Mushrooms have been used for centuries, across many cultures as both food and medicine. A growing body of research now centers on the many benefits of mushrooms both on our physical and mental health. If you’ve only thought of mushrooms as a nice addition to a stir-fry, it’s time to learn more about these fascinating fungi, and their medicinal and adaptogenic varieties that are becoming mainstream superfood supplements!
What Are Mushrooms Anyway?
Mushrooms are edible fungi, which might not sound too appetizing, but the contributions that fungi make to the planet and to our own health can’t be overlooked. Fungi help to regulate carbon dioxide and recycle nutrients in the soil, and they are an often-delicious secret weapon for improving overall health when part of a rounded diet.
Of course, some types of mushrooms aren’t edible at all, and a few are even deadly if eaten. Mycologists (people who study mushrooms) estimate that there are about 14,000 different species of mushrooms, with about 800 new species discovered annually! About 70-80 species are poisonous. Many poisonous mushrooms closely resemble edible mushrooms, so it’s important to educate yourself on different types if you gather wild mushrooms. The aptly named Death Cap mushroom is responsible for about 90% of mushroom fatalities, but overall, mushroom poisoning is relatively rare (an average of 2.9 cases each year in the U.S.).
The Underrated Superfood
Mushrooms are low in calories, with only about 20 calories per cup, but packed with nutrient density and goodness. One recent study found that adding one serving a day of mushrooms boosted intake of many essential nutrients, without any negative effects. Here are just a few of the ways mushrooms are a nutrient powerhouse:
- Mushrooms are one of the best plant-based sources of vitamin D. Note that the amount of vitamin D declines gradually, so for optimum benefit, consume them before their “best before” date. Fun fact: You can boost the vitamin D content of your mushrooms by placing them in direct sunlight, like right under a window, for a couple of hours before eating!
- Mushrooms are a great source of folate, and oyster mushrooms in particular contain the most.
- Adding mushrooms to soups or sauces is an easy way to boost your daily fiber intake. Mushrooms are particularly high in a type of fiber called beta glucan, which has been shown to help lower cholesterol.
- Many kinds of mushrooms are at par with bananas for potassium content.
- A powerful antioxidant, selenium found in mushrooms helps boost your immune system and protects your heart health.
Fight Stress with Adaptogenic Mushrooms
Over the last decade, modern research has really begun to understand and harness the powerful benefits of functional mushrooms for human health. Certain varieties of mushrooms contain adaptogens, substances found in plants that help the body respond, manage and reduce the damaging effects of stress. Adaptogenic mushrooms include varieties like reishi, cordyceps, lion’s mane and chaga.
Although studies are still ongoing, results show positive effects on those who incorporate adaptogenic mushrooms in their diet.
- Lion’s mane mushrooms may benefit people with depression and anxiety. Studies show that lion’s mane may also protect against dementia and help repair nerve damage.
- Reishi mushrooms have been shown to help offset both physical and mental stressors, especially in athletes. They have also been shown to possess immune-supportive properties, support normal blood glucose metabolism and liver health.
- Cordyceps mushrooms are often touted as a natural energy booster and popular with athletes looking for a natural performance enhancer. Cordyceps may promote cognitive health and mood, good energy balance, stamina and exercise performance while reducing fatigue and listlessness.
- Chaga mushroom extract has been shown to help support a normal immune response. It has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a potential alternative remedy for things like arthritis and high blood pressure. If you find yourself drinking too much coffee during the day, this mushroom extract has been produced in a pretty decent coffee substitute! With a flavor that truly resembles coffee, mushroom coffee can help you kick your coffee habit and studies show improved energy levels in those who regularly consume it.
Compounds from adaptogenic mushrooms can be taken in the form of capsules, teas, and tinctures. Always consult first with a healthcare practitioner before incorporating new supplements or herbs - some adaptogens can cause unwanted side effects in certain people.
Psychedelic Mushrooms: Emerging Research Points to Potential Benefits
The hallucinogenic qualities of so-called “magic mushrooms” have long been associated with recreational drug use, but exciting new research points to their meaningful psychological benefits. Microdosing, or consuming very small amounts of a hallucinogen, is gaining attention as a way to potentially experience the benefits of these mushrooms without the drawbacks. However, it’s important to note that this research is done under highly controlled conditions.
Creative Ways to Incorporate Mushrooms in Your Diet
Because mushrooms have that umami flavor, they make excellent main dishes and easy meat substitutes.Try using them in place of ground meat in tacos, lasagna or stuffed peppers in your next “Meatless Monday” dish!
When shopping for mushrooms, look for firm, dry mushrooms that are free from mold. Most mushrooms can be refrigerated in a paper bag and last for about five days.
Wondering how mushrooms can help you manage stress, enhance immune function, improve brain health, let’s chat! We are always here to help you take your health to the next level.
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