The Benefits of Mushrooms for Your Health (And that of the Planet)
Mushrooms can get a bad rap in the produce world.
Some people find their texture off-putting. Others think they’re too “earthy.” And some people have been scared off of mushrooms since they’ve heard since a young age that some varieties are poisonous.
Does this describe how you feel about mushrooms? Well then mushrooms might be the best food you’re consistently ignoring!
Far from being dirty or dangerous, edible mushrooms are actually one of the greatest health foods around. But don’t just take our word for it. Science and history leave a clear footprint that mushrooms have long been utilized for functional purposes and nutritional benefits.
The Misunderstood Mushroom
Though many people lump mushrooms into the “vegetable” category, they’re actually the fruiting body of fungi.
There are more than 140,000 species of known mushroom-bearing fungi across the globe. Of these, an estimated 2,000 species are thought to be edible and/or medicinal.[*]
What research has uncovered so far is incredibly promising. Studies are discovering eating mushrooms can do everything from supporting your immune system to reducing stress, and all while providing nutrients your body needs.
Skeptical about the Benefits of Mushrooms?
We know, we know: you’ve been exposed to so many “superfood” claims that it’s easy to take them with a grain of salt. You’ve seen ads all over the internet proclaiming “miracle” cures and tons of articles declaring that simply eating kale, or garlic or any other trending superfood will make all your problems go away.
You have every right to be skeptical of these claims. But hear us out.
We’re not claiming that eating a mushroom a day will cure everything that ails you and turn your life into a daily montage of sunshine, rainbows, and puppies.
But a wealth of high-quality, peer-reviewed research has determined mushrooms are packed with a variety of nutritional properties.
The History of Mushroom Consumption
For starters, mushrooms have a history of being utilized by cultures across the world.
- Traditional Chinese Medicine has incorporated mushrooms into its wellness practices for thousands of years.[*] [*]
- Ancient Egyptians identified mushrooms as being so special that their consumption was reserved for royalty. [*]
- The French first started cultivating mushrooms in the 17th century [*]
- Americans caught up in the late 1800s, and their production in the U.S. picked up steam in the 1800s thanks to major producers Pennsylvania and California. [*]
These days, mushroom growers can be found in abundance across the country and the world. Both wild mushrooms and farmed mushrooms are very commonly consumed.
Consider that fungi are used either directly or indirectly in more than 40 percent of the pharmaceuticals currently on the market—including penicillin, streptomycin, tetracycline, immunosuppressants, and many of the most prescribed anti-cholesterol statins on the market.
6 Benefits of Mushrooms
Research suggests that mushrooms may support more than 130 functions in the body.[*] We won’t cover all of those benefits here, because that would make for a very (very) long article. But let’s cover the basics here:
1. Mushrooms Provide Essential Nutrients
One of the primary reasons mushrooms confer so many health benefits is they are a good source of essential vitamins and nutrients[*] including:
- B vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, and folate, which are necessary for maintaining healthy metabolic and nervous system functions, as well as for energy levels. Golden Chanterelle mushrooms, in particular, are a good source of B12 [*]
- Vitamin D (both Vitamin D2 and D3) which plays a critical role in bone health, immune system, energy and mood [*] [*] [*].
- A variety of minerals including selenium, potassium, and copper.[*]
2. Mushrooms May Support Your Immune System
Every year we learn more about how mushrooms are packed with beta-glucans, polyphenols, polysaccharides, and antioxidant properties. [*] These compounds play a big role in supporting our immune system and maintaining its function. [*] [*]
An important thing to note is that consuming these compunds is safe and good for most people. However, since beta-glucans stimulate your immune function, it can be a risk for those with autoimmune diseases like lupus, multiple sclerosis, or rheumatoid arthritis.
3. Mushrooms May Help Support Stress Management
You can thank the B vitamins found in mushrooms for playing a big role in keeping the nervous system doing its job.
Mushrooms also help support stress management because of the adaptogenic properties many mushrooms have. Adaptogens help your body adapt to stress and support your whole body’s wellbeing.
4. Mushroom Fiber and Gut Health
Mushrooms have dietary fiber which helps support digestion and may help increase beneficial gut bacteria in your digestive system. This, in turn, enables the gut to overpower harmful bacteria.
One study (which was conducted on mice) found that reishi mushrooms may function much like prebiotics by promoting the production of healthy bacteria.[*]
Turkey tail mushrooms contain a prebiotic polysaccharide called Polysaccharopeptide (PSP for short). A randomized clinical trial tested PSP on gut health and found that it encouraged the growth of good bacteria in your gut[*].
Turkey tail mushrooms also contain another polysaccharide called Polysaccharide K (PSK) which helps to support immune response[*].
This is important because more and more studies are finding that a healthy gut environment is critical for maintaining healthy metabolic processes, preventing disease, and promoting overall wellness.[*]
5. Mushrooms Help Your Skin Glow
Many functional mushrooms have an overflowing amount of antioxidant properties, which your skin (and the rest of your body!) loves, especially as you age. [*]
One study (which was performed on mice) found that the consumption of white button mushroom extract after an injury to the skin promoted skin regeneration. This is partly because consuming the extract increased the production of collagen fibers, which are the primary structural protein found in the skin.[*]
6. Mushrooms Help Support The Environment
Mushrooms don’t just benefit our bodies’ internal environment. They can also improve the health of the ecosystems on which our very survival relies.
As mycologist Paul Stamets shares in his TED talk, mushrooms provide a variety of essential ecosystem functions, including:
- Absorbing pollution
- Cleaning polluted soil
- Producing natural insecticides
- Assisting in the clean-up of oil spills
- Breaking down nerve agents
- Providing a sustainable fuel source
- Producing rich soil for farms and forests.
Which is essential for all foods you eat, and the health of the world we live on.
Virtually every variety of edible mushrooms promises some of the health benefits above—including regular old portabellos and white buttons (which are the most common mushroom variety grown in the U.S.).
Still, most research on the possible health benefits of mushrooms are generally done on the Asian varieties, including cordyceps, enoki, maitake, reishi, and shiitake mushrooms. Your palate will thank you for branching out: Different varieties of mushrooms boast a tremendous diversity of flavors and textures, so you can enjoy consuming the mushrooms while experiencing their complete range of health benefits.
To learn even more about the amazing benefits of mushrooms and how to cook mushrooms better, check out my book Healing Mushrooms: A Practical and Culinary Guide to Using Mushrooms for Whole Body Health. Or dive into our FREE e-learning course, the Mushroom Academy.