Mushrooms are everywhere. According to some researchers, fungi might be the most prolific life form on the planet. Indeed, the biggest living thing on Earth is a humongous fungal growth that spans for miles underground in the Malheur National Forest in Oregon. Yes, it’s one humongous fungus.
Interestingly enough, fungi aren’t just mushrooms. They come in lots of different forms! The mushrooms you see sprouting above the ground’s surface in your front yard aren’t the whole organism; they’re just the fruiting bodies of a larger fungus. There are turkey tail mushrooms, reishi mushrooms, shitake, portobello, and many more besides. Mushrooms are also delicious and can be cooked into many tasty meals.
That doesn’t mean you should go grabbing them from the ground and slapping them in the pan, though. Humans and fungi have a bit of a complicated relationship, given that some mushrooms can make you quite sick while others are just tasty food as far as we’re concerned. But with the proper preparation, some species of mushrooms can be a great addition to your diet and may even have some stunning effects on your health. Here’s what you need to know about the mushroom benefits for your health.
I’m a Pretty Fungi
Nutritionists will tell you the secret to a healthy diet is variety. You need to pair your foods together in ways that ensure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need to regulate your organs. Your eyes need vitamin A; your skin needs vitamin D, and so on. One element that many people leave out of their diet is mushrooms. They get a bit of a bad reputation.
How often have you heard someone say, “oh, I’ll eat anything on my pizza – just not mushrooms!” Mushrooms have developed a reputation for tasting “funky” or “earthy.” And their odd appearance, combined with people’s aversion to fungal growths, aren’t doing them any favors. But this reputation is largely unwarranted. For one thing, the kinds of mushrooms that you should eat aren’t remotely dangerous.
If you go to the grocery store and grab some shitake or portobello mushrooms, you won’t get sick from them. They’re perfectly safe to eat and taste great when paired with the right ingredients. And according to some research, they’re pretty good for you when you pair them with the right diet! Remember, balance is key with any nutrition advice.
The Mushroom Benefits
So, what kind of health benefits do mushrooms have? Some research suggests they can reduce inflammation, help with weight loss when paired with high-fat meats, or even reduce the risk of some cancers. This is because of the presence of beta-glucan in some mushrooms. Some studies have shown that beta-glucan extracts can be effective against some cancers, functioning as an anti-inflammatory agent. Thus, this kind of mushroom powder benefit could be vital for some cancer patients.
This is in addition to mushrooms’ prominent role as a prebiotic, which can help regulate your helpful gut bacteria–those happy little guys that break down tough foods for you and make your life easier. The bioactive components of mushrooms can make you feel more comfortable and healthier by encouraging positive gut bacteria growth! Trust us: these are bacteria that you actually want in your body, as they don’t cause diseases and can even help you fight off some illnesses.
Mushrooms contain plentiful nutrients that your gut bacteria can break down to help keep them healthy and robust. This can also make you feel good– because when your gut bacteria are thriving, they signal your body to feel good, full, and content. Meanwhile, if your gut bacteria become diminished, they signal your body to feel worse, making you regret eating things that don’t help them.
Extracts Versus Mushrooms
But are all edible mushrooms good for you, or did the research just mention beta-glucan extracts? According to immunology researcher Dr. Susanna Cunningham-Rundles, mushrooms have “huge power” that can be used to improve our health. When asked about the mushroom powder benefits of beta-glucan extracts and eating mushrooms in everyday meals, Dr. Cunningham-Rundles advised both approaches.
“Considering the huge power that mushrooms apparently have and considering the benefit to the microbiome, I believe those components you would not get in an extract, I would advise both [extracts and eating mushrooms],” she wrote in the Q&A section of her recent research paper. That paper, which focuses on beta-glucan extracts improving the immune systems of patients with myelodysplastic syndrome, sparked a new interest in mushroom benefits for your health.
Dr. Cunningham-Rundles’ research hasn’t been published yet, but it’s been submitted for peer review. Still, it could be a significant breakthrough for cancer patients, and people who just want to improve their immune systems. After all, healthy gut bacteria help to make you fitter in turn. In short, edible mushrooms might be better for you than we already know – and if so, you will want to incorporate more of them into your daily routine. But what if you don’t eat mushrooms already?
Don’t Have Mushroom in Your Diet?
If you’re struggling to find a place to slot mushrooms into your diet, don’t sweat it! There are plenty of delicious recipes you can incorporate into your routine that will get you a sizeable dose of these healthy fungi. If you like pizza, consider grilling some shitake mushrooms and sprinkling them on top of the cheese, giving your slices a nice, meaty texture to go with the chewy cheese.
If you like Italian food, you could try making stuffed portobello mushrooms. Just make a cheese or tomato sauce with your favorite Italian spices, grill the portobellos, and then stuff them full of the yummy mixture. This savory and filling meal is a dinner night favorite at Italian restaurants!
Some mushrooms that can be good for your health as a mushroom powder aren’t entirely edible, though. For example, turkey tail mushrooms can be ground up into helpful powders and extracts, but they wouldn’t be great on a mushroom and Swiss burger. Likewise, the iconic Reishi mushroom is technically edible but is so bitter that it is usually prepared in boiled water to help mask some of its robust flavors.