While lacking the color found in many brightly hued fruits and vegetables, mushrooms have been revered since ancient times for their powerful health promoting benefits and their unique nutritional characteristics. Often categorized as a vegetable, mushrooms are neither plant nor animal but are actually part of their own distinctive fungi kingdom. Mushrooms provide many of the nutritional elements of vegetables, as well as proteins and amino acids commonly found in meat, beans and grains. Mushrooms offer immunomodulating and anti-inflammatory properties. Research shows that mushrooms have a positive impact on blood lipids, blood glucose, immunity and weight control. Along with powerful antioxidants and important vitamins and minerals, mushrooms contain so many good for you nutrients you may want to consider consuming them daily along with your 5-a-day vegetable servings.
- Low in calories and sodium, mushrooms are fat-free and gluten-free and have a very low glycemic index, which helps keep blood sugar stable.
- Mushrooms are a great source of B vitamins including riboflavin, which helps to maintain healthy blood cells; niacin, which promotes healthy skin and aids the digestive and nervous systems; and pantothenic acid, which aids hormone production and also aids the nervous system. Mushrooms also contain folate, biotin, and bioavailable vitamin B12, similar to the B12 found in beef liver and fish.
- Mushrooms are rich in the essential antioxidant selenium and in ergothioneine, a naturally occurring antioxidant.
- Mushrooms contain copper, which provides bone and nerve support and aids oxygen transport. Additional minerals include phosphorus, necessary for energy metabolism, and chromium, which increases insulin effectiveness and aids blood glucose control in diabetics.
- Mushrooms contain high levels of potassium, a mineral that helps control blood pressure and helps maintain normal fluid and mineral balance.
- Beta-glucans found in many mushroom species have strong immunity-boosting effects.
- Like humans, mushrooms generate naturally occurring vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.
- The truly unique proteins found in mushrooms, including lectins, are believed to have anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-cancer properties.
Health benefits of mushrooms include:
- Heart health – Australian research has shown that mushrooms contain a type of fiber that has a statin-like effect, lowering blood cholesterol and blood glucose levels and improving lipid metabolism. The first generations of statins, cholesterol lowering drugs, were made from fungi. The combination of potassium and low sodium helps to lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of high blood pressure.
- Weight control – Research from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health showed that dietary fibers contained in mushrooms have a positive effect on weight by increasing the feeling of satiety. The study also concluded that people who included mushrooms in their daily meals actually consumed fewer calories overall. Their rich savory flavor, known as umami, comes primarily from natural free glutamates, which may help to control appetite.
- Immune support – Naturally high in antioxidant content, mushrooms help to stimulate the immune system by enhancing the natural killer T-cells’ immune response and by protecting blood cells and other cells from free radical damage. Ergothioneine appears to function as an intra-mitochondrial antioxidant, acting as a DNA protectant and slowing down oxidation and the cell aging process.
There are approximately 140,000 species of mushroom-forming fungi, and about 100 species are currently being studied for their health benefits, especially their anti-cancer and anti-tumor properties. As humans, we are closely related to fungi as we share the same pathogens. As a result, fungi have developed strong antibiotics, which work well against human pathogens. Antibiotics such as penicillin, streptomycin and tetracycline are made from fungal extracts. Fungi have also made important contributions to western medicine as the source of immunosuppressant and antifungal medications.
As each mushroom species has its own unique health promoting benefits, blends of synergistic organic mushrooms, such as Shiitake, Reishi, Cordyceps and Turkey Tail, are valued as Mother Nature’s little medicinal powerhouses in traditional Asian, Japanese and Tibetan medicine. Medicinal mushrooms are an excellent adjunct to a healthy diet and lifestyle in support of vitality, immune health and overall wellness.
Here are some products I recommend:ImmunoKinoko AHCC by Quality of Life Labs – This patented extract of hybridized medicinal mushrooms is uniquely rich in alpha-glucans. Backed by over 20 clinical studies, AHCC provides one of the world’s most researched natural immunomodulators in support of immune function. M/R/S Mushroom Formula by Pure Encapsulations Provides a dynamic combination of maitake, reishi, and shiitake for promoting optimal immune system health and exceptional broad-spectrum physiological support. Mycotaki by Metagenics – This powerful formula for enhanced health features a proprietary concentrated extract of 7 nourishing mushrooms including Turkey Tail, Reishi, Shiitake, Cordyceps and Maitake.