Although most people think of mushrooms as vegetables, they’re in fact a type of beneficial fungus. The term “mushroom” refers to any macrofungus with a distinctive fruiting body large enough to be seen with the naked eye and picked by hand. As of now, mushrooms constitute at least 14,000 different plant species — and perhaps way more. The number of mushroom species on the earth is estimated to be 140,000, which suggests that scientists only know about 10 percent of the possible species at this time.
Although various types of mushrooms differ in terms of their exact calorie and nutrient count, in general they’re very low in carbohydrates, calories, fat, sodium and sugar. Meanwhile, provide a high level of nutrients — especially antioxidants, energizing B vitamins, copper and selenium.
With so many species in existence, plus numerous compounds within each species that offer their own unique qualities, it’s hard to sum up the health benefits of mushroom nutrition and the perks one gets when one eats them regularly. But, here are some benefits common to most types of mushroom varieties:
Known to be a natural cancer remedy and one of the best foods for increasing “natural killer cells” — the type of immune cells that seek out and destroy dangerous cancerous cells — mushrooms are praised as powerful anti-cancer foods. According to the medical journal 3 Biotech, mushrooms anti-cancer compounds play a crucial role as a reactive oxygen species inducer, mitotic kinase inhibitor, anti-mitotic, angiogenesis inhibitor and lead to apoptosis, and eventually checking cancer proliferation.
This means mushrooms can inhibit tumor formation, protect DNA from damage and stop cell mutation, all while protecting healthy cells and increasing the body’s ability to detoxify itself of dangerous substances.
Improve immunity and lower inflammation
According to a 2005 report published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, mushrooms contain “compounds and complex substances with antimicrobial, antiviral, antitumor, antiallergic, immunomodulating, anti-inflammatory, antiatherogenic, hypoglycemic, and hepatoprotective activities.”
That may sound like a mouthful, but what it means is mushrooms can enhance almost every system in the body and protect a person from numerous diseases since they’re associated with lowered inflammation (which is really the root of most diseases). Mushrooms also help alkalize the body, which is associated with improved immunity. A balanced pH level is crucial to health because, as some experts say, “disease cannot grow in an alkaline environment.”
Mushrooms also have the natural ability to fight dangerous bacteria and viruses. In fact, mushrooms need to have strong antibacterial and antifungal compounds just to survive in their own natural environment, which is why it’s not surprising that these beneficial compounds can be isolated from many mushrooms and used to protect human cells.
Mushrooms are even shown to have special fighting abilities against deadly multi-resistant bacterial strains and microorganisms responsible for gut and skin problems. In fact, some substances present in common antibiotics given to people when they’re sick — including penicillin, streptomycin and tetracycline — are derived from mushroom fungal extracts.
Protect heart health
Eating more mushrooms is one way to lower cholesterol levels naturally. Many types of mushrooms help lower “bad” cholesterol and keep arteries from hardening, which are risk factors for heart disease.
Mushrooms have sterol compounds that interfere with the production of cholesterol in the liver, yet at the same time they can raise “good” cholesterol. They also contain potent phytonutrients that help keep cells from sticking to blood vessel walls and forming plague buildup, which maintains healthy blood pressure and improves circulation.
Support energy and improve brain function
Mushrooms are a great source of B vitamins, which help support adrenal function and turn nutrients from food into useable energy. B vitamin benefits include the ability to help with neurotransmitter function, which makes them stress-defying nutrients that help break through “brain fog,” prevent thyroid disorders and support a healthy metabolism.
Is chronic stress killing your quality of life? Certain types of mushrooms, especially reishi, are also considered adaptogens that lower cortisol, which means they can help your body to deal with stress and keep your mood more upbeat. Mushrooms can also lower inflammation that can trigger a decline in cognitive function, mood problems, low energy and age-related neurodegenerative diseases.
Help with weight management
Studies find that regularly substituting mushrooms for meat might help you to lose weight, since mushrooms are a low-calorie, nutrient-dense food. Eating mushrooms several times per week is linked with a healthy body weight, reduced waist circumference and better overall health.
And while you’re working to improve your weight, mushroom nutrition benefits include the ability to protect your heart and vital organs from suffering the consequences of inflammation and imbalanced hormones.
Provide vitamin D
While we know that vitamin D is best obtained from sun exposure, certain kinds of mushrooms can also provide a decent source of this important vitamin. Vitamin D deficiency is a serious problem for many people and linked to everything from heart disease to depression.
Culled from Dr Axe, food is medicine