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The Health Benefits of Mushrooms

The Health Benefits of Mushrooms. Mushroom nutrition, naturopath Kirily Thomas, naturopath tips

It’s my favourite season of Autumn in the southern states of Australia, when the mornings are crisp, your breath starts to frost, the leaves start to turn, and many gorgeous mushrooms come into season. I love mushrooms because I personally find them to be a delicious and a hearty addition to many meals, but did you also know that they can be very beneficial for our overall health, and of course your all-important gut health as well? Let’s look at the health benefits of mushrooms.

Mushrooms, from the common cultivated mushrooms like Swiss Browns/Crimini (Agaricus bisporus) and Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) to the medicinal type of mushrooms like Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) and Chaga (Inonotus obliquus), all contain varying levels of beneficial compounds for our health, including several carbohydrates/polysaccharides and fibre such as chitin, alpha-glucans, beta-glucans, xylans, mannans, galactans, which can have a beneficial prebiotic action in our gut, and other components such as sterols, alkaloids, phenolic compounds, alkaloids and nutrients such as B-group vitamins, selenium and Vitamin D.

Why are mushrooms so good for us?

So, what can mushrooms do for us? Well, let me count the ways :-D!

Mushrooms are chock-a-block full of both soluble and insoluble dietary fibre, including those polysaccharides like beta-glucans, which are prebiotic and feed beneficial species in our gut microbiota. This increases the production of those all-important short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), including the butyrate, which is vital for maintaining the health of our colon, reducing inflammation in the body, and supporting our overall health and preventing disease. 

Collectively, it is thought that beneficial compounds found in edible mushrooms and fungi have many positive, and well-studied, actions including being immunomodulating, anti-inflammatory, antitumor, antioxidant, hypercholesterolemic, anti-atherosclerotic, antidiabetic, antibacterial, antiviral and hypoglycaemic to name a few. But it is also known that many of the beneficial actions of polysaccharides found in mushrooms may be due to microbial involvement in the gut and we can’t derive the same benefits without those all-important microbes that live in our gut microbiota. In other words, it is vital for us to look after our gut health and support the growth of beneficial species as they are integral for our long-term health and wellbeing.

How can we include mushrooms in our regular diet?

Mushrooms can be a very tasty addition to many meals – you can see my recipe for mushroom and wild rice pilaf here for some inspiration. But what about if you have people who dislike mushrooms in your family due to either taste, or because they have sensory issues with the texture, or both? Well, they’re actually quite easy to hide in some dishes, and also help to bulk them out a bit. My mushroom disliking teen (for both taste and sensory reasons) still eats the bolognaise that I make with lots of grated veggies included, but the very hidden mushrooms that I pulverise in the food processor and add in each and every time . And you can also add them as an ingredient with things like burgers, as demonstrated in the delicious, beneficial gut-microbiota-feeding, vegetarian black bean and mushroom burgers that I’ve posted the recipe for this month (also teen approved ). 

Additionally, when you are eating mushrooms, or adding them to a dish, always try to include the stalk where possible (you can chop the harder bit off at the end), as the stalks are often higher in the prebiotic polysaccharides than the cup itself. For example, if I am baking stuffed portobello mushrooms (which are simply more mature swiss brown mushrooms) in the oven, I will always include the mushroom stalks in the filling I make for them (mushroom stalks, chopped walnuts, crushed garlic, basil pesto, ground pepper, some crumbly sheep/goat’s feta sprinkled on top and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil – yum!).

Those who have specific issues with the FODMAP mannitol will have to be careful with mushrooms, as they are a rich source (which is another reason why mushrooms may have a prebiotic action in the gut). And of course, it goes without saying that you should ALWAYS purchase your mushrooms from reputable growers or grocers/supermarkets, and only harvest mushrooms from the wild if you have been formally trained in mushroom identification. Unfortunately, misidentification is very easy, and you don’t want your lovely meal of foraged mushrooms to be your last!

I hope the health benefits of mushrooms have inspired you to add more mushrooms to your daily diet!

References

Jayachandran M, Chen J, Chung SSM, Xu B. A critical review on the impacts of β-glucans on gut microbiota and human health. J Nutr Biochem. 2018 Nov;61:101-110. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2018.06.010. Epub 2018 Aug 10. PMID: 30196242.

Jayachandran M, Xiao J, Xu B. A Critical Review on Health Promoting Benefits of Edible Mushrooms through Gut Microbiota. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Sep 8;18(9):1934. doi: 10.3390/ijms18091934. PMID: 28885559; PMCID: PMC5618583.

Zhao J, Hu Y, Qian C, Hussain M, Liu S, Zhang A, He R, Sun P. The Interaction between Mushroom Polysaccharides and Gut Microbiota and Their Effect on Human Health: A Review. Biology (Basel). 2023 Jan 12;12(1):122. doi: 10.3390/biology12010122. PMID: 36671814; PMCID: PMC9856211.

Yu C, Dong Q, Chen M, Zhao R, Zha L, Zhao Y, Zhang M, Zhang B, Ma A. The Effect of Mushroom Dietary Fiber on the Gut Microbiota and Related Health Benefits: A Review. J Fungi (Basel). 2023 Oct 19;9(10):1028. doi: 10.3390/jof9101028. PMID: 37888284; PMCID: PMC10608147.

Cerletti C, Esposito S, Iacoviello L. Edible Mushrooms and Beta-Glucans: Impact on Human Health. Nutrients. 2021 Jun 25;13(7):2195. doi: 10.3390/nu13072195. PMID: 34202377; PMCID: PMC8308413.

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