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By Andrea Drever

Content and Editorial Director

Fungi were here first. A billion years ago, before there were plants or animals, there were mushrooms.

These fabulous fungi aren't fruits or vegetables, but rather their own distinct category, and their evolution is tightly tied to ours as humans. It’s thought that 40% of the diet of ancient primates came from fungi, and that strong evolutionary connection may be a reason why mushrooms provide so many potential health benefits. 

Mushrooms are a low-carb, practically no-fat food. A cup of raw mushrooms has only 15 calories, and they’re mighty in other ways. Mushrooms are incredibly nutrient-dense, full of protein, iron and B vitamins. Here are some of their powerful qualities:

  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-Inflammatory
  • Antiviral
  • Anticancer
  • Metabolism Boosting
  • Lipid-Level Improving

Different types of mushrooms provide different types of benefits. The ones you most commonly see at the store — white button, cremini and portobello — are all actually the same variety, and just vary by age. (Who knew!) White button is the youngest, portobello the most mature. Cremini is “the middle child.” These common grocery store varieties of mushrooms have plenty of immunity and vitality benefits, but there are others you might not have considered.

Here’s a list of eight unusual mushrooms that you can add to your nutritional arsenal to support better health, immunity and performance.

Being constantly on the run is a tremendous stressor to the system. Reishi mushrooms have been used in traditional medicine for centuries to boost resiliency and immunity, and to support the body during times of stress.

Your vitamin D level can fall dramatically in the winter, and very few foods contain much of this particular vitamin. Shiitake mushrooms are a natural source of vitamin D, and also chock-full of B vitamins, selenium, zinc and copper. Shiitake mushrooms have been shown to be beneficial for weight loss, heart health, immunity and even fighting off cancer cells.

Maitake mushrooms are from Asia and provide a wealth of health benefits. They are particularly valued for their ability to boost immunity, so they’re a great tool for increasing your innate first-line of defense.

This type of mushroom contains significant amounts of beta-glucan polysaccharides, highly beneficial for boosting immunity and lowering blood glucose levels. Recent diabetes studies show they can dramatically improve insulin levels.

Lion’s Mane
These impressive mushrooms grow in a waterfall-like cascade from trees and logs. New research shows lion’s mane has tremendous potential as an agent to support healthy brain cell function. (Though concentrated supplemental forms would need to be consumed.)

These high-altitude mushrooms have been used in Asia for thousands of years. Studies show they have the capacity to improve oxygen uptake, and could be highly beneficial for endurance athletes. They’ve also been used to combat fatigue and to enhance libido and sex drive.

King Trumpet
The king trumpet, also known as French horn and king oyster, has been used throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia for centuries. It has a thick, meaty stem and small cap, and contains a particular amino acid that acts as a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants are crucial for fighting off oxidative damage caused by free radicals, typically due to poor diet, stress and environmental toxin exposures.

Turkey Tail
Turkey tail has been brewed as a traditional tea for centuries in China, and it’s become one of the most well-researched mushrooms in the world. It’s shown so much promise in protecting cancer patients from the immuno-suppressing effects of chemotherapy that the National Institute of Health has launched a new major trial to further investigate these benefits.

Mushrooms are a nutritional powerhouse and support health through immune, inflammatory and antioxidant support. If you've been avoiding them because you don't like the taste, or aren't familiar with preparing them, then it's probably time to upgrade your nutrition game. Sauteed mushrooms with onions are tasty additions to eggs, stir-fries, steaks and burgers. So consider including them, because mushrooms provide a wealth of health and performance-boosting benefits.

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