Wellness in today’s busy world is all about finding new superfoods with incredible health benefits that pack a nutritional punch as efficiently as possible. Everyone from A-list celebs to holistic health enthusiasts are increasingly turning to the plant world to find natural ways to upgrade their wellbeing from the inside out. We can look to plants to de-stress, detoxify, give us a glowing complexion, strengthen our nails and hair and more. And whether you’re all read up on your latest wellness trends or new to the holistic health world, functional mushrooms should definitely be at the top of your list.
Featuring hundreds of different species, the fungal family is its own genre of superfood. In addition to delivering a variety of essential nutrients, mushrooms offer a host of healing properties, and you can target which types you incorporate into your daily life based on your body and mind’s needs. Culinary mushrooms should be incorporated into a healthy diet, but to tap all the benefits fungi have to offer, look too to adaptogenic (non-toxic) varieties, which have tons of antioxidants and can help restore balance to the body.
According to a clinical nutritionist and renowned doctor of natural medicine Josh Axe, the beneficial compounds in adaptogenic mushrooms are great for our overall health, both mentally and physically. They can also support our body as it fights inflammation (injury or infection), as well as oxidative stress, which is an imbalance between the free radicals that damage the body and the antioxidants that repair it.
If you’ve seen adaptogenic (or functional) mushroom products on the shelves of your local health food store or read some current wellness buzz, you may recognize the names Cordyceps, Reishi, Chaga and Lion’s Mane, four of the most prevalent and accessible superfood mushrooms out there. With one serving, each of these mushrooms can boost your daily nutrient intake in a big way.
Chinese herbalists have used Cordyceps for thousands of years to fight signs of aging and boost energy. It’s thought to increase mental, physical and sexual performance, as well as support the immune system, balance hormones and combat weakness and fatigue. When you need a pick-me-up to help focus on a big presentation at work, get through a rigorous gym workout or to simply start your day with a sustainable level of energy, Cordyceps is your best bet. When mixed in with coffee (in powder form), it tastes smooth and savory.
When you want to chill out, Reishi is the mushroom to turn to, as it helps the body de-stress and can help normalize sleep cycles. It’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years and is a rare woody fungi originating from Asia. Known as the “King of Herbs,” Reishi is thought to support the immune system and fight viral and bacterial illnesses, thanks to its beta-glucans (immune system-boosting sugars). Studies even indicate that its compounds may help slow the spreading of cancer cells, although more human testing needs to be done to confirm its effectiveness.
According to holistic nutritionist Natasha Upensky, Reishi also helps to balance blood sugar, making it good for diabetic conditions and weight loss. However, since it has a strong, bitter taste, mushroom expert and Four Sigmatic founder Tero Isokauppila recommends mixing it in powder form with a with cacao or coconut drink to improve the taste. Adding Reishi to your bedtime routine can also have a nice relaxing effect.
Chaga mushrooms grow on birch trees in freezing climates like Russia, Siberia, and Northern areas of North America. Indigenous people in these areas have used them in traditional practices for hundreds of years—in fact, Dr. Axe notes that the name “chaga” is Russian for mushroom. With a super high antioxidant count, Chaga is immune-boosting, cancer-fighting, anti-inflammatory, stress-reducing, and can aid in digestion, he says. It has an earthy and smooth taste similar to coffee, which makes it a nice alternative to your normal cup of joe if you’re looking for a break from the caffeine with an all-around health-boosting elixir.
Lion’s Mane, used in Japanese and traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, is all about mental clarity. It’s known to boost cognitive function, and can, therefore, help combat anxiety, improve concentration, and support healthy energy levels and mood. While Lion’s Mane is also a culinary mushroom, even in its powdered drink form, it still tastes sweet and savory, almost like mushroom soup.
How to Use
All four of the above mushroom types have a huge range of physical, emotional, and mental benefits—but don’t pick just any type. “Quality is key,” nutritionist Natasha Upensky warns. “It’s important to find a reputable company (such as Four Sigmatic) that sources wild-harvested or organic mushrooms.” Traditionally, she explains, most mushrooms were boiled into tea or soup to preserve as many of their nutrients as possible.
However, in 2018, high-quality dried mushrooms are not so easy to find and not so pleasant to taste. Not to worry, though. Natasha says, “For more exotic medicinal mushrooms, liquid extractions or dried preparations (made using a hot water dual extraction method) in powder or capsule form are more convenient and can be as effective.” Dr. Axe also recommends capsules made of dried, organic, fermented mushrooms (the fermentation process helps break down the components of the mushrooms to improve absorption into the body) or mushroom coffee.
For daily coffee drinkers, mushroom coffee is a good gateway to mushroom supplementation and to reducing your caffeine intake. Mushroom coffee is easier to digest than regular coffee, according to Dr. Axe, as it has a lower level of acidity. Due to the reduced amount of caffeine, it can eradicate some of the negative effects of regular coffee intake, like anxiety and insomnia.
Mushrooms are also a secret weapon in the beauty world. Your overall health directly affects the quality of your skin, so supplementing in mushrooms to reduce stress, improve gut health, and balance hormones (three of the biggest culprits of breakouts and skin irritation) will ultimately support healthy, clear skin. “The same characteristics (antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial) that make mushrooms so potent as a food or supplement extend to their use in skincare,” says Natasha Upensky. “Different mushrooms have different skincare benefits: chaga is brightening and anti-inflammatory; Reishi is anti-microbial and anti-aging; Cordyceps is great for hydration and dermatitis.”
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