• Dr. Paul Kasenene

Mushrooms: The food that is leading the fight against disease

Did you know that mushrooms are one of nature’s most healthy foods? Many people don’t know this, but mushrooms have been used for medicinal purposes for many centuries and have been particularly known for their ability to fight and prevent cancer.

What are mushrooms?

Although most people think of mushroom as a vegetable, they are in actual fact a type of fungus. There are so many varieties and species of mushrooms, in fact over 100,000 of them. Many mushrooms are edible. Some of the edible types have been shown to be very beneficial to health. The edible types include the well-known oyster, white button and porcini mushrooms as well as other varieties like reishi, lions mane, cordyceps, shitake, maitake, honey and Chagga mushrooms which are very medicinal and healthy.

But there are many that are not edible and can actually be poisonous such as the common death cap mushroom. So caution must be taken when you come across any mushroom that you are not familiar with. Not all mushrooms are safe for consumption

The benefits of mushrooms

Mushrooms have lots of nutritional value. First, they are high in protein and fibre. Second, they are also high in many essential vitamins and minerals including Vitamin D (particularly if they have been exposed to the sun), B vitamins as well as the potent cancer-fighting mineral called selenium. But most important of all, mushrooms contain a flurry of other antioxidants and disease-fighting chemicals that are just being discovered

Mushrooms are specifically linked with the following benefits

  1. Boosting the immune system. This is probably the most important benefit of mushrooms. They contain antibacterial, antiviral, anti-allergy and anti-inflammatory properties. They are one of the best foods to boost immunity and prevent infections. In fact some common medications like penicillin have extracts from mushrooms.

  2. Fight the growth of cancer cells. Without any doubt, these are some of the most powerful anti-cancer foods. Anyone who has or who wants to prevent cancer must consume mushrooms. Many studies have shown that consumption of mushrooms is linked to a reduction in cancer by as much as 90 percent. Mushrooms, in particular, have aromatase inhibitors that prevent hormones like estrogen from causing cancer, they are able to stop blood vessel formation in cancer tissue and can also prevent damage of DNA (the most common mechanisms of cancer formation). Although all mushrooms have this benefit, the ones linked with the most potent anti-cancer effect include reishi (Ganoderma), cordyceps, shitake and maitake mushrooms.

  3. Protect the heart. Mushrooms have been shown to help reduce harmful cholesterol and also help the arteries from hardening. Eating mushrooms is a natural way to improve heart health.

  4. Reduce the effect of stress on the body. Many people struggle with fatigue, brain fog and poor concentration related to stress and burnout. Mushrooms contain B vitamins and other ingredients that are very helpful with reducing cortisol and the effects of stress, especially reishi and cordyceps.

  5. Improve brain health. Mushrooms have been shown to help protect against dementia, reduce mild symptoms of anxiety and depression and help repair nerve damage. Lion’s mane, in particular, is useful in this regard

  6. Help with weight loss. It has been shown that substituting mushrooms for meat and animal foods can help with weight loss. Because they are high in protein and fibre and because they are chewy, they make a good substitute for animal foods. But in general mushrooms are linked to weight loss

  7. Provide beneficial vitamin D. Many people no longer spend enough time in the sun and so are at risk of vitamin D deficiency which is linked to breast cancer, other cancers, osteoporosis, heart disease and depression. Yet another reason to get more mushrooms in your diet.

  8. Many other benefits including improving bone strength, improving digestion, enhancing the absorption of iron and prevention of diabetes

These simple foods which we all have access to can be very beneficial to our health, but they can also make our food taste great and can be a good substitute for meat without compromising your protein intake.

I hope you now have a good idea about mushrooms and the benefits they can provide to you. In particular, I would urge you to become more familiar with the following five mushrooms whose benefits are more pronounced than the others

  1. Ganoderma (reishi)

  2. Cordyceps

  3. Shitake

  4. Maitake

  5. Lion’s mane

These five can even be consumed as a supplement or in powder form to help you increase their consumption.

I urge you to find creative ways to include mushrooms in your diet. But remember that not all mushrooms are edible. And always try to look for the unprocessed mushrooms. Look for fresh or dried mushrooms and eat them as often as you can.

The next time you don’t know what to order, perhaps think about mushroom soup or something that contains mushrooms.

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