The ancient Egyptians believed eating mushrooms brought long life.
While their scientific method was not entirely sound by modern standards, scientists today are investigating the medicinal properties of mushrooms and beginning to see fascinating results.
Researchers from the University of Western Australia in Perth conducted a study of 2,000 Chinese women. (About half had suffered from breast cancer.)
The scientists reviewed the women’s eating habits, and factored out other variables that contribute to cancer, such as being overweight, lack of exercise, and smoking. And they came to a startling finding about mushrooms.
Women who consumed at least a third of an ounce of fresh mushrooms every day were 64% less likely to develop breast cancer.
In the study, dried mushrooms had a slightly less protective effect, reducing the risk by around half. Even more impressive, women who combined eating mushrooms with regular consumption of green tea saw an even greater benefit — they reduced their breast cancer risk by an astounding 89%.
Mushrooms are thought to protect against breast and other hormone-related cancers particularly because they inhibit an enzyme called aromatase, which produces estrogen. Mushrooms are one of the very few foods that inhibit aromatase (pomegranate is another). And several varieties of mushrooms, including the commonly eaten white button and portobello mushrooms, have strong anti-aromatase activity.
But consumption of mushrooms protects against more than hormone-dependent cancers. Mushrooms also contain specialized lectins that recognize cancer cells, and have been found to prevent cancer cells from growing and dividing.
Which mushrooms are best to fight cancer?
Thousands of kinds of mushrooms exist, and our understanding of their cancer-fighting and health-promoting properties is growing rapidly – but it’s still in its infancy.
In addition to button mushrooms, white, crimini, shitake, oyster, portabella, maitake, turkey tail, and reishi mushrooms all contain bioactive compounds with the potential for potent anti-cancer activity.
These mushroom phytochemicals have anti-angiogenic, anti-proliferative, and other anti-cancer effects, which have been studied so far in relation to stomach, colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers.
Here’s a quick video from Food Revolution Summit speaker Dr. Michael Greger about which mushroom is best for cancer prevention:
How to enjoy mushrooms in your diet
Mushrooms bring special flavor and texture and are able to enhance a wide variety of dishes. They work well in combination with most food groups.
But they are best enjoyed cooked (never raw), and as close to daily as possible. And of course, never pick wild mushrooms unless you are certain they are edible.
You can try this plant-based, gluten-free mushroom soup recipe from one of our recipe bloggers Jessica Meyers of Garden Fresh Foodie.
Mock Mushroom Barley Soup
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Number of servings: 8
Per Serving 70 calories
Fat 1 g
Carbs 16 g
Protein 5 g
- 3/4 pound mushrooms, sliced (about 3 1/2 cups)
- 1 1/2 cups onions
- 1 cup diced carrots
- 1 cup diced celery
- 1 tbsp minced garlic, about 2-3 cloves
- 1 cup oat groats (or barley)
- 1 1/2 tbsp dried dill (or 1/4 cup fresh)
- 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 1 tbsp fresh)
- 1 1/2-2 tsp kosher/sea salt
- 1/2 tsp black peppers
- 2 smaller bay leaves (or 1 large)
- 7-8 cups water
- 3 cups Napa cabbage
- juice of 1/2-whole lemon, about 2tbsp (depends on taste, start w/2 tbsp)
- 1/4 cups fresh parsley, additional for garnish if desired
- several cups additional greens like spinach or kale, fresh herbs
- Saute’ onions, until translucent in a hot pot with a little additional water to prevent sticking.
- Add in carrots, celery, and mushroom, and sauté for about 3 minutes, until slightly softened.
- Add in groats/barley, herbs, salt/pepper, bay leaves, & water. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Cook for about 1 hour.
- Add in cabbage, and continue to cook until oats have completely swollen and are nice and chewy, about another 1/2-1 hour.
- Stir in fresh lemon juice, greens, and parsley right before serving. Season with additional salt/pepper.
- This soup goes well served with a fresh salad.
• Packed with fiber; AWESOME for reducing LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff), improving digestion, lowering blood sugars, and making you feel satiated.
• Low in fat & calories; no cholesterol or added oil: great for heart health Good source of Vitamin C; 33% daily needs; antioxidant which helps to boost immunity and lower inflammation in the body.
• Great source of Vitamin A: 97% daily needs/serving-great for reducing inflammation, detoxifying the body, improving skin, nail, eye, and hair health.
• Great source of potassium: 530 mg potassium; important for kidney and nervous function, as well as lowering heart rate and blood pressure.
• Good source of plant-based iron (better absorbed by the body) 13% daily needs, important for oxygenation of the blood.
• Source of plant-based calcium (better absorbed by the body) 7% daily needs, needed for bone and dental health.