The magic of mushrooms: Why you should get into fungi

They’re known as the “meat for vegetarians” – but protein isn’t the only good reason to put mushrooms on your menu.

Mushrooms have been a staple of diets since the 17th century.

Highly nutritious, low in fat and easy to find – it’s plain to see why both consumers and health experts are mad about mushrooms.

The nutritional goodness of mushrooms

Nutritionist and The Longevity Remedy founder Michaela Sparrow says mushrooms have a plethora of benefits.

“They are rich in fibre, selenium – an antioxidant important for liver function, thyroid health and dna synthesis, and B Vitamins which are important for energy production, brain function, methylation and cell metabolism,” Michaela says.

“They have choline which is important for brain and heart health.

“They also have Vitamin C, which is an important antioxidant vital for healthy heart function, immunity, collagen production, joint health, wound healing and absorption of iron.”

Which mushrooms are best for you?

There are many types of edible mushrooms, yet you may just know a handful – such as the mild button mushroom, the buttery flavour of the shiitake, and the “meaty” portobello.

Not only do different mushrooms have their own distinct taste, they also have specific health benefits.

“Some mushrooms are prized for their health-boosting properties, from the cholesterol-lowering oyster mushrooms, to the blood-thinning wood ears,” explains mushroom grower Will Borowski, of Forest Fungi.

Considered an adaptogen (a stress-relieving plant), reishi mushrooms are believed to boost immunity and increase energy.

Mushroom powder, which usually includes reishi mushrooms, can be found in health food stores and aisles.

The powder can be added to meals or smoothies.

Should you choose organic mushrooms?

“Mushrooms can accumulate heavy metals and radioactive materials, so it is important to know where your mushrooms come from and how they are grown,” says Will.

Spanish researchers found some types of mushrooms, including chanterelles, are more prone to heavy metal accumulation.

Will recommends choosing organic mushrooms grown in Australia.

“Imported mushrooms are much cheaper, however the mushrooms are sprayed with a cocktail of chemicals and are often grown on toxic substrates,” he says.

Medicinal mushrooms

Traditional Chinese Medicine has long recognised the potential healing ability of some mushrooms.

Believed to have a diverse range of health benefits – from strengthening our immune system and having beneficial effects on diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and some cancers –  medicinal mushrooms pack a powerful nutritional punch.

Shiitake

“They are rich in beta-glucan shown to help in both the prevention and treatment of obesity and other metabolic disorders,” Michaela says.

“Shitake has also shown to induce apoptosis, this is where cells are killed off (like cancer cells).

“It is also rich in sterols, which help support healthy production and utilisation of cholesterol, providing protective benefits against cardiovascular health.”

Reishi

Known as the “mushroom of immortality” it is a powerful adaptogen, which means it enhances your bodies stress coping mechanisms, supports healthy adrenal function and reduces the damage related to physical and mental stress, Michaela says.

“It also contains a compound that has shown to help regulate mood,” she says.

Lion’s Mane

Research shows Lion’s Mane mushroom may be especially good to improve and maintain healthy nerve and brain function.

“It has shown to improve focus, concentration, creativity while also elevating mood,” Michaela says.

What to know about foraging for mushrooms

Keen to pick your own mushrooms?

It’s crucial to be able to properly identify mushrooms so you don’t get the wrong kind. Death cap mushrooms, for example, are highly poisonous (as their name suggests), and can easily be mistaken for the edible kind.

“If you are new to foraging, it is best to seek the advice of experts,” says Will.

“Go on a foraging tour where you can learn the easy-to-identify edibles, as well as some of the deadly species.”

Note, too, that it is illegal to forage in national parks and you will need a permit in some state parks.

“Contact your state’s parks authority for more information.

Growing your own mushrooms

It’s easier to grow mushrooms than you may think.

“An easy way to start is to buy spawn (like mushroom seeds) from a supplier, and use this to grow your mushrooms on straw or sawdust,” advises Will.

Your local farmers’ market may have a small-scale mushroom grower who can help you out with tips and tricks, or look online for courses.

Hot tip

Mushrooms can be high in Vitamin D but they need sunlight exposure to create Vitamin D.

“When you purchase your mushrooms, give them a good rinse in water and then put in a dish outside in the sun (midday is best) for an hour or so,” Michaela says.

“This will greatly increase the Vitamin D levels.”

Mushroom-based recipes to try:

Written by Samantha Allemann and Bianca Carmona. Updated June 2021.

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