Health & Wellbeing
Fabulous fungi: Astonishing health benefits of mushrooms
Mushrooms are an enjoyable part of many diets globally. Those who follow a plant based diet and consume mushrooms are actually following a plant and fungi based diet, however, it doesn’t have the same ring to it! Mushrooms are a great meat substitute, I think king oyster mushrooms are best at resembling a meaty texture: they appear to have a lower water content than most mushrooms and make delicious vegan scallops.
The featured image is the beautiful turkey tail mushroom which has been the most researched of all the mushrooms used today for their medicinal qualities, with a great potential for providing a host of benefits for humans – it is the most widely studied of all medicinal species for its immune-stimulating and anti-cancer effects. However, widely cultivated mushrooms which you should be able to pick up from a large supermarket also have a plethora of health benefits. They are low in calories, contain high levels of fibre, vitamins and minerals as well as all nine essential amino acids – which makes them a ‘complete’ protein source.
To cook, or not to cook?
The general advice is to cook mushrooms, rather than eat them raw, for a variety of reasons: this is particularly important for shiitake mushrooms as my friend unfortunately discovered after visiting a Chinese buffet and waking up the next day looking like he had been aggressively whipped all over his back – which is an unusual, self-limited skin condition that can be caused by eating raw/undercooked shiitakes!
What makes mushrooms special?
Mushrooms contain a wide range of active compounds, two of the most important ones are beta-glucans and chitin which activate our immune system in a positive way. Activated beta-glucan particles bind to tumour cells, viruses and bacteria, marking them for destruction. Shiitake and oyster mushrooms are believed to have the most effective beta-glucans, they contain between 2-3 times the amount of beta-glucan content compared to button mushrooms. Regular mushroom consumption can help us maintain an optimal microbial balance for health.
The health benefits of mushrooms have been highlighted in human clinical trials. One study found that 10g of dried shiitake mushrooms daily resulted in benefits such as improved immunity; another study found that eating 100g of cooked white button mushrooms daily may improve mucosal immunity; and a different study found an association between consumption of over 300g cooked mushrooms per week and reduced odds of mild cognitive impairment, compared to those who consumed mushrooms less than once a week.
A potential cure for allergies?
Several mushrooms appear as though they may have anti-allergic properties, although human clinical research is unfortunately lacking. King oyster mushrooms have shown potential in vitro. But, the most promising and exciting anti-allergic effects found in the fungi kingdom so far is Inotodiol which is a lanostane triterpenoid found only in wild Chaga mushrooms: a recent study concluded that “it [is] an excellent therapeutic candidate for food allergy with both high efficacy and outstanding safety.” I hope human clinical trials happen soon as people like me who live with severe food allergies are desperate for a cure – or at least a therapeutic approach to improve their quality of life.
Hopefully, we have persuaded you about how fabulous the fungi kingdom can be. If you would like to learn more about the health benefits of mushrooms do a search on PubMed and/or consider a wonderful book by Christopher Hobbs - Medicinal Mushrooms: The Essential Guide, in which he summarises the most recent clinical research alongside providing his decades of wisdom as a mycologist and herbalist.
If we have whet your appetite for learning about nutrition you may be interested in discovering the five best omega 3 sources for vegans and the benefits of tofu.