A trending culinary ingredient sought out by local food enthusiasts and chefs, mushrooms have been used medicinally throughout Asia for thousands of years. Superfood mushrooms are growing in popularity in kitchens across North America because of promising research on their health benefits. The variety of mushrooms available for health benefits is vast, so I’ve chosen to explore four of my favorites with the most widely applicable benefits to support an active lifestyle.
1. Shiitake: Source of Vitamins, Minerals and Protein
A combination of flavor and health benefits, shiitake is one of the most cultivated edible mushrooms in the world and a favorite of foodies and health enthusiasts worldwide. Shiitake mushrooms are 18% protein, and also contain a type of polysaccharide (carbohydrate) known as lentinan which preliminary research on rats has shown may support liver detoxificationWatanabe, A. et al. (2006). Protection against D-galactosamine-induced acute liver injury by oral administration of extracts from Lentinus edodes mycelia Biology and Pharmacological Bulletin;29(8):1651-4. Accessed 8/13/2015 from: https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/bpb/29/8/29_8_1651/_pdf. Their vitamin and mineral profile includes potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, and vitamin D. (You can even improve vitamin D absorption by setting your shiitakes in the sun, or on a windowsill, for an hour or two before cooking). Find fresh or dried shiitake at most supermarkets, or Asian grocery stores, and use in stir-fries, soup broth, or dice and sauté with liquid smoke and other seasonings as a ground meat alternative in wraps, on salads, or vegan ramen soup. Did you know: Shiitakes are part of the whole food vitamin and mineral blend in Vega One® All-in-One Shake. Learn more about our whole food fruit and vegetable blend here!
2. Cordyceps: Good for Energy and Stamina
Cordyceps are a fungus found only on the Himalayan plateau 12,000 feet above sea level. Considered an exotic mushroom, cordyceps are part of the same family of fungus as truffles, and also the antibiotic penicillin. Traditional Chinese Medicine has long used cordyceps for respiratory ailments, and to rejuvenate during times of weakness and fatigue.Chen JK, Chen TT. (2012) Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. Art of Medicine Press. 2nd ed. They were first discovered after yak herders from Tibet and Nepal noticed the energetic and lively behavior of their flocks after grazing on cordyceps, despite the high altitudes. Today cordyceps are often used as a sport performance aid. In preliminary studies (completed using elderly participants) it has been shown to improve VO2 Max (a measure of cardiovascular capacity) by 15%Xiao, Y. et al. (2004). Randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial and assessment of fermentation product of Cordyceps sinensis. Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine. Vol 10 (3), 187-192.. As a personal anecdote, I trained and fueled for the Ragnar Trail Ultra Relay in April 2015 using Four Sigma Foods Instant Cordyceps almost daily with my morning coffee for at least 2 months prior. Despite having asthma, training at sea level and racing in the mountains, I was breathing stronger and felt better than I expected during the race. I would use it again in peak training season, or gearing up for another big endurance goal. You can find cordyceps as a capsule, tincture, or instant powder(look for mushroom coffee, or add it to this hot mocha shake). Cordyceps are best consumed before a workout, busy day, or during peak training season.
3. Chaga: Good for Immune Support and Anti-Inflammatory
Chaga grows naturally on birch trees throughout North America, and is a rich source of antioxidants, containing over 215 different phytonutrients anti-inflammatory effects. Betulinic acid is concentrated in chaga mushrooms and has been shown to have potential as an anti-viral, and inhibiting the growth of tumor cellsYogeeswari P, Sriram D. (2005). Betulinic Acid and Its Derivatives: A Review on their Biological Properties. Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2005, 12, 657-666. Accessed Aug 2015 from: http://robinschaga.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Betulinic-Acid-and-its-Derivatives-a-Review-on-their-Biological-Properties.pdf .Chaga also contains high amounts of the antioxidant superoxide dismutase (SOD)—25-50 times more than other mushrooms. This compound activates the body’s natural killer cells, supporting immune function. Chaga mushrooms are best enjoyed when you feel run down, or are experiencing inflammation. Find it as a capsule, tincture, or instant powder. I like chaga with rose hip or ginseng tea for extra immune system supporting benefits.
4. Reishi: Good for Relaxation and Balance
Reishi is perhaps one of the most versatile mushrooms, with the broadest reaching benefits. Reishi has been studied and used as a natural remedy for over 2000 years. Traditionally reishi was used for its balancing properties, for helping provide resiliency in times of stress and for calming the nervous system.Health Canada. (2015). Natural Health Products Monographs: Reishi. Accessed on 8/14/15 from: http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/atReq.do?atid=reishi&lang=eng Reishi is best consumed at night as you wind down from the day as it helps to promote a restful sleep. You’ll most often find it as a capsule, tincture, or instant powder (goes great with hot cocoa, mint or licorice tea). I am a big fan of mushrooms and all they can do for our health and environment. To keep learning more, check out Paul Stamets Ted Talk about how mushrooms could save the world, or read about how to choose a good quality mushroom supplement from my friends at Four Sigma Foods.