What Are Mushrooms: A Complete Guide On The Myths and Benefits

What Are Mushrooms: A Complete Guide On The Myths and Benefits

What are mushrooms? This may seem like a silly question, but few people understand all of the myths, benefits, and uses of mushrooms of all shapes,...

What are mushrooms? This may seem like a silly question, but few people understand all of the myths, benefits, and uses of mushrooms of all shapes, sizes, and types. We all know the ones that show up on our pizza, but more specifically, a mushroom is the spore-producing part of a fungus that grows out of either the ground or whatever its food source is. 

Simply put, mushrooms are fungi. Some of them we eat, others grow on the grass and typically do not ingest them, and others are used for medicinal or recreational uses because of their psychedelic properties.

It is not unusual for you to imagine the generic white-capped mushrooms seen in your local grocery store when you hear the term. However, mushrooms are a varied and distinctive group – some are large, others are small, some are brown or beige, while many are brightly colored. A few things typically remain the same among the varieties. Their capped shape, sturdy stalks, and gills on the underside of the cap are all markers of a mushroom.

It is not unusual to think of mushrooms only as food – in stir-fries, pasta, even the delicious flavoring of truffle (yup, a relative to the above-ground mushroom). While mushrooms are delicious, or not, they can be a love or hate kind of food, and they lend themselves to many uses outside of food. They can be used as a recreational drug, favored for their psychedelic properties – which surprisingly has led to the consideration of their use as medicine and treatment for mental health challenges. Even more shocking, researchers are using mushrooms to try and create building materials, cleaning products, fabrics, fuel, packaging, and other consumer goods!

Just like the uses for mushrooms, the myths and benefits surrounding their uses are vast and varied. So, sit back, relax, and let’s take a deep dive into the many myths and benefits of our favorite little fungi.

What Are the Mushroom Myths That Just Aren’t Getting It Right?

 As we’ve mentioned, mushrooms have many uses; however, many people misunderstand their uses and benefits or view mushrooms as harmful and toxic lifeforms or only food sources. We are here to debunk the myths that we’ve heard about our favorite fungus friends over the years. 

Mushroom Myth #1: Mushrooms have a high level of toxins.

This myth is misleading, so let us explain. Yes, some mushrooms have toxic compounds that can make your sick or cause you bodily harm. However, this is not the case for the mushrooms that we use for food and other purposes. Because some mushrooms contain mycotoxins, an organic substance that is poisonous to humans, they can reap a blanket reputation as a toxic substance. As long as you are not walking through the forest and eating mushrooms right from the ground, you can be assured that the mushrooms sold to you as food or those used in other consumer products are safe for human consumption and use.

Mushroom Myth #2: There are no scientifically proven benefits of mushrooms

We beg to differ. There have been thousands upon thousands of studies conducted on the functionality of mushrooms, and the increase in studies continues to grow worldwide. The research conducted so far has shown that mushrooms benefit humans and are a promising substance overall. As the wellness benefits of mushrooms continue to be discovered and proven, researchers across the globe are taking on their own mushroom related studies to determine what other ways they can be used to improve the human condition. So, you can go ahead and keep eating your favorite mushroom dishes; they are perfectly safe.

Mushroom Myth #3: Eating raw mushrooms is dangerous 

There is nothing dangerous about eating functional (read: safe for human use) mushrooms without cooking them. They will not make you sick or poison you; just make sure you are thoroughly cleaning them as you would with any other produce. However, it is surprising and important to point out that the nutritional value of mushrooms and the beneficial qualities are not experienced through raw consumption. When mushrooms are cooked, more of their healthy and good nutritional qualities are released – meaning they are doing more positive things inside your body. Without cooking them, the same benefits may not take place.

Mushroom Myth #4: Poisonous mushrooms always have bright and vibrant colors.

Unfortunately, this one is not true. It can be very hard for the average person to determine if a wild mushroom is poisonous or not. However, if you are buying your mushrooms from a grocery store or produce stand, you can be assured that they are safe to eat. If you are hiking or camping and are looking for food, be warned that boring old brown or beige mushrooms can still be poisonous. Your best bet is to steer clear of wild foods that you are unfamiliar with. An additional thought, if you think you can take a poisonous mushroom and “cook” or, in some other form, “process out” the toxins – no such luck. Once a poisonous mushroom, always a poisonous mushroom.

Mushroom Myth #5: Mushrooms only grow underground, in pitch-black caves

This is not really the case. Yes, some mushrooms grow in caves where it’s dark, wet, and humid – the fungi love it. However, many mushroom varieties grow above-ground and out in the light! Chances are you have seen a couple growing in your yard or on a walk through the woods. Just like plants, different kinds of mushrooms require different environmental conditions in order to grow and thrive.

What Are the Mushroom Benefits That I Might Not Be Aware Of?

 Mushrooms are great for the human body! They provide many wonderful nutrients that help keep our bodies running smoothly! As an added bonus, because of the extensive research being conducted on their uses, scientists are finding a whole host of problems that they can help solve! They may be small, but they are mighty!

Mushroom Benefit #1: Mushrooms may protect your brain as you get older.

Mushrooms contain two powerful antioxidants, ergothioneine and glutathione. These antioxidants have been shown to possibly help prevent Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s, two of the most damaging diseases to the human brain and nervous system. Mushrooms are fantastic for brain function and can even help improve your memory! The best way to reap the brain benefits of this hardworking fungus is by cooking them and adding a few to your meals every day. 

Mushroom Benefit #2: They help your immune system.

Ergothioneine, that powerful antioxidant that we just mentioned, is one of the best substances found within a mushroom. Aside from keeping your brain healthy, this antioxidant is very effective at protecting your body from free radicals. Additionally, mushrooms contain natural antibiotic and antifungal properties. These properties can be greatly effective at helping you get rid of a number of infections. Did we mention that assisting in immune-boosting power is vitamin A, vitamin B-Complex, and Vitamin C? The combinations of these powerful substances and nutrients are what makes mushrooms so good at helping you fight off diseases and infections. 

Mushroom Benefit #3: They can help regulate your cholesterol.

This one may be surprising! Mushrooms are packed to the gills (see what we did there?) with lean proteins! Not to mention, they have negligible, trace amounts of fat and cholesterol. Two incredibly helpful fibers that can combat high cholesterol levels, chitin, and beta-glucan, are found within our powerful fungi and further help to regulate cholesterol and keep it in check. Also, the higher levels of protein help you burn excess cholesterol and fat within the body – we like the sound of that!

Mushroom Benefit #4: They’re great for your heart and bones

Just when you thought they couldn’t get better, mushrooms find every way to keep you as healthy as possible. Mushrooms are grown under the light of the sun. You’ll likely see them packaged with packaging that reads UVB, contains vitamin D. Vitamin D is crucial in helping your body absorb calcium and delivering it to your bones. Because mushrooms are so good for your bones and cholesterol, they help to relieve any excess stress that may be put on your heart. They are also very low in sodium, which is great for those monitoring a heart condition.

Mushroom Benefit #5: They are good for the health of our planet.

Mushrooms aren’t only great for you, but they are going to do amazing things for our planet! Mushrooms have the potential to help solve some of the most dire and serious problems facing our world today. There is the possibility that they can be used to help clean up oil spills, absorb pollution caused by farming, fight off smallpox and flu viruses, combat insects, and become a sustainable fuel source in the future. You go mushrooms!

In Summary

There are so many wonderful uses for mushrooms. After all, they have been used by ancient civilizations and modern experts alike as treatment options, food sources, and a potential answer to any one of the world’s most pressing issues. This little superfood is quietly changing the world, and we can appreciate an understated hero. 

Sources:

Link 1 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684115/

Link 2 - https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/mushrooms/

Link 3 - https://www.mushroomcouncil.com/nutrition-benefits/

Link 4 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4056650/ 


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