Top 5 Healthiest Mushrooms & Their Benefits


The mushroom craze has officially begun and everyone’s talking about how these crazy fungi can make us all healthier and happier. Mushrooms have captivated human palates for centuries and have been celebrated for their unique flavours. But, beyond their culinary appeal, mushrooms also offer a range of health benefits, making them potentially an essential ingredient to consider incorporating into your diet. In this article, we will explore the five healthiest mushrooms and their potential effects on well-being. Let’s do this. 

What are Mushrooms? 

Mushrooms are a fascinating and diverse group of organisms that have been consumed by humans for thousands of years. They belong to the fungal kingdom and come in various shapes, sizes, and colours. While some mushrooms are poisonous and can be deadly if ingested, many others offer a wide range of health benefits. In fact, it is believed there are around 14,000 species of mushrooms, and about 2000 of these are edible. It is believed that during the beginning of nature and before humankind – millions of years ago – mushrooms used to be the size of trees. Geology writes: 

“A chemical analysis has shown that the 20-foot-tall (6-metre) organism with a tree-like trunk was a fungus that became extinct more than 350 million years ago.”

Although that concept might sound a little scary, what it actually highlights is just how much of a boss these mushrooms are. They aren’t just the little things that hide in forests and gross corners of an old barn. But what actually are these weird looking things? Well, mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi, which are neither plants nor animals. Fungi are an essential part of the Earth’s ecosystem, playing crucial roles in decomposing organic matter and recycling nutrients. Although they can all look very different, they are all made up of a stem and a cap. In recent years, a craze has begun, celebrating the new-found health benefits of these little fungi. Most mushrooms are an excellent source of vitamins, particularly vitamin D, which is essential for bone health and immune function – but there’s more to them than that. 

Health Benefits

The health benefits of mushrooms are extensive and have been recognized in various cultures for centuries, but now it has suddenly become ‘cool’ to include them in your diet. Where has this come from? Well, Artful Living Magazine writes: 

“The pandemic’s DIY renaissance helped fuel both a foraging frenzy and an at-home growing craze. But that’s not all… In the wellness world, meanwhile, mushrooms are being bottled and capsuled with plentiful purported benefits”

But whilst it may be a fashion or trend, that doesn’t take away from the genuine health benefits that mushrooms have. Let’s take a look at some of these:

Antioxidant Properties: Mushrooms are rich in antioxidants, such as ergothioneine and selenium. Antioxidants help reduce oxidative stress and the risk of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.

Immune Support: Certain mushroom species, like shiitake and maitake, contain compounds.  These substances can stimulate the immune system, enhancing the body’s ability to fight infections and diseases.

Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Mushrooms like reishi and turkey tail contain compounds with anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation is linked to various health problems, including autoimmune diseases, and these mushrooms can help alleviate that.

Cancer Prevention: Some mushrooms, including reishi and chaga, have been studied for their potential anti-cancer properties. They contain compounds that may be able to slow the growth of cancer cells and enhance the body’s natural defence mechanisms against cancer. More research is being done into this. 

Improved Heart Health: Mushrooms are low in cholesterol and saturated fat, making them heart-healthy food choices. 

Digestive Health: Mushrooms are a good source of fibre, which helps in digestion and gut health.

Weight Management: With their low calorie content and high fibre content, mushrooms can be a valuable addition to weight management plans. They can help you feel full and satisfied while consuming fewer calories. Boom. 

Brain Health: Lion’s mane mushrooms have gained attention for their potential to support mental health. There has been research into the way mushrooms can aid memory, anxiety and depression. 

Improved Skin Health: The antioxidants in mushrooms, along with their vitamin D content, may contribute to healthier skin.

As you can see, these quiet yet effective fungi certainly do have some decent benefits. With this in mind, we’re gonna take you through 5 of the healthiest mushrooms and what they can do for you. Let’s go. 

5 Healthy Mushrooms

1 – Shiitake Mushrooms

“Lentinula edodes”

Shiitake mushrooms, loved in the cheffing world for their rich umami flavour, go beyond their wonderful taste to provide a bunch of health benefits.

Health Effects

Boosted Immunity: Shiitake mushrooms contain lentinan, a powerful compound known to enhance the immune system by stimulating the production of immune cells.

Nutrients: Packed with B vitamins, iron, and other essential nutrients, shiitake mushrooms make a valuable addition to your diet.

Energy & Antioxidant Protection: Shiitake mushrooms are reported to increase energy and the antioxidants in shiitake mushrooms, including selenium and ergothioneine, help protect your cells from oxidative damage. What can’t these little fungi do?

2 – Maitake Mushrooms 

“Grifola frondosa”

Maitake mushrooms, also known as “hen of the woods,” can also do incredible things for your health.

Health Effects

Balanced Blood Sugar: Maitake mushrooms may aid in regulating blood sugar levels, making them a smart choice for diabetics.

Immune Support: Maitake mushrooms activate immune cells, bolstering your body’s defence against infections. 

Weight Management: Low in calories and rich in fibre, Maitake mushrooms can help you feel full, supporting your weight management plans.

3 – Reishi Mushrooms 

“Ganoderma lucidum”

Reishi mushrooms are revered as the “king of mushrooms” in traditional medicine. So why is this? 

Health Effects

Anti-Inflammatory Wonder: Reishi mushrooms contain substances that are renowned for their anti-inflammatory properties, which may alleviate symptoms of inflammatory conditions.

Immune Enhancement: These mushrooms modulate the immune system, boosting immune cell activity and overall immune health.

Blood Pressure Control: Some studies suggest Reishi mushrooms could help lower blood pressure.

4 – Oyster Mushrooms

“Pleurotus ostreatus”

Oyster mushrooms, with their mild flavour, can be a nutritional powerhouse. 

Health Effects

Antioxidants: Loaded with antioxidants again, Oyster mushrooms protect your cells, reducing the risk of chronic diseases.

Anti-Inflammatory: Oyster mushrooms join the ranks of anti-inflammatory foods, potentially benefiting individuals with inflammatory conditions.

Weight Management Support: Low in calories and fat, Oyster mushrooms are a dieter’s dream, providing essential nutrients without excess calories. Mushrooms are basically just ideal for controlling your weight. 

5 – Lion’s Mane Mushrooms

“Hericium erinaceus”

Lion’s Mane mushrooms have some wicked effects on mental health.

Health Effects

Cognitive Boost: Lion’s Mane mushrooms may stimulate nerve cell growth, potentially improving memory and focus.

Nervous System Care: These mushrooms help protect nerve cells and support central nervous system health.

Mood and Anxiety: Emerging research suggests Lion’s Mane mushrooms may positively impact mood and reduce anxiety, providing a natural solution for stress management and many of the problems arising from modern life. 

Conclusion

Whilst the mushroom craze is certainly in full force, it’s best to not look at it like a fashion, but instead like a new-found discovery. Mushrooms don’t just have their place in the kitchen – or in magic trips – they are nutritional powerhouses with a bunch of mental and physical health benefits. If you’re not already, maybe it’s time to take these fungi seriously. It may be the best decision you’ve ever made. If you’ve had any experiences with mushrooms, let us know.

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