Mushrooms are superfoods, fullstop. I often use them as an integral part of my treatment plans. They are safe to use, delicious and incredibly beneficial. They have a very long history of use in Chinese medicine.
Mushrooms are nutritional powerhouses that are rich in vitamins, minerals, protein, healthy carbs, fatty acids and fiber. They also contain compounds that are profoundly anti-cancer, anti-aging, immune boosting, anti-inflammatory and much, much more. They are deeply supportive of digestive, cardiovascular, lung, kidney, bowel, liver, brain and nervous system health, depending on which mushrooms you take.
Every single one of us can use more mushrooms in our lives, except those rare individuals who are allergic to them. Thinking about them as both medicine and food will help you maximize your intake of these life-supporting allies.
I’m going to go over mushroom basics in this post. This will give you an overview of what is in mushrooms and the multitude of ways that they support health.
The first thing to know is that when using mushrooms as food, you need to cook them well in order to break down their tough fibres and make them bioavailable to your body. This part is taken care of when you buy mushroom supplements, which are processed into tinctures or powders that are highly absorbable. I’ll go over this in detail in my next blog post.
Here is a list of what mushrooms have to offer across the board. I’ll be going into the characteristics of individual mushrooms in later posts.
High in minerals and B vitamins. Some mushrooms are 7-12 percent total minerals and are especially good sources of trace minerals including iron, zinc and copper as well as potassium and phosphorus. They also have high amounts of the B vitamins, almost as much as meat. This is particularly valuable for vegetarians who are often deficient in B12. Heat can destroy some of the Bs, so stir frying mushrooms like shiitake or oyster mushrooms in water will preserve a large portion of them.
Fungi contain high amounts of high quality proteins. Oyster mushrooms, for example, are up to 30% protein. The protein in mushrooms is complete, containing all 9 essential amino acids.
Mushrooms have the highest dietary fiber of any food. For example, shiitake are up to 35% fibre and reishi and fu ling are up to 85%. Most of us are deficient in fibre. Consuming more fibre helps us live longer due to lower rates of cancer and heart disease, normalizes bowel movements and supports bowel health, lowers cholesterol levels, helps control blood sugar and is helpful in maintaining a healthy body weight. Research shows that consuming a high fibre diet is the single best way to prevent a wide range of heart issues including cholesterol issues, heart attack, atherosclerosis and strokes. It also lowers the risk of colon cancer and diabetes.
Mushrooms support beneficial gut microbes. Mushrooms contain several different types of indigestible carbohydrate molecules, so they are broken down and used as prebiotics by the beneficial bacteria in our guts. Having healthy gut bacteria is very important for mood, immunity, longevity and overall health.
Fungal beta-glucans and their benefits. This is where mushrooms start to get really funky and unique. Every mushrooms’ cell walls are made up partially of beta-glucans, a type of long-chain glucose molecules. These molecules are potent modulators of our immune system. The research shows that beta-glucans have significant effects on our immunity for cancer treatment and prevention and increase our resistance to viral, bacterial and fungal infections. They also restore damaged bone marrow, which is where immune stem cells are produced to replenish our immune systems. They do so by activating many aspects of our innate immunity such as macrophages, granulocytes, natural killer cells and dendritic cells. They trigger responses that inhibit tumor growth and destruction of bacterial, viral and fungal pathogens. Oyster mushrooms are 24% dry weight of these immune powerhouses. Turkey tail are 60%.
Terpenes and phenolic compounds in mushies. Fungi also contain smaller, low molecular weight compounds such as terpenes and phenolic compounds, which have potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. They also have other healing properties, such as the nerve generating effects of the diterpenes in Lion’s mane mushrooms. There are over 300 triterpenes in reishi. These have significant anticancer, antiviral, antiinflammatory, antioxidant, liver protective, antiobesity, blood sugar regulating and antimicrobial effects. Phenolic compounds are strongly antioxidant and even anti-aging, according to research.
Antioxidant activity of mushrooms. Antioxidants are molecules which scavenge free radicals from our tissues and mitigate their damage, which includes increased risk of heart disease, cancer, poor immune function and inflammatory disease. Mushrooms have higher antioxidant levels than most fruits and vegetables. Acai berries, the fruit with the highest antioxidant score, measures at 80 000. Blueberries are at 2400. Chaga mushrooms are at 3 655 700 (that’s not a typo).
So there you have it. Mushrooms are true allies in our health and healing. They have unique attributes that can significantly reduce and treat disease and promote health.
My next blog post will be about different ways to ingest mushrooms but in the meantime, get started. Eat as many mushrooms of as many varieties as possible. Even the common button mushroom is very health promoting. Weave them into your life. Your body, mind and spirit will thank you for it.
Questions? Please reach out in a private message or in the comments below. I’m also happy to discuss how mushrooms can help you and your unique situation at my Collingwood, Meaford or Toronto offices.