Do you like mushrooms?
If so, good news: mushrooms are some of the healthiest foods on the planet!
If not, you can find new edible mushroom choices below to incorporate into your diet.
Still can't manage the taste or texture?
No problem! You can choose medicinal mushroom powder and capsules to reap the health benefits of mushrooms without taking a single bite.
From immune system support to anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, these are the healthiest mushrooms filled with special antioxidants and plenty of important nutrients to keep your mind and body healthy.
What are the Health Benefits of Edible Mushrooms and Medicinal Mushrooms?
As a disclaimer, it's important to point out that each mushroom species is unique.
Every mushroom has specific combinations of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. However, popular mushrooms do share some universal characteristics.
Mushrooms have anti-bacterial and, ironically, anti-fungal properties- but what can they do for your physical and mental health?
(Sorry, we won't be discussing magic mushrooms here. Just edible and medicinal mushrooms with incredible health benefits.)
They're Low in Calories but Loaded with Dietary Fiber and Vitamins (And Great for Weight Loss)
Edible mushrooms have no fat or cholesterol but plenty of other important nutrients.
Plus, mushrooms can help you break your reliance on meat by adding a unique savory flavor to meatless dishes.
Most mushrooms hold decent amounts of:
- B vitamins: like riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid
- Copper: Your body needs copper for delivering oxygen to red blood cells
- Dietary fiber: Almost all Americans do not meet their daily dietary fiber recommendations
- Potassium: A vital nutrient for nerve health
- Selenium: An important mineral for heart health
- Vitamin D: UV-exposed mushrooms are one of the only plant sources of vitamin D which is essential for bones and mental health.
Medicinal Mushrooms Contain Beta Glucans for Immune Function
Beta glucans are just one group of carbohydrates called polysaccharides.
These carbs aren't the kind that go to your waistline. Instead, beta glucans balance your immune system.
Each mushroom contains unique types of beta glucan, which also means each mushroom affects immune function in different ways.
In some of the most powerful medicinal mushrooms, beta glucans stimulate your immune system into producing more Natural Killer cells which are essential for fighting toxins, age-related diseases, and tumors.
Potential Anti-Tumor and Anti-Cancer Properties
Asian countries like China and Japan have already seamlessly incorporated mushrooms and mushroom-derived medications into their cancer treatment programs.
Patients undergoing treatment for breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer show positive results when including mushroom extracts and medications into their regimen -- likely thanks to the stimulation of NK cells to fight cancer cells.
Antioxidants in Mushrooms Defend Against Oxidative Stress
Ounce-for-ounce, medicinal mushrooms are some of the most concentrated sources of antioxidants you can find!
While not all free radicals are bad, it's important to keep a balance.
When too many free radicals and too few antioxidants enter your body, your immune system can't neutralize the free radicals fast enough and cells are exposed to oxidative stress.
Over time, oxidative stress can lead to a whole host of age-related conditions like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, high blood pressure, diabetes, and more.
Good for Balancing Blood Pressure and Blood Sugar Levels
Thanks to their pre-biotic qualities, mushrooms can help your body use glucose more effectively and reduce blood sugar levels.
The phytonutrients and antioxidants in mushrooms may also prevent plaque from building up along your artery walls and reduce blood vessel hardening -- both of which can help lower high blood pressure.
May Lower Cholesterol Levels and Defend Against Heart Disease
Mushrooms contain no cholesterol and serve as an excellent flavor substitute for meat.
Eating less meat = lower cholesterol levels.
However, studies also show that substances in mushroom extracts may also lower cholesterol levels on their own.
They Support the Central Nervous System and Good Mental Health
Medicinal mushrooms like lion's mane contain special antioxidants and phytonutrients that stimulate Nerve Growth Factor.
NGF helps grow, repair, and maintain nerves in your brain.
In other words, mushrooms can help prevent age-related brain diseases like dementia and memory loss as well as mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.
They Balance Immune Function
Mushrooms are in a unique position.
Some foods stimulate the immune system while others suppress it.
The beta glucans in mushrooms are different: they balance your immune system.
Each mushroom has a unique effect on the immune system so the key is to find the right one to meet your needs.
What are the Healthiest Mushrooms for Meals?
You can start reaping the health benefits by incorporating some of these edible mushroom varieties into your diet!
1. Shiitake Mushrooms
Like many mushrooms on this list, shiitake mushrooms grow naturally in Asian countries.
If you're looking for a meat replacement mushroom, start with shiitake- it contains nearly all of the same amino acids.
The sterols, eritadenine, and beta glucans in shiitake may help lower blood sugar levels, and fight high cholesterol.
2. White Button Mushrooms
White button mushrooms are some of the easiest mushrooms to find on store shelves.
However, research is showing that white button mushrooms may help fight against tumor growth.
White button mushrooms exposed to UV light are also an amazing source of Vitamin D.
3. Oyster Mushrooms
Oyster mushrooms are also praised for their potential health benefits.
Not only are they tasty, the texture serves as a perfect meat substitute. (check out these "pork" sliders)
4. Portobello Mushrooms
Portobello mushrooms are actually the sames species as white button mushrooms- Agaricus bisporus - just a different variety that grows brown instead of white, and is allowed to grow a little longer than typical buttons.
Portabellos are huge- which makes them another favorite meat substitute.
Many of the health benefits of portobello mushrooms come from their high potassium content: 300mg in each mushroom.
5. Porcini Mushrooms
Porcini mushrooms are a little harder to find... since they can't be cultivated commercially. Fresh porcini's on the market are all wild-harvested.
However, porcini mushrooms are also super high in ergothioneine which has cytotoxic properties.
In other words, they can help your immune system protect against invading threats.
6. Chanterelle Mushrooms
If you're looking to consume more B vitamins, look no further than chanterelle mushrooms.
Chanterelles are a reliable source of B vitamins 1, 2, 3, and 5 -- all of which your body needs to process other vitamins from food and deliver them to cells.
Again, Chanterelles cannot be commercially grown- so don't pass them by if you find em' for sale.
7. Enoki Mushrooms
Enoki mushrooms were one of the first fungi studied for cancer.
They are also delicious and easy to find in the grocery store.
Like many other mushrooms, Enoki are potential immuno-modulators, and may also reduce cholesterol, hypertension and blood pressure.
What are the Healthiest Medicinal Mushrooms?
You certainly can eat these mushrooms -- but you may not want to.
These medicinal mushrooms contain some of the highest levels of beta glucans and antioxidants but some may taste kind bitter, or have textures similar to wood.
However, that doesn't mean you can't include them in your supplement routine.
You can find the following mushrooms in powders, extracts, and capsules so it's still extremely easy to enjoy the benefits with minimal effort.
1. Reishi Mushrooms
Also known as the mushroom of immortality, Reishi is a must-have in your stack of functional foods.
Beta glucans, ganoderic acids, and other nutrients in reishi mushrooms may protect the immune system, promote better sleep, and support heart health.
2. Lion's Mane Mushrooms
For the nervous system and mental health, turn to lion's mane mushrooms.
It's neuroprotective qualities and phytonutrients make lion's mane an excellent choice for anyone looking for a natural nootropic.
Lion's Mane are one of the few medicinal mushrooms that are also a delicious gourmet mushroom- so don't pass it up if you can find it fresh.
3. Turkey Tail Mushrooms
Turkey tail is one of today's most well-studied mushrooms for anti-cancer solutions.
Japanese healthcare professionals use a substance found in turkey tail called PSK as part of cancer treatment programs.
You can take advantage of PSK in its natural form in turkey tail extracts and powders.
4. Chaga Mushrooms
If you see chaga mushrooms while hiking, you may assume they're simply part of the tree bark.
Make no mistake: chaga mushrooms are packed with anti-oxidants to support immune health while regulating blood pressure and blood sugar.
Cordyceps aren't technically one of the "overall" healthiest mushrooms because they lack some specific qualities other mushrooms have.
However, they are the fungus of choice among athletes due to their effect on oxygen uptake!
6. Maitake Mushrooms
Also loaded with beta-D glucans, maitake mushrooms are excellent for supporting immune function and reducing blood sugar levels to defend against diabetes.
Maitake can also help you lose weight or defend against weight gain by reducing hunger pangs.
The Bottom Line
Mushrooms are filled with important vitamins and minerals that your body needs for vital functions: B vitamins, vitamin D, copper, dietary fiber, potassium.
However, the healthiest mushrooms also contain high levels of antioxidants and beta glucans to support your immune system and help your body defend against age-related disease.
To enjoy the most benefits, supplement your mushrooms for several weeks. It can take time to notice the effects as substances build in your system.