Superfoods Spotlight - Mushrooms

IF Insider No. 27

In this issue, we are going to take a look at one of the most powerful superfoods you can ingest…mushrooms. We are huge advocates of "stacking” healthy practices on top of IF, and adding superfoods to your diet is a wonderfully delicious way to do this.

As usual, we are bringing you news on what we’re currently reading or watching. For our premium subscribers, in this issue’s Research Spotlight we are going to look at an intriguing study that describes the positive effects of certain mushrooms on brain cancer in adults, plus we’ll highlight an older study that showed a synergistic effect on treating breast cancer when mushrooms were combined with another ingredient.

Plus our paid subscribers also get one of Ellen’s recipes each month and access to a live Q&A call. If you are a paid subscriber, a couple of months ago, we brought you Ellen’s easy-to-make Mushroom Powder Antioxidant Bombs! 🍄, which are loaded with nutrition and we want to highlight once again since we are concentrating on mushrooms in this issue. Last month, we shared Ellen’s Quick Salt Pickled Red Cabbage, which is loaded with crunch, is super easy to make, and full of anthocyanins, the potent flavonoids that give red cabbage its beautiful vibrant color.

This month, our paid subscribers get the recipe for Ellen’s easy-to-make and delicious Plant-Based Curry, which of course, contains mushrooms!!

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Superfoods Spotlight - Mushrooms

In our last IF Insider (IF Insider No. 26) we looked at the question: “What is the best way to manage hunger while fasting?”  Usually, in each issue we cover one specific intermittent fasting topic as well as highlight what we are reading, watching, and studying. 

But today, we are bringing you a Superfoods Spotlight:

First of all, just what is a superfood?

A superfood is a food that is nutritionally dense. Being nutritionally dense means that a food packs a lot of nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, proteins, healthy fats, and fiber among other things while still being relatively low in calories.

Today’s superfood focuses on mushrooms.

Now many people grew up in the era of thinking mushrooms did not contain much nutrition and used them mostly to brighten up a spinach salad or as a pizza topping. Many nutritionists and doctors praised them for what they didn’t contain...fat and a lot of calories. Plus most of what was available in the grocery stores until very recently were the little white button cap type mushrooms, and there is, of course, nothing wrong with them, it’s just that there is a whole world of mushrooms to explore.

But today, walk into just about any supermarket and in the vegetable section, you are apt to find an array of fantastic fungi, including the meaty portabella mushrooms, flavorful Shitake, delicate golden Chanterelles with their slightly floral flavor, the brown baby portabellas, crisp Enoki with their tiny caps and long stems and more.

And today also, we now know that mushrooms are far more nutritionally valuable than were previously thought and are good sources of B vitamins, fiber, protein, and other bioactive compounds. Mushrooms have long been valued in Asian cultures for centuries, both for food and as medicine and that attitude is, fortunately, coming to the West as well.

According to Robert Beelman, Professor of Food Science at Pennsylvania State University, who researches the nutritional value of fungi and mushrooms in his lab, mushrooms also contain four key micronutrient ingredients which are very important to healthy aging.

These four key micronutrients, which all act as antioxidants and all decline in aging, are selenium, Vitamin D, glutathione, and another very interesting antioxidant that prompted one American scientist to propose that it be declared a new vitamin. It’s called ergothioneine or ergo for short and is an antioxidant that is an amino acid, which are the building blocks of protein.

Ergo was discovered way back in 1909 and the only source of it is from fungi. We humans don’t manufacture this in our bodies. Now there was not too much interest in ergo until 2005 when a German scientist discovered that all mammals, including humans, have this transporter mechanism that pulls ergo into the red blood cells and then distributes it to the tissues which are under the most stress. Of course, that finding sparked more interest in the role of ergo in human health.

In 2006, Dr. Beelman’s lab at Penn State found that edible mushrooms, the ones that are cultivated, are potent sources of ergo and their research is focusing on the potential of ergo in mushrooms to prevent or even treat such devastating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Turns out that mushrooms are not only good for humans, but they are also good for bees! Colony collapse disorder has been associated with the widespread use of pesticides but is also due to infestation from the Varroa mite that spreads devasting viruses into the bee colonies. Until now, scientists could only watch in horror...until now that is.

Paul Stamets, who is a mycologist...that’s someone who studies fungi and mushrooms, has developed an extract from two types of mushrooms, when fed to the bees, had a dramatic impact on their survival rates from the viruses. Paul’s work to educate people about bee populations and the use of fungal extracts to protect them and our global food supply has resulted in 5 million dollars in funding for Washington State’s Honey Bee and Pollinator Division. And that’s good news for all of us!

Both Denise and I have been so impressed with the effects of mushrooms on human health, that we use daily a mushroom powder from Laird Superfood, which was developed by big wave surfer Laird Hamilton to increase his athletic performance.

Their Superfoods Performance Mushroom powder harnesses the power of Chaga, Cordyceps, Lion’s Mane, and Maitake mushrooms which have been treasured in Eastern medicine for hundreds of years. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of functional mushrooms are thought to contribute to overall wellness.

Bonus Fun Fact - Excluding fortified foods, mushrooms are the only good plant source of vitamin D. You can increase the amount of Vitamin D in your mushrooms by simply exposing their gills to sunlight! Here are the results of an informal experiment done by Paul Stamets:

“Here is a simple experiment we did one summer afternoon in Kamilche Point, Washington. We compared several forms of organically grown shiitake mushrooms, which had starting level of 100 IU/100 grams. We compared the vitamin D levels of three sets of mushrooms, all from the same crop. The first was grown and dried indoors. The second set was dried outdoors in the sunlight with their gills facing down. The third set of mushrooms was dried outdoors in the sunlight with their gills facing upwards for full sun exposure. The most vitamin D was found in shiitake dried with gills up that were exposed to sunlight for two days, six hours per day. The vitamin D levels in these mushrooms soared from 100 IU/100 grams to nearly 46,000 IU/100 grams (see chart). Their stems, though, produced very little vitamin D, only about 900 IU. Notably, vitamin D levels dropped on the third day, probably due to over-exposure to UV.”

Why It Matters

Humans are just now beginning to realize the tremendous potential benefits fungi can have on human health and well-being. From fungi produced “meat” to fungi that actually produce real milk without animals, we haven’t even begun to touch what is possible by utilizing these fantastic organisms.

“The great question certainly was, what? Alice looked all round her at the flowers and the blades of grass, but she did not see anything that looked like the right thing to eat or drink under the circumstances. There was a large mushroom growing near her, about the same height as herself; and when she had looked under it, and on both sides of it, and behind it, it occurred to her that she might as well look and see what was on the top of it.”

~ Lewis Carrol (1832 - 1898), English writer of children's fiction who was also a mathematician, photographer, inventor, and Anglican deacon. The quote is from Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland.

If you have questions about cooking and eating mushrooms, please post them in the comments. We’d love to have a conversation with you.


What We Are Reading 📚

With each issue, we bring you a short blurb on what we are currently reading or watching, including books, articles, podcasts, videos, movies, and research papers of value. 

Denise - Deepening connection with Nature is the theme in this month’s Fast Factor Circle. Despite growing up in a family that went camping every summer in the California Sierras and visiting Yosemite once or twice a year, I was late to come to my appreciation of the natural world. Now, I can’t get enough of being outside, hiking in the mountains around Los Angeles, or strolling along the beach, I love it all. When I heard about The Overstory, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, by Richard Powers, I had to read it. Powers tells the stories of the natural world, mostly trees and the people whose lives intersect with the trees through the years.

"The best novel ever written about trees, and really just one of the best novels, period." —Ann Patchett

Ellen - In keeping with our mushroom theme, I’ve just begun to read Paul Stamet’s book Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save The World. Even though this “manual for the mycological rescue of the planet” was published in 2011, it could not be more timely.

Michael Pollan, whose books I love and who is the author of (among others) The Botany of Desire, has this to say about Paul’s book: “Stamets is a visionary emissary from the fungus kingdom to our world, and the message he’s brought back in this book, about the possibilities fungi hold for healing the environment, will fill you with wonder and hope.“

Recommended Reading


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