Wellness

Healing Mushrooms to Add to Your Diet

Photo courtesy of Markus Karjalainen

Healing Mushrooms to Add to Your Diet

A workout for the immune system is how Tero Isokauppila describes the extraordinary health-promoting benefits of regularly consuming fungi. Isokauppila, founder and president of Four Sigmatic—which makes mushroom powders (dynamite mixed into smoothies), mushroom coffee, and mushroom hot chocolate, to name just a smattering of their prettily packaged, salubrious offerings—grew up in Finland, foraging for mushrooms on his family’s since-the-1600’s farm. He’s contributed to goop as an expert before, helping us understand all of the purported energizing, soporific, immunity-boosting and beautiful-skin-promoting effects possible with shrooming.

In his new cookbook Healing Mushrooms, Isokauppila focuses on the ten mushrooms most important in helping with day-to-day stress management and sustaining health. He works these into 50 easy, sumptuous recipes, the most foolproof of which, he says is the Reishi Chocolate Almonds—scroll down for the recipe. (Note: the cordyceps-infused cocktail, mushroom bacon, lion’s mane latte, and most of the other recipes also require no exceptional chef skills.)

Isokauppila’s other labor of love is the newly opened Shroom Room on Abbot Kinney in Venice, CA, a (mushroom) coffeehouse hangout that serves up an assortment of deliciously inventive beverages like adaptogenic lemonade. Shroom Room has the same mission as Four Sigmatic—to educate people about the spectacular power of mushrooms. “People who take mushrooms daily, especially those who mix it up and take a variety of types—some days a little lion’s mane, another day more cordyceps—seriously benefit as they may see a change in overall well-being,” Isokauppila says. Which is why our copy of Healing Mushrooms is already dog eared. Below, we asked him to say more about the powers of mushrooms, and how to incorporate them into our diets:

A Q&A with Tero Isokauppila

Q

Why should we be eating and taking certain mushrooms as food and/or supplements?

A

Top functional mushrooms are so-called adaptogenic superfoods—they work toward creating balance in your body. American culture is focused on working, so generally people are sitting for long periods of time each day. People are overworked, tired, they have trouble sleeping, and struggle to get up and to stay awake at work. Studies show that functional mushrooms provide essential nutrients, support the brain, promote gut health, encourage healthy skin, support environmental well-being and a balanced immune system to help with all of these challenges.

Chaga’s polysaccharides [a type of carbohydrate], specifically its beta-glucans, can boost the production of lymphocytes—a type of white blood cell that regulates the immune response to infectious microorganisms—while cordyceps provide balanced energy. Reishi helps calm you down and ease the body toward sleep, and lion’s mane is widely studied for its brain-protective effects. There’s especially interesting research on their ability to support remyelination of neurons and production of nerve growth factors.

Q

What types of people need mushrooms? Who benefits most?

A

If you are a human on this planet, you can benefit from mushrooms. First of all, they are packed with protein, and work to promote immunity. People who travel a lot and take chaga regularly tend to see a big difference in how many colds they get. People who take mushrooms daily, especially those who mix it up and take a variety of types—seriously benefit, because they may see a change in energy, sleep patterns, their immune system and overall well-being.

“If you are a human on this planet, you can benefit from mushrooms.”

Mushrooms are also an incredible source of calorie-free essential nutrients like B vitamins, which help to break down protein, fats and carbs. They fit well into a keto diet because they don’t cause a significant spike in blood sugar. Actually, they can even help balance it.

Q

Everyone wants gorgeous skin. How do mushrooms specifically help promote a clear complexion?

A

Chaga contains high amounts of melanin, and enoki and oyster mushrooms are great for skin. Shiitakes contain lentinan, a polysaccharide that activates the different varieties of white blood cells that fight off infections. Lentinan is especially powerful in helping your liver, which makes it effective for bodily detoxification and may even result in improved skin appearance. People don’t often connect skin breakouts with what’s going on with our internal organs, but our skin is really a mirror for whatever is happening in our liver. A fully functioning liver often equates to a flawless face.

“People don’t often connect skin breakouts with what’s going on with our internal organs, but our skin is really a mirror for whatever is happening in our liver.”

Q

How can we tell the quality of a mushroom or mushroom supplement?

A

It’s important to find out where your supplements are sourced, how they are processed, and how they are packaged. All of these factors can make a difference in the quality, and how much of the actual mushrooms you are really actually getting. Log-grown mushrooms are more potent than sawdust-grown commercially. Shiitakes are commonly grown in sawdust or grain—so this is a reason to do your research. If your vendor does not cite where the mushroom was grown, it was most likely grown in sawdust or grain. Since mushrooms tend to grow on logs and stumps in nature, you can be sure they’re filled with nutrients if they’re log-grown.

You also want to look for the amount (in micrograms) of bioactive ingredients like beta-glucans, terpenoids, and triterpenes, which are indicators of therapeutic potential. I recommend using 500-1,500mg of extracted powders per serving, one to three times a day.

Make sure your supplement is pure. We include no starch, sugars, or any fillers. Our products are concentrated extracts that we spray-dry into powders, which is different than other powders that may include fillers. We also use bio-available herbs like organic eleuthero, organic rose hips, and organic mint.

Q

Is it better to eat the actual mushroom, or is the powder better because of its concentration?

A

A healthy mix of both is ideal. If you can get your hands on wild or log-grown mushrooms daily, then absolutely do that. Fresh, whole foods are excellent for us. Mushrooms become more bioavailable when extracted with hot water, alcohol, and/or lipids (fats). So if you’re eating fresh mushrooms, remember to prepare them with heat and lipids to reap the most benefits.

The thing is, most people aren’t out foraging on the weekends. That’s where elixirs and powders come in. At Four Sigmatic, we make our elixirs with concentrated, pulverized mushrooms, and you’re ingesting them in a way that is making them particularly bioavailable. We only use the fruiting bodies and not the mycelium, which is basically just cheap filler, like corn or wheat.

Q

Mushrooms are decomposers in their natural habitat–does this ability come into play when we ingest mushrooms? What about their ability to absorb toxic substances from soil—is that something they do in our bodies, as well?

A

Mushrooms are incredible for your microbiome. We are hearing a lot about prebiotics and probiotics now; mushrooms can help the gut to create more healthy bacteria. Some people with fungal infections like Candida often stay away from mushrooms because they don’t want to add more fungus, but in fact, ingesting certain mushrooms can help mitigate the deleterious fungus and increase the growth of healthy bacteria.

Q

Can you mix all powdered mushrooms into cooked food without losing their potency? What’s the best food to mix them with (besides coffee) that mask or complement the bitter flavor?

A

Absolutely. My favorite way to take the powders other than with coffee, is to toss them into smoothies made with frozen fruit or some spinach or kale, and a sachet or two of Four Sigmatic cordyceps and lion’s mane. In Healing Mushrooms, there are recipes for everything from mushroom bacon and mushroom pancakes to cocktails like Cordysex on the Beach. Don’t be afraid to be creative with mushrooms!

Q

Do people ever have allergic reactions to mushrooms/your powders?

A

Mushrooms aren’t as common allergens as corn, wheat, or milk, but some people struggle with button mushrooms, grain-grown mushroom extracts, and various mycotoxins that are present in low quality coffee and chocolate products.

Q

How did you decide to focus on the mushrooms you hone in on in your cookbook?

A

My top ten are: reishi, chaga, cordyceps, lion’s mane, shiitake, maitake, turkey tail, enoki, oyster, and tremella. I wanted to make sure I only included mushrooms that have been studied in depth and are easily accessible at farmers’ markets or at least in online shops.

“You don’t need to be able to afford a foraging trip to Siberia, Japan, or Finland in order to get shrooms into your life right away.”

We wanted to provide a mix of mushrooms, so even if you know something about mushrooms, you’ll still learn more from the book, and if there are mushrooms you don’t know about, they’re ones that are available online or in stores, so you can get excited about a recipe and not be disappointed that you can’t find them anywhere. You don’t need to be able to afford a foraging trip to Siberia, Japan, or Finland in order to get shrooms into your life right away.

Q

Do mushrooms ever affect the action of other supplements and vitamins? Is there anything you should NOT be taking if you’re shrooming?

A

I will definitely preface this by saying that everyone is different and sensitivity levels vary. That said, mushrooms have been studied more than almost any other superfood; I’m confident that they will not interfere with anything else you take, because of their adaptogenic predisposition, and I believe that they have a balancing effect and seem to adjust accordingly to what the body needs. I highly recommend being gentle with yourself and not overdoing it with any supplement.

Q

What do studies show are the best mushroom for calming inflammation?

A

All of the medicinal mushrooms that I talk about in the book have immunomodulating capacities, which is just a fancy way of saying that functional mushrooms help your immune system to stay stable, but perhaps their most important role involves their anti-inflammatory properties. I write about the role of medicinal mushrooms in reducing inflammation in the book, but chaga is especially great.

Chaga is one of nature’s most abundant sources of antioxidants—known inflammation-quelling agents. In fact, one dose of dual-extracted chaga (the typical amount found in a cup of strong chaga tea) contains the same number of antioxidants as thirty pounds of carrots.

Q

So many people suffer from insomnia. Is there research showing that mushrooms work to promote sleep?

A

Studies have shown that B6 assists with sleep, and oyster mushrooms contain B6, as well as high levels of zinc and iron. However, reishi is the best mushroom to keep next to your bed, as this mushroom’s adaptogenic properties help calm and regulate your system to encourage quality sleep. Since these medicinal mushrooms help regulate your blood sugar and lower your stress levels as well, the general sense of calm they promote lead to a more natural transition into a restful state.

Q

What is the easiest recipe in your book?

A

I wrote this cookbook for the average person to be able to make everything inside it, but the easiest recipe besides the teas and coffees is probably the Reishi Chocolate Almonds. Only a few ingredients:

Shroom Research:

Tero Isokauppila is the president and founder of Four Sigmatic—a natural superfoods company that produces an impressive range of responsibly sourced mushroom powder supplements. He’s also the author of Healing Mushrooms: A Practical and Culinary Guide to Using Mushrooms for Whole Body Health. In his native Finland, Isokauppila grew up on his family’s centuries-old farm regularly foraging for mushrooms. He holds a degree in both chemistry and plant-based nutrition from Cornell University and was awarded a Finnish innovation award for discovering that the Japanese matsutake mushroom also grows in Finland. Isokauppila currently lives in California—where he is owner/founder of The Shroom Room in Venice: a café that makes delicious, beautifully crafted, mushroom-based edibles.

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