As you’re probably aware, mushrooms are good for you. So good that they’re often used as medicine. You may also know that almost every ancient civilization around the world has used them for their healing properties for thousands of years and that ancient Egyptians called them the plant of immortality. But you may not realize just how powerful edible mushrooms can be for healing people and the planet.
Mushrooms have a range of extraordinary health benefits for humans
Few people know that humans are more closely related to fungi than to any other kingdom. And that some of the essential molecules mushrooms (a form of fungi) contain have been present in the human diet for so long that our bodies now depend on them — which could be part of the reason why they’re so good for us.
Mushrooms are a superfood, one of the most health-promoting foods on the planet, and an estimated 50% of edible mushrooms are considered functional foods, meaning that they have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition.
Countless scientific studies have revealed a variety of ways mushrooms can be useful in preventing and treating serious health conditions — and in improving overall health. In fact, research has identified more than 200 conditions that may benefit from mushroom consumption and more than 100 different beneficial effects they can produce for the body.
The nutritional value of mushrooms
Mushrooms are packed with nutritional value — they’re low in calories, are great sources of fiber and protein (good for plant-based diets).
They also provide many important nutrients, including B vitamins, selenium, potassium, copper, and (particularly when exposed to the sun) vitamin D.
And even though they’re commonly white, they’re packed with as many antioxidants as more colorful fruits and vegetables.
Boosting immune system health with mushrooms
Studies also find that eating mushrooms can give you impressive immune-boosting benefits. A clinical study conducted at the University of Florida’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition found that eating shiitake mushrooms daily improves immunity — in a way that is not found in any currently available pharmaceutical drugs. And common white button mushrooms, as well as other mushroom types, may also have anti-inflammatory power.
Eating mushrooms may also help to prevent respiratory infections, according to a 2012 study published in Nutrition. Plus, mushrooms may be able to alter gut bacteria for the better, which could also help treat obesity, according to 2015 study published in the journal Nature.
Achieving weight loss with mushrooms
Mushrooms have a lot of nutritional value with few calories and little fat. They also contain two types of dietary fibers, beta-glucans and chitin, which increase satiety and reduce appetite.
In one study, researchers gave people less meat and more mushrooms in place of meat. After just one year, people were healthier, lost a lot of weight, had less diabetes, and their blood pressure and cholesterol went down.
But what mushrooms are best known for and researched is their apparent cancer-fighting powers. Mushrooms contain a class of proteins called lectins, which are able to bind to abnormal cells and cancer cells and label the cells for destruction by our immune system. According to a 2016 article published in Molecules:
Numerous studies have shown that mushrooms help fight breast cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, uterine cervix cancer, pancreatic cancer, gastric cancer, and acute leukemia. In addition, antitumor compounds have been identified in various mushrooms species.
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among American women, so a lot of research has been conducted about the activities mushrooms possess against breast cancer. In one amazing study of 2,000 women conducted by researchers from the University of Western Australia in Perth, women who consumed at least a third of an ounce of fresh mushrooms every day were 64% less likely to develop breast cancer.
Mushrooms and the health of our planet
Mushrooms are good for you. And they’re also good for your planet. As world-renowned mycologist Paul Stamets discusses, mushrooms can potentially solve some of our most pressing and serious problems.
In his wildly popular TED talk, he explains how they can:
- Clean up oil spills all over the world
- Absorb farm pollution
- Fight off smallpox and flu viruses
- Combat insects
- Create rich environments for farms and new forests, and
- Become a sustainable fuel source for the future
Watch his fascinating video to discover more about how mushrooms can help to save the world:
Another fascinating thing about mushrooms is that they are part of nature’s recycling system. If mushrooms didn’t exist, neither would plants because mushrooms and mycelium break down rocks and organic matter, turning them into soil that provides the basic structure for nourishing plants.
How to add more mushrooms to your diet
If you’re interested in adding more mushrooms to your diet, there are many ways you can include mushrooms in your meals. Just be sure to eat them cooked (here’s why) — in soups, sautés, and as meat substitutes.
Eating a variety of organic mushrooms regularly is best. You can choose from white, cremini, Portobello, oyster, shiitake, maitake, reishi mushrooms, and other types of edible fungi. But be careful because some wild mushrooms are not edible and are toxic to humans. Therefore, we don’t suggest picking mushrooms to eat from the wild unless you have been trained to identify them. But you can grow your own.
To get you started eating more mushrooms, here’s a delicious plant-based recipe for Mushroom Fettucine Alfredo, which could be a great way to add the health benefits of mushrooms to your diet.
If you want to find out more about how you can prevent and fight cancer with mushrooms, as well as which mushrooms are best to eat, and other ways you can enjoy mushrooms every day, see this article on our blog.
Tell us in the comments! How do you like to eat mushrooms?