The Mighty Mushroom: Health Benefits of Mushrooms

It’s thought that mushrooms were first cultivated in China and Japan as early as the 6th century, however their use in food and medicine, and even for hallucinogenic purposes, can be traced back to 10,000 BCE (before common era), being used by Ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Mayans, the Chinese and the Vikings, among many others.

Our ancestors knew it, we know it, mushrooms are good for you! Not surprisingly, mushrooms recently became the new “hype” food. Mushrooms are popping up everywhere, in coffees, teas, beauty products, even supplements . If you’ve read some of my other blog posts you know I recommend avoiding foods that are being mass marketed as the new quick fix or latest diet trend. However mushrooms, in their natural form, have a number of positive health benefits. Except the poisonous and hallucinogenic ones, stay away from those. What I’m saying is don’t go to a field and start eating mushrooms…

What is a Mushroom

Many people believe mushrooms are a vegetable, however that is not the case. A mushroom is the fruit of fungi that is growing underground. Once the conditions are right, the fungi “sprouts” and out pops a mushroom head. As it grows, the cap opens and the mushroom drops spores, or seeds, which are carried by the wind and land elsewhere, where they germinate and another underground fungi system begins to grow.

Mushrooms come in all different shapes, sizes and colors. Some are edible, some poisonous and some have hallucinogenic properties. That’s why it’s important to never eat a wild mushroom, always be 100% sure what variety it is and whether it is safe to consume.

Keep Your Gut Healthy

The gut microbiome plays a very important role in our health. It aids in digestion, helps our bodies absorb nutrients, helps support our immune system and effects our sleep and energy levels. The carbohydrate profile found in mushrooms acts as an excellent prebiotic, powering the growth of helpful gut bacteria and encouraging a healthy gut environment. Not to be confused with probiotics, prebiotics feed the gut bacteria while probiotics add additional good bacteria to the gut.

Protect your Heart

According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Proper nutrition is a driver in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Mushrooms are found to have anti-inflammatory properties which makes them an excellent source to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. They have been found to reduce cholesterol levels and help prevent cells from sticking to blood vessel walls. As a result, it protects the heart by keeping healthy blood circulation and pressure. Mushrooms are used in many recipes as a substitute for red meat, eliminating excessive calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

Brain Power

Our brain is a complex organ, controlling every process within our bodies. With the right brain food we can help support healthy function and avoid cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases. A number of studies have emerged and found that mushrooms contain powerful nutrients that can boost brain health and mental well-being. One study from Spain found that certain foods rich in polyphenols, including mushrooms, might protect against cognitive decline in older adults. Another study by Penn State found that the antioxidants in mushrooms may help prevent Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Researchers have also found the neurotrophic properties may promote nerve and brain health.

Plant Source of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for our teeth and bones because our body can only absorb calcium when vitamin D is present. It also supports healthy muscles, nerves and immune system. Most of us get our vitamin D from the sun, however nearly 42% of American’s aren’t getting enough. Mushrooms to the rescue! Mushrooms absorb sunlight through their flesh the same way we do through our skin. The exposure to sunlight or ultraviolent light allows mushrooms to naturally produce vitamin D, making it the only plant based source you will find. So instead of popping a supplement, add some mushrooms!

Other Nutritional Benefits

In addition to all of the above, mushrooms are a powerhouse of other nutrients. Edible mushrooms have a great nutritional profile including high protein, essential amino acids, fiber, vitamins B1, B2, B12, and C, and minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron.

Incorporate mushrooms into your daily menu by adding them to salads, pasta, stir fry and fajitas. They have very versatile flavor profiles and textures, making them a great compliment to many dishes. What’s your favorite recipe to incorporate mushrooms into?

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