom had suffered from breast cancer. The scientists reviewed the women’s eating habits and factored out other variables that contribute to cancer, such as being overweight, lack of exercise, and smoking. They found that those women who consumed at least a third of an ounce of fresh mushrooms every day (about one mushroom per day) were 64% less likely to develop breast cancer. In the study, dried mushrooms had a slightly less protective effect, reducing the risk by around half.
4. They may protect brain health and cognition.
In a 2016 animal study published in the International Journal of Molecular Science, researchers examined the effects on the brain of H. erinaceus, or Lion’s Mane, a species of edible and medicinal mushroom. Researchers found that when some very unfortunate mice with chemically-induced Alzheimer’s disease were given Lion’s Mane extract, they experienced reduced free radicals, blocked calcium overload, improved endurance, and reduced escape time in an ethically disturbing water maze test.
Lion’s Mane was also the focus of a 2017 animal study, in which researchers found that supplementation given to healthy mice boosted neuronal function and improved recognition memory. And in a 2018 study published in Behavioural Neurology, researchers found that Lion’s Mane promotes positive brain health by inducing nerve growth factor, which may help improve outcomes of ischemic stroke (the one caused by a blockage preventing blood from reaching the brain), Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and depression if included in daily meals.
5. They are good for your heart.
Mushrooms are rich in the amino acid ergothioneine, which has been associated with a lower risk for heart disease. In a 2019 study published in BMJ, researchers looked at the blood chemistry of 3,236 participants over 21 years, and found that higher levels of ergothioneine were associated with lower risk for heart disease diagnosis and mortality. Furthermore, the researchers found that higher levels of ergothioneine can likely be supported by eating a diet rich in this amino acid, of which mushrooms are a significant source. Other research has shown the reishi or lingzhi (G. lucidum) species of mushroom to offer specific cardioprotective effects because of its antioxidant activity.
6. They are good for your gut and digestive system.
Research shows that mushrooms act as a prebiotic — providing food for probiotics — and can help to stimulate the healthy balance and growth of your gut microbiota. They improve and regulate the microbiome, which is critically important to overall health. Studies have found that gut microbiota has a significant role in regulating diseases like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, pneumococcal pneumonia, gut conditions, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and possibly even neurodegenerative diseases.
7. They may stimulate hair growth.
Some varieties of mushrooms have even been found to promote healthy growth of hair follicles. For instance, chagas are commonly used as shampoo in Mongolia to maintain healthy hair. Seeking to determine whether there was any science to back up this traditional Mongolian practice, researchers conducted a 2019 study that was published in the Journal of Natural Medicines. The researchers found that chagas were indeed a potential candidate for hair health applications and had a stimulative effect on hair follicle cells in a petri dish, doing more for the cells than an FDA-approved hair-growth drug, minoxidil. Whether or not eating mushrooms will beat Rogaine in giving you a shaggy mane, however, is still unknown.