Most people tend to think of mushrooms as not much more than a topping or appetizer, but mushrooms have some incredible health benefits. The questions are what mushrooms should I be eating, and what benefits will they bring me?
Technically mushrooms fall under the category of vegetable, though they are a fungus. Know your mushrooms, for they are not all beneficial, and some are downright deadly. I stick to the ones found at my grocer, but if you are adventurous there are probably dozens of types growing near you. Just know which are poisonous and which are edible.
What Most Mushrooms Offer
First off, mushrooms are low in sodium, cholesterol, fat and calories, and they provide some basic nutrition. Those facts are not that exciting, but mushrooms also have some amazing disease-prevention qualities. One cup of chopped white mushrooms (the standard kind that you get at the grocer) has only 15 calories and 2.3 grams of carbohydrates (at a 2:1 ratio of sugar to fiber), as well as 2.2 grams of protein.
Mushrooms are rich in the B vitamins, like folate, niacin, thiamine, pantothenic acid, and riboflavin. They are the only natural source of vitamin D that vegans can eat. They contain some minerals that are not found in many foods, such as copper, iron, potassium, selenium, and phosphorous. Mushrooms contain beta-glucans, which are a type of fiber found in the cell membranes of many types of mushroom. It provides benefits to insulin resistance and blood cholesterol levels, and it boosts immunity and lowers the risk of obesity by curbing the appetite. Mushrooms also contain choline, which helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning and memory.
Mushrooms have the same anti-oxidant levels that you find in tomatoes, carrots, peppers and squash. This is probably due to a combination of things. The selenium helps the liver function properly, and helps to detoxify some of the compounds found in the body that can become cancerous. Vitamin D works to regulate the growth of new cells, which in turn inhibits the growth of cancerous cells. Folate benefits cell regeneration, and again this inhibits cancerous cells from forming.
Those with a high fiber diet have lower blood sugar levels. The average woman should get between 21 and 25 grams of fiber per day. For men it should be between 30 and 38. A cup of either Shiitake or Portabello mushrooms have about 3 grams of fiber each.
Potassium and sodium work together to regular blood pressure. The higher the potassium and lower the sodium, the lower the blood pressure, and that’s what mushrooms provide. If you eat 3 grams of beta-glucans per day you will reduce your cholesterol levels by 5%. That is not a huge amount, but it is also just one tool in your dietary arsenal.
I feel that the immune system is the cornerstone of good health, so whatever can be done to improve it makes sense to me. Selenium is linked to the production of T-cells, which help fight off foreign invaders. The best defense is a good offense, and the T-cells are at the vanguard of your health. The beta-glucans also help to stimulate your immune system, as well as prevent tumours from forming.
Some of the Healthiest Mushrooms
There are many edible varieties of mushroom, but a few stand out as having a lot of nutritional value.
Shiitake: these contain lentinan, which is a polysaccharide that is used to treat stomach cancers because of anti-tumour properties. Polysaccharides are long chains of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, and provide numerous benefits, such as; cause the brain to produce chemicals that make you feel good, regulate blood sugar levels, promote cardiovascular and immune system health, help to prevent degenerative diseases, improves liver function, improve intestinal health and help prevent colon cancer. There are numerous types of polysaccharides, and each offers their own unique benefits on top of these common ones. One study out of Japan showed a 100% reduction in tumour growth when fed a Shiitake extract. They also have anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial properties, and contain eritadenine, which helps to lower cholesterol levels.
Reishi: used medicinally in Asia for millennia, it is used to treat lung cancer and leukemia because of the ganoderic acid found in it. Ganoderic acid is a triterpenoid. This fungus helps to regulate cholesterol and blood pressure levels, boosts the immune system, acts as an anti-inflammatory, and has anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties.
Himematsutake: if you are starting to feel that Japan has a monopoly on healthy mushrooms, don’t feel too bad. This one originated in Europe, but is now very popular in Asia. These mushrooms have six polysaccharides, and have been linked to anti-cancer properties. They help protect against the harmful effects of radiation and chemotherapy. They also decrease insulin resistance, regulate cholesterol, and improve hair and skin.
Turkey Tail: also called cloud mushroom, it contains two polysaccharides; PSK and PSP. There are numerous and extensive trials being done on this mushroom. It has been shown to boost the immune system in cancer patients (highly effective), and is used to treat some of the nastiest infections (e coli, herpes, HIV, streptococcus pneumonia). It is currently the most researched mushroom on the planet because they keep finding new medical uses for it.