To be totally transparent, we know mushrooms aren’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea.
Mushrooms can be pretty polarizing as far as preference goes. You’re absolutely bound to encounter people who put mushrooms on everything just as often as you encounter those who can’t even stand the sight of this edible fungus. But no matter which side you’re on, there’s one thing you simply can’t argue with, and that is the health benefits mushrooms provide.
Whether you like them or not, medicinal mushrooms have been used in Eastern medicine for millennia and have recently bounced back into relevancy in western society. Intended to be consumed as a powder and never in their raw form, medicinal mushrooms provide a lengthy array of health benefits — think improving gut health, antioxidant powerhouse, and brain-booster.
Good news for you mushroom-haters out there — the easiest way to incorporate mushrooms into your daily diet is to simply add a spoonful to whatever you’re eating in the morning. Sure, some ultra-trendy coffee spots in Los Angeles are selling mushroom lattes that you can grab, but you can also enjoy the health benefits of mushrooms without leaving your house.
There’s a great big world of medicinal mushrooms out there, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and be unsure of what direction to go in. That’s why we’ve put together this article. We’re going to provide you with a list of the five most important mushrooms to incorporate into your diet to boost your gut health and immune system.
Understanding the Connection Between Gut Health and Mushrooms
Our digestive tract includes hundreds of species of bacteria that are essential to human health. The microbiome of the gut is home to these bacteria. The microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microscopic living things called “microbes”) that live in a pocket of your large intestine called the cecum are what make up your gut microbiome. Beneficial effects on gut microbes have been linked to improved gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, metabolic, and cognitive health.
Digestive problems can stem from a number of causes — not just the microbiome’s lack of function. The onset of digestive problems can be influenced by factors including genetics, diet, food allergies, sleep habits, and autoimmune and gastrointestinal conditions. While these conditions may require the precision of a medical professional, there are natural ways to support your overall gut health, and one of the best places to start is with mushrooms that are rich in fiber and protein.
Mushrooms are a great addition to any meal because of their immune-boosting properties and because they are low in calories but high in protein. They also have a high fiber content, which is important for the digestive system. A diet high in fiber has been linked to improved digestive health, stable blood sugar, a healthy appetite, and reduced cholesterol levels.
The 5 Mushrooms You Need to Level Up Your Gut Health
It’s important to note that even though they contain powerful healing properties, mushrooms are not a cure-all for everything. In fact, western studies on mushrooms are still somewhat in their infancy, and solid evidence of their health benefits for humans still needs quite a bit of research. Instead of thinking of them as solutions to all bodily ailments under the sun, think of them as companions to your immune system. With that being said, let’s get to know the five best mushrooms to improve gut health and boost your immune system.
Reishi has been compared to Xanax, but it is more like a natural sedative. For good reason, this fungus is among the most sought-after of all medicinal mushrooms. Potentially, Reishi can aid in weight loss (as seen in a mouse study), maintain immune system balance, and (possibly) vigorously combat cancer cells.
The unique sedative effects of reishi are due to the compound triterpene, which is abundant in this mushroom. These compounds have been shown to improve mood and sleep quality in mice, suggesting they may be useful for treating anxiety and depression and promoting restful sleep.
Although beneficial to the nervous system already, triterpenes have even more to offer.
Healing and mental acuity are two additional benefits of reishi.
2. Lion’s Mane
To improve your focus and concentration, try lion’s mane. Like most medicinal mushrooms, this feathery “pom-pom” variety is rich in antioxidants and boosts the immune system. The bioprotein nerve growth factor (NGF) and myelin are both stimulated by lion’s mane, but this is a very unusual effect).
When it comes to maintaining a healthy brain, NGF and myelin are both indispensable. Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis are just two of the neurological diseases that have been linked to deficiencies in these nutrients. The good news is lion’s mane is an excellent cognitive enhancer. A small human study found that this miraculous mushroom enhanced cognition and memory, enhanced concentration, and reduced anxiety and irritability.
3. White Button Mushrooms
In addition to being high in vitamin C, white button mushrooms also contain high levels of the mineral selenium. Both nutrients have properties that boost the immune system’s production of its most protective immune cells, which in turn help defend against cancer and other pathogens and prevent cancer from spreading.
In addition, our immunity is intrinsically connected to the strength and integrity of our gut and gut flora. Numerous studies have demonstrated that mushrooms are an effective prebiotic, meaning that they provide food for our microbiome. Prebiotics nourish the beneficial bacteria in our digestive tract. Appropriately feeding our bacteria aids in repopulating our guts with good bacteria, which can have effects on digestion, mood, and immunity. ScienceDirect conducted an analysis of the health benefits of white button mushrooms and found significant relationships between the prebiotic content of mushrooms and immune function, body weight, and inflammation.
4. Shiitake Mushrooms
Used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, shiitake mushrooms are becoming increasingly popular. Japan, Korea, and Eastern Russia all use them as part of their medical traditions. According to traditional Chinese medicine, shiitake mushrooms increase vitality and lifespan by enhancing blood flow. Bioactive compounds in shiitake have shown promise in protecting against cancer and inflammation, according to studies.
There is some evidence that consuming shiitake mushrooms can improve your resistance to illness. In one study, participants were given two dried shiitake mushrooms per day. In just one month, their inflammatory markers and immune markers all improved. One of the polysaccharides in shiitake mushrooms may be responsible for this immune effect. While age is generally associated with a decline in immune function, a mouse study found that a shiitake-derived supplement helped reverse some of this decline.
Because of their high antioxidant content, chaga mushrooms can be serious contenders in the fight against free radicals and inflammation. This black mushroom has been shown to reduce “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL), protect against cancer, and slow the aging process of skin by blocking or slowing oxidative stress. The majority of research on chaga has been conducted on human cells and mice, but all indications are that this mushroom is beneficial to your health.
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How to Grow Your Own Mushrooms
Now that you’ve been presented with all of this information on how mushrooms can benefit your health, you might be left wondering if you can bypass the arduous process of shopping for these medicinal mushrooms in stores and grow your own. Excellent question! Though there are a few things to consider, you absolutely can grow your own medicinal mushrooms in your own home. Providing the proper growing conditions is the key to successfully cultivating oyster mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, and most other mushroom species.
Cultivate Mushrooms in a Controlled Environment
While mushrooms can be grown in a garden, indoor cultivation makes for a much more productive harvest. Mushrooms are fungi, and as such, they can grow in the dark. They thrive in a cool, moist environment, which can be easier to maintain in enclosed spaces. Mushrooms can thrive in a cool basement or a climate-controlled garage or shed. Temperatures between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit are optimal for development.
Make Sure the Soil Is Suitable for Planting
Mushrooms are not like plants in that they thrive in potting soil. Wood chips, hardwood sawdust (ideal for shiitake mushrooms), composted manure (ideal for white button mushrooms), straw (ideal for oyster mushrooms), or coffee grounds (ideal for shiitake mushrooms) are optimal growing mediums (also good for oyster mushrooms). Place your substrate or growing medium in a container that is at least six inches deep. This promotes the unrestricted growth of mushroom mycelium.
Vaccinate Your Mushroom Spores
Mushrooms can be planted (inoculated) in one of two ways. Mushrooms can be grown from spawns or spores, which are like seeds for plants (the equivalent of plant seedlings). Mushroom spawn is the best option for first-timers, and spores are best for subsequent harvests. These organisms do not require any mechanical assistance in adhering to their substrate. Simply sprinkle them on top, and then add another 14 inches of substrate.
Warm Temperatures for Germination
Although homegrown mushrooms thrive at temperatures between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, the growth process can be sped up by keeping the mushrooms at around 70 degrees for the first few days. To provide even more heat, position a heating pad under the container in which your plants are growing.
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Damp but Not Drenched
While mushrooms benefit from some moisture, they won’t grow if the environment is too wet. Spray your plant life with a misting bottle every so often, but don’t soak the growing medium. Many mushroom farmers will place a damp cloth or a plastic bag that doesn’t quite fit over the container to keep humidity levels steady.
Mushrooms fruit when their shoots emerge. Little mushrooms will soon be the size of the entire crop. When the mushroom cap opens completely and separates from the stem, you know it’s time to harvest. To keep the cycle going, you can also replenish the growing medium with new mushroom spawn.
Consume Mushrooms Within Two Days
Fresh mushrooms are only good for a few days before they go bad. Try them fresh soon after harvesting, or store them in the freezer. Moldy mushrooms can be recycled into mushroom compost, which can be used to grow new mushrooms from spores or spawn.
Unleash the Power of the Mushroom
Whether you’re a regular consumer of mushrooms or you avoid them like the plague, hopefully, this article provided you with some insight into why mushrooms can be a powerful addition to your diet. Although medicinal mushrooms have been used for thousands of years, they are circling back into western culture as more studies are conducted proving the health benefits that these “fun guys” provide. Take control of your gut health and boost your immune system by incorporating mushrooms into your diet — remember, all you need is one scoop of powder in your breakfast smoothie!
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