Humans have been consuming mushrooms as food and medicine for thousands of years. There are many different species with a range of nutritional and therapeutic properties.
Most people are familiar with edible mushrooms. They include the varieties that you find on supermarket shelves, such as button mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, and shiitake. Some wild mushrooms are also edible, although harvesting them can be risky unless you are an experienced forager.
Functional fungi are less well known, but people are steadily becoming aware of their benefits. They are mushrooms packed with biologically active compounds, but they tend to be too woody or bitter to eat. There are a few exceptions, such as lion’s mane mushrooms, that are tasty too. However, it can be challenging to find them fresh in stores. Therefore, people usually take them as supplements instead.
This article explores functional mushrooms’ benefits in detail and explains how they differ from more common edible types. Here’s all you need to know.
What Are Functional Mushrooms?
Functional fungi, also known as medicinal mushrooms, are mushrooms that people use to support health and wellbeing.
As we already mentioned, they are rich in nutritional compounds that influence our bodies in numerous ways. One of the best-known examples is beta-glucan polysaccharides. These complex molecules act as dietary fiber and benefit the digestive system, immunity, and more.
Some functional mushrooms also contain unique chemicals that don’t exist in any other food or supplement. That’s why there is such an extensive range of products available. Some of the most popular examples include:
- Reishi mushrooms
- Lion’s Mane
- Turkey tail mushrooms
People tend to take them as mushroom powder or capsules rather than eating them as food. However, some mushrooms are considered functional and edible, such as shiitake and maitake, for instance.
Functional Mushrooms vs. Edible Mushrooms: The Benefits
The specific benefits of functional mushrooms vary slightly depending on the type. For example:
Reishi: People tend to take reishi to balance physical and mental stress, support immunity, vitality and longevity, and promote restful sleep.
Lion’s Mane: Lion’s mane is best known for its impact on cognitive function. People use it to support mental clarity, memory, focus, and alertness.
Turkey Tail: These mushrooms have a high polysaccharide content and are best-known for supporting immune function and gut health.
Chaga: Chaga has potent antioxidant properties. Therefore, people use it to promote youthfulness and to support metabolic and digestive health.
Cordyceps: People tend to use cordyceps mushrooms to support energy and endurance. They may also promote cardiovascular and respiratory health and are a popular choice among athletes.
Edible mushrooms have some distinct benefits too. Like functional mushrooms, they contain beta-glucan polysaccharides, although some have more than others. They are a source of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They also contain more protein than most vegetables and are low-fat and low-calorie. Therefore, mushrooms make a valuable addition to any diet.
How Can You Use Functional Mushrooms vs. Edible Mushrooms?
Many nutritionists see mushrooms as functional foods. Therefore, incorporating more edible varieties into your everyday diet is a simple way to support general health and wellbeing.
They are a versatile ingredient and can be cooked in many different ways. Grilling and sauteing are popular methods, but they also work well in soups, sauces, salads, and more.
Most functional mushrooms are less palatable due to their taste and texture. Therefore, people tend to use extracts or supplements instead. Traditionally, they would be simmered in hot water to draw out the active compounds. The resulting liquid would then be drunk as tea.
However, this method is quite time-consuming, and some varieties, such as reishi, have a very bitter taste. Therefore, most people prefer to use powders, capsules, or even gummies. These products are becoming more widely available and provide a hassle-free way to enjoy the benefits of functional mushrooms.
Functional Mushrooms vs. Edible Mushrooms: Final Thoughts
The benefits of functional mushrooms are becoming more well-known. They may help to support immunity, gut health, and more. Therefore, more and more people are choosing to take them as supplements to promote physical and mental wellbeing.
Many people also classify edible mushrooms as functional foods. This means that they have an above-average nutritional content and make a wonderful addition to any healthy diet. Even humble button mushrooms have many benefits and are delicious and versatile too.
With so many options to choose from, there really is a mushroom for everyone. So, whatever your taste or budget, it’s well worth incorporating them into your routine.
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Audrey has worked as a registered dietitian for 6 years. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science degree. In 2014 she began an internship with the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, and was hired as an Outpatient Dietitian following graduation. She started her career counseling a variety of patients with different health concerns and disease states. After a few years into practice, she found her passion was working in cancer care, and has spent the last 4 years specializing in oncology nutrition.
In her practice, Audrey has spent a significant amount of time reviewing literature on herbal and dietary supplements in the cancer care setting. Through her work at Vidacap, she hopes to continue to expand her knowledge and understanding of the benefits of supplements in conjunction with promoting a healthy, balanced diet and management of overall health and well being.