Contrary to what many health resources will tell you, mushrooms are not vegetables. They are fungi. Fungi are in their own kingdom, separate from both plants and animals, but are biologically more closely related to animals than plants!
As a biologist I think it’s lazy to categorize them with vegetables. On the other hand, most mushrooms do not contain enough protein to be an adequate substitute for meat in a paleo diet. Nutrition research on mushrooms has discovered a number of unique compounds, many of which have anti-cancer and other health properties. Therefore I tend to think that mushrooms are unique and should be given their own nutrition category.
General Benefits of Mushrooms
So what makes mushrooms so unique? Why should you consider adding more mushrooms into your diet? Here are a few general facts:
- There are polysaccarides found in the chitin cell walls of mushrooms that benefit cardiovascular health, normalize blood sugar and cholesterol, have antitumor and anticancer properties, and boost the immune system
- High antioxidant content – including antioxidants that are unique to the fungal kingdom and some that are not degraded during cooking
- Contain anti-inflammatory compounds
- Good source of B vitamins, selenium, copper, phosphorous, potassium, chromium, zinc, manganese, dietary fiber, and vitamin D (if exposed to the sun)
Types of Mushrooms
There are many types of mushroom, but because many will only grow in the wild there are only a handful of species that humans typically consume. Here are some of the health benefits of mushroom species:
- Chaga: usually ingested as a tea. Boosts the immune system, supports gastrointestinal health, normalizes blood pressure and cholesterol
- Cordyceps: increases ATP production, strength and endurance, has anti-aging, anti-tumor, and anti-inflammatory effects.
- Enoki: these micronutrient-rich mushrooms have anti-cancer and immune-boosting properties.
- Himematsutake: these mushrooms are used for their anti-cancer properties and to normalize cholesterol, decrease insulin resistance, and improve hair and skin
- Lion’s Mane: stimulate nerve growth, may improve mild cognitive impairment, may improve mood.
- Maitake: anticancer, antiviral, and immune-system enhancing properties and may also help control both high blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
- Oyster: anti-cancer properties, helps regulate blood cholesterol
- Reishi: these mushrooms are anti-cancer, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal (including Candida), and anti-inflammatory. They can also help normalize blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
- Shiitake: anti-tumor properties, protects the liver, and relieves stomach ailments. These also have anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and cholesterol-lowering properties, and can also aid in blood sugar stabilization.
- Turkey tail: currently being used to treat cancer, many types of infections, and chronic fatigue.
Recipes to Try
So now that you know all kinds of amazing properties of mushrooms, how about some recipes!
- Roasted Hen of the Woods
- Grilled Hen-of-the-Woods Mushrooms with Sesam
- How to Cook Portabella Mushrooms as Hamburger Buns
- Mushroom Tonic
- Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Soup
- Paleo Cream of Mushroom Soup
- Marinated Mushrooms
- Mushroom and Garlic Saute
- Liver with Bacon, Onions, and Mushrooms
- Stuffed Mushrooms
- Mushroom Saute over Steak
- Creamy Mushroom Stew
- Paleo Sauteed Balsamic Mushrooms
- Chicken with Creamy Moral Mushroom Sauce
- Mushroom Pate
- Olive and Roasted Garlic Tapenade Stuffed Mushrooms
- Mushroom Pesto
- Italian Stuffed Leg of Lamb Roast
Growing Your Own Mushrooms
It isn’t possible to grow all types of mushrooms – many will only grow in the wild. However, there are a number of mushrooms that can be grown from kits fairly easily! Shroom supply has kits for a number of mushroom species that can be grown indoors with the help of grow lights, and companies such as Oyster Creek sell inoculated dowels that can be used to grow shiitake and oyster mushrooms on logs outdoors.
Growing my own mushrooms is a goal of mine! Have you ever tried to grow your own mushrooms? What are some of your favorite mushroom recipes?