I love mushrooms. They’re packed with umami flavour and health-boosting components. There’re so many varieties of mushrooms out there – other than the familiar cultivated varieties like button mushrooms and creminis (which are just baby portabellos!), wild mushrooms are also very much treasured, then comes the increasingly popular medicinal mushrooms like reishi and chaga, just to name a few.
There’re numerous health benefits of consuming culinary & medicinal mushrooms. Let’s take a closer look at those benefits with a focus on gut health.
*Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. This post contain affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something we may earn a small commission. Thanks.*
Gut-friendly Components in Culinary Mushrooms:
- Vitamin D
- Similar to when humans are exposed to sunlight, mushrooms convert a precursor to vitamin D, called ergosterol, into vitamin D₂ when exposed to UV light. The connection to gut health is that according to research, “vitamin D deficiency may contribute to autoimmunity via its effects on the intestinal barrier function, microbiome composition, and/or direct effects on immune responses”.
- Common antioxidants found in mushrooms include selenium, vitamin C, choline, which scavenge free radicals in the body. Free radicals are toxic byproducts of metabolism and other bodily processes. If accumulated in the body, they can result in oxidative stress which is harmful to the cells. One way that antioxidants can be beneficial to the gut is through protecting the gut lining. They also assist with our ability to ward off and deal with infections.
- Dietary fibre:
- Helps with bowel movement and lowers blood sugar.
- Many people think prebiotics and fiber are the same thing. While they are both dietary tools to promote health, they work in different ways to do so (read more here).
- Mushrooms are rich in complex carbohydrates like chitin, hemicellulose, β and α-glucans, mannans, xylans, and galactans, which make them the right choice for prebiotics. These components help simulate the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
- Free amino acids:
- Free amino acids are the taste-active components responsible for the umami taste (aka. “the fifth taste”), which makes them an excellent flavour enhancer and salt replacer, therefore they can help reduce our sodium intake. While sodium is not exactly good or bad for gut health, some studies suggested that high sodium intake can damage salt-sensitive beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus murinus in our microbiome and change their microbial activity.
Meat replacer? Not really.
Amazingly, mushrooms also have a meat-like texture! Sounds too good to be true? Well, perhaps it’s because of this that some people seem to mistakenly think that mushrooms are good source of protein.
Medicinal mushrooms are seen as the new “superfood”. Fortunately, some of the once rare & exotic varieties have become more and more available in health food stores in North America, but they can be pretty expensive with a very very small amount! Therefore, it’s important to do some research on whether the companies where you’re sourcing medicinal mushrooms from are reliable and whether they have done analysis on the potency of the mushrooms. A brand that I like is Four Sigmatic which I discovered through the Ultimate Health Podcast (here’s a list of my favorite podcasts on health & food).
A few benefits of some of the most popular ones:
- Turkey tail: promotes good bacteria growth and help combat bad bacteria including Clostridium, Staphylococcus, E. coli and Shigella.
- Chaga: provides energy & mood enhancement.
- Cordyceps: increases vitality and endurance (improves athletic performance). Contains antioxidants and supports the liver and kidneys.
- Lion’s mane: improves brain function, enhance mental clarity and focus.
- Reishi: fights off tumor and cancer growth.
- Shiitake: lowers blood cholesterol, reduces inflammation, has antiviral and anticancer effects
While some of these health benefits may not seem related to gut health, keep in mind that the gut & brain are proven to be strongly related – the term “gut-brain axis” refers to the biochemical signalling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. This is a whole big topic that I need to spend a different post on (and many books & research before then)!
Here’re a few medicinal mushroom products from Four Sigmatic that I love:
My Personal Favorite – Medicinal & Culinary in One!
Shiitake is actually my personal favorite as they’re not only medicinal but also incredibly delicious, and commonly used in Asian cuisine which I have deep roots in. In fact, they have been long used in Chinese Medicine to boost health and longevity, as well as improve circulation. As a food ingredient, they’re available fresh and dried . They should always be cooked to remove toxic components. The dried version is much more concentrated in flavours and can last almost forever in the pantry. I often throw two into my pot of bone broth to enhance the flavour. They can also be ground into a fine powder and use as a seasoning (most commonly in Japanese cuisine to serve as a dip or light rub for tempura vegetables).
A Little Photoshoot Sidetrack…
A few days ago, I got lots of organic mushrooms for a photoshoot of a dish that contains mushrooms and decided to take a picture of just the fungi by themselves afterwards. Unfortunately we’ve finished the king oyster & shiitake (as they’re so good…) so I couldn’t snap a picture of those. Fungi are so fascinating. They’re beautiful little creatures (some people mistakenly call them plants or vegetables…).
- A Critical Review on Health Promoting Benefits of Edible Mushrooms through Gut Microbiota
- A Review of Mushrooms as a Potential Source of Dietary Vitamin D
- Relationships Between Vitamin D, Gut Microbiome, and Systemic Autoimmunity
- Mushrooms and Vitamin d
- Mushrooms may improve health via gut microbiota activation: Review
- Mushroom magic: why the latest health fad might be on to something
- MUSHROOMS AND GUT HEALTH: POWER UP WITH PREBIOTICS
- GIVE YOUR GUT HEALING A BOOST WITH ANTIOXIDANTS
- Time to Table the Salt? How Salt May Be Affecting Your Microbiome