The Wonderful World of Mushrooms

Spore some mushrooms on me (in the name of love). 

Behold, the (edible) mushroom. It’s in your supermarkets. It’s the fungi at parties. It’s the friendly-looking specimen you find in the woods that—after correctly identifying it and confirming your findings with a qualified expert—is as friendly and eatable as it looks. Just for fun, consider these random facts about mushrooms:

Did you know that the portabello, crimini, and champignon/white button mushrooms are varying sizes of the same species of mushroom?

Did you know that there is a species of mushroom known as the giant puffball, which is literally a giant, white mushroom ball that can be sliced into delicious, savory thick-cut mushroom steaks?

Did you know that we are more strongly related to mushrooms and other fungi than plants?

And that’s not all, folks! Besides coming with an almanac of cool facts, mushrooms can add a healthy, nutrient-packed boost to our diet. Low sodium, low fat, low cholesterol, and low calorie, mushrooms are a powerhouse when it comes to healthy eating. Here’s some more reasons why:

They’re nutritious!

There’s a reason that mushrooms are considered an excellent meat substitute for vegan and vegetarian diets. Not only are they a good source of protein, mushrooms (especially shitake and oyster mushrooms, to name a few) typically feature a generous amount of B complex vitamins, copper, and potassium. 100 grams of shiitake and maitake mushrooms can provide up to 10% of your daily fiber needs. (1) Mushrooms are also a source of selenium, which is important for DNA replication and immunity, and pantothenic acid, which helps maintain hormones and metabolic function. On top of that, mushrooms contain small amounts of vitamin D that can be increased dramatically by drying them in sunlight. (2) (3) (4)

They’re delicious!

Along with soy, cheese, meat, and seaweed, mushrooms are full of glutamic acids, which we perceive as the meaty, savory taste known as umami. But with mushrooms, it gets even better. Mushrooms have  compounds that can combat inflammation, and their soft, spongy texture can easily soak up juices, spices, and oils, turning even the smallest enoki mushroom into a nutritious flavor bomb. (2) In fact, due to a tough protein called chitin in mushroom cell walls, it is recommended to cook mushrooms before you eat them, even though many species are still edible and delicious raw. (5)

(Glu)can they help your blood levels? You beta!  

A type of fiber found in mushroom cell walls, beta-glucans have been widely studied for their biochemical properties. Studies have shown that beta-glucans have anti-inflammatory activity and can help manage cholesterol levels and glucose levels. (2)

They keep you on your toes!

Cordyceps are a parasitic fungus that grows on the backs of caterpillars, which is not so great for the caterpillars, but great for us. This is because Cordyceps’ bioactive compounds have generated a lot of excitement for their possible ability to support our lungs, liver, kidneys, and aging process.  In fact, recent studies point to their potential to combat fatigue and subsequently improve endurance, making Cordyceps a fungal superstar worth including in your supplementation. (6)

(And for those of you who are squeamish at the thought of murderous caterpillar fungus, methods have been developed to grow Cordyceps on much kinder alternatives like agar jelly or a sterile liquid medium. The Vitamin Packs Cordyceps, for example, is grown in a cGMP certified facility in the U.S. and tested for purity so you can safely and guiltlessly consume it.) (7)

They’re EVERYWHERE.

If you’re surrounded by lush, dark forests and you want to get up close to nature, or you just want a fun(gal) exercise activity, hunt mushrooms! Mushroom hunting, or “mushrooming,” is a popular activity around the world. Families, travelers, and rare mushroom hunters around the world traverse throughout the woods in search of wild edible mushrooms, and may take home treasures worth thousands of dollars. For reference, one pound of wild matsutake mushrooms can cost around $1000 per pound. However, be careful—not all mushrooms are safe or edible. Should you decide to go mushrooming, consult local mushrooming experts, books, or mycology societies to make sure the ones you harvest won’t harm you.

Versatile and full of variety, mushrooms are an excellent staple to a healthy diet. And while you may not burn calories eating lots of mushrooms, chasing down that priceless porcini or costly chanterelle can serve as excellent cardio. So button up, because the wonderful world of edible mushrooms always has room for one more fun-guest.

Works Cited

  1. Cheung, Peter C. K. “Mushrooms as Functional Foods.” Mushrooms as Functional Foods, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009, doi:10.1002/9780470367285.
  2. Cheung, Peter C. K. “The Nutritional and Health Benefits of Mushrooms.” Nutrition Bulletin, vol. 35, 2010, pp. 292–99, doi:10.1111/j.1467-3010.2010.01859.x.
  3. Haytowitz, D. B. Vitamin D in Mushrooms. 2009, p. 20705.
  4. Rangel-Castro, J.Ignacio, et al. “The Ergocalciferol Content of Dried Pigmented and Albino Cantharellus Cibarius Fruit Bodies.” Mycological Research, vol. 106, no. 1, 2002, pp. 70–73, doi:10.1017/S0953756201005299.
  5. Dikeman, Cheryl L., et al. “Effects of Stage of Maturity and Cooking on the Chemical Composition of Select Mushroom Varieties.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vol. 53, no. 4, 2005, pp. 1130–38, doi:10.1021/jf048541l.
  6. Nagata, Arika, et al. “Supplemental Anti-Fatigue Effects of Cordyceps Sinesis Tochu-Kaso Extract Powder during Three Stepwise Exercise of Human.” Jpn. J. Phys. Fitness Sports Med., 2006, pp. S145–52, doi:10.7600/jspfsm.55.S145.
  7. Martel, Jan, et al. “Myths and Realities Surrounding the Mysterious Caterpillar Fungus.” Trends in Biotechnology, vol. 35, no. 11, 2017, pp. 1017–21, doi:10.1016/j.tibtech.2017.06.011.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging. Do not use the information from this article for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing medication or other treatment. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read in this article.

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