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Everyone’s going mushroom mad – here’s why it’s time you ate more too – Metro.co.uk


Time to pile up the mushrooms(Picture: Getty/Link Nutrition)

Mushrooms are great. They’re brilliant sources of vitamin D, they’re reasonably cheap and they’re great at bulking out stews, curries and soups.

But our fungi friends are so much more than a veg drawer staple – which is why so many people have become fascinated by them.

We’re not just talking psilocybin (magic mushrooms). There’s enough magic in ‘ordinary’ mushrooms, without tripping balls too – they really are the ultimate superfood.

So what’s so special about ‘shrooms?

They’re adaptogenic

Mushrooms are medicinal. They’ve been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years for longevity and anti-stress.

You may have heard of adaptogenics, such as ashwagandha and maca; they supposedly help the body to adapt to environmental and psychological stresses. But mushrooms (particularly cordyceps and reishi) are also adaptogenic because they support the nervous, endocrine and adrenal systems. If you’re running on red, mushrooms can help to rebuild your strength.

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‘They are adaptogens, which means they bring balance and help your natural systems to give an optimal response,’ explains nutritionist Libby Limon, who works with Link Nutrition.

They’re immunomodulators

That means that they can support the immune system, whether that’s during a bacterial infection or calming it down during an autoimmune or allergic reaction.

‘They have a common theme in terms of supporting the immune system, but also contain antioxidants, Vitamins D and B’s, anti-microbial and anti-viral properties, prebiotics to support gut function, can support liver function, help improve your blood sugar and fat profiles,’ Libby tells Metro.co.uk.

Cordyceps, turkey tail and reishi are all known to be packed with immunity-boosting properties with turkey tail being partiularly good for gut bacteria balance (which also plays a role on immunity).

All mushrooms contain a complex carb called beta-glucans and these stimulate the immune system while suppressing tumour growth. Cordyceps and turkey tail directly fight viruses and bacteria, while reishi and shiitake help to strength the immune system, bone carrow and white blood cells.

While ‘boosting’ your immune system is a bit of a myth, you can certainly support the elements of your system with a healthy, balanced diet – which includes mushrooms.

Why not swap your afternoon tea or morning coffee with some mushroom tea? You can get organic complex blends on Amazon from £16 – all you have to do is mix a teaspoon with some hot water.

Just check that you’re buying a pack that is Soil Association-approved as the boom in shrooms may have led to unscrupulous farming practices.

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I like Sevenhills Wholefoods Organic Seven Mushroom Blend (£16.99), which has been stamped by the Soil Association and Vegan Society, and contains nothing but powdered reishi, chaga, shiitake, maitake, lion’s mane, cordyceps and tremella. It tastes a little like cacao!

Types of mushrooms

‘Each individual species then often has individual health attributes to enhance and focus the myco-therapy,’ says Libby.

‘Often these medicinal mushrooms don’t taste great and need to be dried and extracted to enhance their effect.’

You can get mushroom supplements that contain concentrated extracts and vitamin C to enhance absorption.

Reishi – traditionally known as the mushroom of immortality or eternal youth, it’s ideal for stress and anxiety if taken during the day. Equally, it can be taken before bed to help with insomnia. It has also been shown to be helpful for heart health.

Lions Mane – ideal for those who need help with digestive health. High in prebiotics, it can support the gut flora and has been shown to help regenerate the gut lining. Also helpful for focus and cognition, supporting the central nervous system.

Chaga – great for supporting the immune system, reducing inflammation and protecting cells from mutation. It is commonly drunk as a tea, so it can easily substituted in for a one of your daily hot drinks.

Shiitake – one of the ones you can buy in the supermarket and consume as ordinary, edible food. Ideal to help heart health by lower ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol and increasing ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol, as well as lowering high blood pressure.

Cordyceps – this is the energy booster and fatigue-fighting mushroom. Ideally taken in the morning, it’s been shown to help exercise performance and endurance.

Turkey Tail – its anti-viral properties, as well as its vitamin D and B content, mean it’s a great mushroom to take through the winter to ward off winter lurgies. It’s also suitable for anyone living with autoimmune issues from allergies to arthritis. 

They’ll give you an energy boost

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Can’t get through the day without mainlining caffeine? Mushrooms can help!

They’re packed with B vitamins – riboflavin (B2), folate (B9), thiamine (B1), pantothenic acide (B5) and niacin (B3). These vitamins help the body to use energy from the food we eat and produce red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. The result? You actually get bang for your culinary buck at last.

Cordyceps are believed to increase your production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is essential for delivering energy to the muscles – particularly during exercise. So that suggests that eating them may help to improve your fitness performance and recovery rate.

Away from giving you energy, mushrooms can also create electrical energy. Last year, scientists from the Stevens Institute of Technology in the US created electricity from mushrooms.

Scientist managed to create electricity using a button mushroom (Image: Sudeep Joshi, Stevens Institute of Technology)

They produce strong antibiotics

Fungi don’t like to rot from bacteria, so some of our best antibiotics come from fungi, such as penicillin – the discovery of it by Sir Alexander Fleming in 1928 was probably the most important medical through of the 20th century.

They even have cancer-fighting potential

First things first: mushrooms alone cannot prevent or cure cancer. However, various studies have shown that turkey tail mushrooms may be useful in fighting certain kinds of cancer.

Scientists who conducted a 2014 study concluded that ‘the evidence base for using mushrooms in cancer treatment has greatly increased’, and saying that extracts may have benefits for people to use alongside chemo.

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Turkey tail contains compounds called polysaccharopeptides (PSP) and polysaccaride-K (PSK) that seem to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. The National Cancer Institute says that in Japan, PSK is an approved adjuvant cancer treatment (meaning that it’s applied after initial cancer treatment to suppress secondary tumour formation).

Research is ongoing but it seems hopeful.

Join the fungi fans

Mushrooms are so brilliant, in fact, that people all over the world are going mad for mycelium (fungi) with mycologists like Paul Stamets leading the way in mushroom appreciation and research. Films like Fantastic Fungi have been made to show just how fundamental and incredible fungi and mushrooms are to our very existence.

On Facebook, there are tonnes of mushroom appreciation groups – including Mushroom Growing UK, which is for anyone interested in learning how to grow edible gourmet and medicinal mushrooms, and Mushroom Insider.

Not convinced yet? You will be after watching this TED Talk by Paul Stamets on how mushrooms can save the world. The earth is webbed by fungi and microbes which support life. Mycelium is intelligent, it’s the world’s ‘natural internet’ – channeling nutrients and information everywhere.

Fungi were the first organisms on this planet some 1.3 billion years ago – plants followed several hundred million years later. So mushrooms are the beginning, middle and end of existence as we know it. When we die, our bodies will go back into the earth where they’ll be broken down and repurposed – by fungi. And if compare DNA, mushrooms are actually closer to humans than they are plants.

Grow your own

Want to get started on growing your own source of mushroom magic? There are lots of grow-your-own sets online which require very little input.

All you have to do is water the grow bag every day and watch as the spores start to sprout into oyster, shiitake or chestnut mushrooms (which usually takes up to two weeks). Have a look on Suttons(from £8.99) or on Cylocybe, where mushroom cultures cost £7.95.

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