5 reasons to love mushrooms
Mushrooms can help boost immunity, manage stress and much more. Ahead, learn about the nutritional properties of the original superfood.
The medicinal benefits of mushrooms have been known for centuries. Their cancer-fighting powers, in particular, have been the subject of countless research papers, making mushrooms one of the most studied foods in the world. According to the University of Sydney’s School of Biological Sciences, at the start of the 21st century, medicinal mushrooms were used in 10 out of the 20 most profitable medicines, including anti-cholesterol drugs, the antibiotic penicillin, and the immunosuppressant cyclosporin. More recently, cordyceps mushrooms have been used in a drug to treat the autoimmune disease, multiple sclerosis. Mushrooms have been making headlines for other reasons, too. In 2016, a Dutch fashion designer grew a biodegradable dress from a mushroom root in just one week.
But, back to the health benefits. Common varieties – button, Portobello, and field mushrooms – are low in fat, high in dietary fibre, rich in minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, B vitamins, and vitamin D, which helps your body use calcium, says Mumbai-based dietician and clinical nutritionist Geetanjali Shah. "Vitamin D is even more important in winter (hello, mushroom soup) when most of us don’t get enough sun. And if you want to increase the vitamin D value, just leave your mushrooms outside in the sun for an hour," she says. Mushrooms are also adaptogens, which means they help support your adrenal glands and protect your body against stress and fatigue.
But it’s the medicinal mushrooms, such as cordyceps, reishi, shiitake, and chaga that are commanding real superfood status right now. "The many claimed benefits of these functional fungi include strengthening your immune system, having anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, antibacterial and antioxidant powers and restricting blood vessel growth in tumours. Plus they are said to support your liver," says Dr Anubhav Gupta, a general physician based in Delhi.
Here are some health benefits of mushrooms you should know:
Crimini button mushrooms – it's a moderately mature version of the white button mushroom, and has a similar flavour – contain high levels of selenium and other antioxidants to keep your immune and thyroid system functioning at optimum levels. "Eating crimini button mushrooms regularly will help reduce LDL cholesterol levels and alleviate inflammatory diseases," says Dr Gupta.
According to Shah, the health benefits of shiitake mushrooms include immune-supporting lentinan, which wards off allergies and cancer, and L-ergothioneine, an antioxidant that is not destroyed when the mushrooms are cooked.
Essential vitamins and minerals
Mushrooms are high in iron, zinc, potassium, and vitamin D, says Shah.
As it turns out, white button mushrooms have just as many antioxidants as other brown mushrooms — plus they are usually available all year round and are less expensive than other mushroom varieties, says Shah.
It's not just a vegetable. According to Shah, "150 grams of raw shiitake mushrooms contain over three grams of protein."
Here’s a quick guide to super mushrooms to try — all available to shop on Indian online websites
Reishi: Lowers LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and stress by helping to break down cortisol and boosts immunity. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, they are called Ling Zhi and used to fight fatigue and boost vitality.
Chaga: High in antioxidants, they are believed to help lower inflammation. One study has suggested it may inhibit the growth of human cervical tumour cells.
Cordecyps: These are popular with athletes, as they have been shown to increase aerobic capacity during exercise. They are also used in Chinese medicine to reduce fatigue and increase vitality. And they may also be an immune system stimulator with anti-tumour properties. They can also improve the rate of recovery from infection.
Shiitake: Usually easy to find fresh or dried in the market, these fungi are immunity-boosting, reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, help protect against parasites, and possibly have anti-tumour properties.
Oyster mushrooms: One of the lesser-known varieties, these are a good source of antioxidants, calcium, zinc, folic acid, potassium, and vitamin B.
Lion’s Mane: Studies have suggested this mushroom may stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF), and improve cognition while being taken.