The nutrients in mushrooms support a wide array of systems in the body, including the gut, brain, and immune system — often all at the same time.
“When we eat a mushroom, we are not only feeding ourselves, we are feeding our gut bacteria and making that ecosystem happier and more fit,” says Li. This is because mushrooms provide important prebiotics, a type of fiber that sustains healthy gut bacteria.
Among the many prebiotics in mushrooms is beta-glucan, a soluble fiber found in their cell walls. Beta-glucan has been shown to reduce hypertension, stabilize blood sugar, and increase the body’s ability to ward off infection.
Animal studies suggest that beta-glucan lowers inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and staves off ulcers.
Some of the highest levels of beta-glucan are found in the wild-harvested golden chanterelle, followed by shiitakes. And don’t throw away the stems. “The stem has twice as much beta-glucan as the cap,” says Li.
Many researchers have studied mushrooms’ ability to modulate the immune system and curb tumor growth; this attribute appears to be due, in part, to beta-glucan’s salutary effect on the microbiome.