They’re not animal, fruit, nor vegetable and so they’re often neglected when it comes to thinking about healthy diets. Yet mushrooms are not only a good source of protein, they’re full of good stuff that’ll keep you healthy for longer.
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Mushrooms are good for ‘re-balancing’ your body
Your body contains adaptogens which work to help it react and deal with changes such as when you get a virus or bacteria enter your system or even when your cells are behaving abnormally (as in the early stages of cancer, for example).
Mushrooms contain these adaptogens, which is why they are called ‘biologic response modifiers’ – they change the way your body responds to triggers, helping it adapt more quickly and easily. Another example of foods that contain adaptogens is ginseng.
Mushrooms are a handy weight-loss food
They’re extremely low in calories – with around 25 calories per 100g – and contain protein (3g per 100g) and so help you stay full for longer.
The protein is not a ‘complete protein’, unlike meat a mushroom’s protein doesn’t contain all the essential amino acids your body needs. However, if you eat mushrooms with broccoli, for example, the two combine to give you complete protein.
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Mushrooms may help you live longer
Without extensive randomised trials involving humans it’s impossible to say for certain whether eating mushrooms regularly helps you live longer.
Of the studies that have been undertaken, there is evidence that some types of mushroom (shiitake, oyster, and reishi, for example) help fight cancer by protecting cells, help regulate blood glucose levels and help your body fight off viruses and bacteria.
One mushroom is not the same as another
To enjoy all the health benefits of mushrooms it’s important to select your fungi carefully. Because your packet of chestnut mushrooms grown in sterilised conditions in a factory somewhere doesn’t contain the same nutrients as a shiitake mushroom grown in the same conditions, for example.
Similarly, wild mushrooms may contain different nutrients again. While scientists don’t know everything about mushrooms yet, they do know that certain varieties contain more good stuff than others.
A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that shiitake mushrooms increased levels of T-cells, which are the white blood cells that protect your body from infection. The study also revealed that inflammation was reduced.
Other research on mushroom types including agaricus sylvaticus, phellinus linteus and maitake has revealed immunity-boosting properties and the ability to help to slow the growth of cancerous cells.
However, while these studies are interesting, most are on such a small scale or only undertaken on animals or in lab conditions, so that it’s impossible to say if the same benefits would be experienced by a person eating the mushrooms regularly.
Related: 10 ways to boost your immune system
You don’t need to eat mushrooms to be healthy
If you can’t stand the texture or flavour of fungi, don’t worry.
First, you can try disguising them. Put them in a blender and add the paste to soup (strong-flavoured soups such as minestrone or tomato will work) or in a nut roast, where they won’t be so noticeable.
If that idea doesn’t appeal, you can get mushroom supplements. Prices range from as little as £5 up to £55 for supplements but be aware of what additives are included and how the mushrooms used in the supplements are grown as well as the type of mushroom used. Mushrooms absorb a lot from the soil they grow in, so if they are grown in poor conditions, they may not be as healthy as others.
And while most mushroom varieties haven’t been tested scientifically, shiitake, mataike, phellinus linteus and agaricus sylvaticus mushroom extracts are some of the few that have, so if you want to be safe, those are your best options.
If you have any doubts, see your GP to check whether it’s safe to take the supplement.