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Magnificent Mushrooms as Medicine

By: Diana Vittorio, RDN

If you like mushrooms, keep reading because you will love this!

On a very basic nutrition level, mushrooms are a great addition to our meals simply because they provide taste and texture while being low in calories, fat, and sodium and completely free of cholesterol.  They also provide key nutrients such as riboflavin and niacin, and if it is a type of mushroom exposed to Vitamin D, it can also be a good dietary source of Vitamin D.  

But they also provide antioxidants, namely glutathione and ergothioneine.  Now glutathione we get from many types of foods, but ergothioneine is a little more difficult to come by.  Mainly, we can only get it from mushrooms and black beans. How do we benefit from antioxidants in our diet?  Antioxidants neutralize free radicals in our bodies which help reduce our risk for developing disease, including heart disease and cancer. The greatest amounts of ergothioneine are present in shitake, maitake, and oyster mushrooms.

It has been suggested for several years now that mushrooms have many medicinal functions due to their antitumor, antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.  There are compounds in all types of mushrooms that enhance our immune systems. Cancer research continues to show tremendous promise with respect to mushrooms for the treatment of cancer.  A lot of the research has focused on breast cancer but has also suggested effectiveness for all kinds of cancer treatment including liver, cervical, bladder, and gastric cancer as well as leukemia. 

But the health benefits are not limited solely to cancer.  Mushrooms are also linked to protecting against dementia.  Potentially mushrooms enriched with Vitamin D can protect our brains from developing the amyloid plaque that can cause memory impairment and Alzheimer’s.  And some preclinical evidence suggests mushrooms may also offer protection against Parkinson’s disease. 

But the news gets even better! Some clinical studies suggest that mushrooms may also help prevent obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes by reducing inflammation, cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose, and can prevent plaque from depositing in the arteries. 

This all sounds fantastic, right?!  Well what kind of mushrooms are we talking about? All mushrooms have medicinal value, but some specifics are as follows. Chaga mushrooms have massive immune-boosting properties due to the amount of antioxidant properties.  Cordyceps purportedly have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antitumor benefits and may provide support for lungs and liver and kidneys as well as immune health.  Lion’s Mane has been shown to hinder the growth of cancer cells and protect against the degeneration of the nervous system. Reishi mushrooms cover all the bases and even considered an addition to conventional cancer treatment.

Now you may be wondering how you incorporate enough mushrooms into your diet to make a significant difference.  As you know, the market is saturated with supplements, but I always recommend we try to get the whole food into our diet first so adding mushrooms to your food is a great start.  It is important to know that our bodies will not get much nutrition from a raw mushroom but cooking them breaks down their cell walls which will allow the nutrition and medicinal compounds to be released.   When preparing mushrooms at home, clean off the dirt with a damp paper towel.  It’s best to avoid putting them in a bowl of water to clean them because they are porous and will soak up the water like a sponge creating a mushy product.  Mushrooms are best cooked over a medium-high heat. 

Another easy way to consume them is with beverages.  Mushroom drinks are widely available.  Ryze sells coffee which includes a variety of mushrooms.  Teeccino has coffee and teas made with a variety as well. Buddha offers a variety of teas; Chaga, CBD Mushroom Defense and a Mushroom Wellness blend.  All these brands are available online. 

If you want to incorporate into your meals but wonder where to get a variety of mushrooms, within our Naples community, there are a couple of mushroom farmers who can be found at some of our local farmers’ markets including the 3rd Street Farmers Market, Marco Island Farmers Market and Pine Ridge Farmers Market or peek within your local market for a mushroom farmer!

Check out skinnytaste.com for the Roasted Mushrooms with Parmesan recipe to get your mushroom journey started. 

Jenni Berman

Jenni Berman

Jenni, owner of Berman Health and Wellness, works alongside Berman Physical Therapy to help individuals get back in shape, improve their gut health, and to stay feeling young so they can stay in the game! After graduating from the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology, she went on to obtain a Master’s of Physician Assistant Studies. She has a passion for helping individuals to feel better than they thought imaginable through natural approaches, nutrition, and whole body treatment. She is also a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Specialist. When she is not working with patients or with clients, you can find Jenni on the boat, in the sun, enjoying time with her husband, Jake,her daughter Stella June, spending time in Jacksonville with her family, or playing with her [CUTE!] pups!!
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