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North Spore Forging Magic: The internal health benefits of mushrooms

Written by Mary Berecka

We can’t deny that mushrooms are having a moment. And it’s no wonder why! Neither plant nor animal, these strange organisms, though often overlooked, are pretty powerful. In the environment, they’re our great nutrient cyclers, transforming waste into fertile soil. They form deep relationships with nearly every plant. Maybe you’ve heard of the ‘wood wide web’? It’s the fungal network connecting trees in a forest, a conduit for interspecies communication. Fungi can even break down petroleum products and help remediate oil spills. Talk about heavy hitters!

Really, we’re just scratching the surface of our understanding of these powerhouses, but one thing rings resoundingly true: fungi have an immense potential to heal and nourish, not just out there in the world but also right here in our bodies. In fact, humans have been tapping into the benefits of mushrooms for health for thousands of years. Medicinal mushrooms are an integral part of Traditional Chinese Medicine. We’re just starting to catch up in the Western world. Since we know that food is medicine, let’s look deeper at the many internal benefits of mushrooms and why we might add some to our next meal.

Though there are many different types of mushrooms, they’re all low in calories with next to no cholesterol or fat. Instead, they’re packed with protein and often a complete set of amino acids. (1) Combined with a certain toothiness and potent umami flavor, that makes them a unique alternative to meat. So much so that biotech companies are engineering fungal foods in lieu of steaks or bacon. But we don’t need to go that far to reap the same health benefits of mushrooms.

The boon doesn’t stop there - mushrooms also contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and even antioxidants! Many are rich in B vitamins necessary for good energy levels and brain function. Two things we could always use a little extra of. (2) When dried in the sun, mushrooms get a boost of a bioavailable form of Vitamin D. (3) Our pro-tip: store these morsels for winter soups when days are short and morale is low.

For the minerals, there are copper, selenium, potassium, iron, and zinc. They help support many systems in the body, including the metabolic, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. One, selenium also helps out in the antioxidant department, fighting free radicals to reduce inflammation. (2) That translates to less puffiness, fewer aches, and reduced risk of chronic disease. We’ll take it!

So, are mushrooms a superfood? We certainly think so! Though there’s no strict scientific definition of the term, it’s come to mean foods that are nutritionally dense without being highly caloric. Considering all that’s packed into a couple of caps, mushrooms are a potent food to add to your palate.

When you start to learn about mushrooms beyond the classic button, you’ll realize there’s a whole world of colors, shapes, textures, and flavors, among the other fungal finds. That kind of diversity gives rise to unique compounds among the functional mushrooms and some different specialties within our bodies. For instance, oyster mushrooms may regulate blood sugar and lower cholesterol. On the other hand, shiitakes support the immune system and are used in the treatment of cancers in Japan. Lion’s mane often steals the show as a mushroom for the mind, helping with memory and even nerve growth. (4) Figuring out which mushroom has the most health benefits depends more on the person than on the fungi. Find the one that fits where you might need a little extra love or double up to combine the benefits of adding mushrooms to your recipes.

If you’re on board and ready to shroom in, you may be wondering the best way to get the most out of your mushrooms. The easiest may also be the tastiest: eat ‘em! If you’ve only seen mushrooms in salad bars, you may wonder, “Is it okay to eat raw mushrooms?” We’re here to dispel the myth and save your belly some distress. There’s a compound in mushrooms called chitin that also makes lobster and crab shells hard. Understandably, it’s pretty hard to digest but easy to break down with heat. So, we recommend always cooking your mushrooms thoroughly to unlock these superfoods and nourish that bod.

What do you think? Are mushrooms good for you?

*Note: The statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration). The products sold on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information provided by this website or this company is not a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with your physician, and should not be construed as individual medical advice.

References:

(1) Kumar, Krishan. (2015). Role of edible mushrooms as functional foods-A review. 1. 5454-6445.

(2) Ware, Megan. “Mushrooms: Nutritional Value and Health Benefits.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 9 Nov. 2019, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/278858.

(3) Feeney, Mary Jo et al. “Mushrooms and Health Summit proceedings.” The Journal of nutrition vol. 144,7 (2014): 1128S-36S. doi:10.3945/jn.114.190728

(4) Rogers, Robert. The Fungal Pharmacy: the Complete Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms and Lichens of North America. North Atlantic Books, 2011.

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