By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Predicting trends is at best a hit-or-miss practice—just ask Jim Cramer. However, market forecasters do their best to tell which way the winds will blow. Food forecasters say mushrooms will reign in 2022.
Nobody knows for sure what the future may bring, though fortune tellers and TV weatherpersons have made careers out of convincing us otherwise. Occasionally, though, trend predictors get it right, from the rise in veganism to the phasing out of gas-powered cars. Recently, food forecasters made their best guesses for which food and drink crazes will emerge (or re-emerge) in 2022. At the top of the list are mushrooms.
If mushrooms do emerge as the ingredient of the year, what can they do for us? In her video series The Scientific Guide to Health and Happiness, general internist and integrative medicine expert Dr. Robin Miller says that they’re a superfood that’s great for our bodies and the environment.
You Seem like a Fungi
Although mushrooms are often lumped in with vegetables, they’re fungi. They have no chlorophyll and feed on organic matter rather than sunlight.
“Fungi plays an incredibly important role in the natural environment—mushrooms work to detoxify contaminated environments,” Dr. Miller said. “They have enzymes that break down plant fiber, as well as reduce hydrocarbons and other manufactured toxins, while fertilizing the environment around them. What mushrooms do for the environment they can also do for the body; they are great detoxifiers.”
Additionally, mushrooms act as prebiotics—non-digestible food components that “promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines.” According to Dr. Miller, asparagus, onions and leeks perform similar roles. Mushrooms also provide us with nutrients like vitamins and minerals, proteins, fiber, and carbohydrates. They’re especially useful for vegetarians since they contain protein and unsaturated fatty acids usually found in meats.
Although mushrooms shouldn’t be used as a substitute for other treatments prescribed by a doctor, they do have medicinal benefits. According to Dr. Miller, the anticancer properties of mushrooms are well-documented, as are other benefits. The cell walls of mushrooms, for example, contain beta-glucan, a polysaccharide with antitumor properties.
“Beta-glucans also have anticholesterolemic, antioxidant, and neuroprotective properties,” she said. “They can help protect us from other infectious diseases and environmental toxins and have shown a lot of promise helping patients recover from radiation and chemotherapy treatments.”
Mushrooms also contain lectins, a protein class with antitumor, antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal qualities. Some lectins are also very active against tumor cell lines such as leukemia, liver cancer, and breast cancer. Immunomodulatory proteins in fungi, Dr. Miller said, can “suppress invasion and metastasis of tumors.”
“Ninety percent of the mushrooms consumed in the U.S. are white button mushrooms,” she said. “When they grow large, they become portobello mushrooms. Do they have medicinal value? Yes. They are [also] a rich source of vitamin D, B12, and proteins.”
The reishi mushroom is also a centuries-old medicinal mushroom. It boosts the immune system, is helpful in cancer treatment, disrupts viral illness, inhibits bacteria, and improves liver function. It can even lower blood pressure, act as an anti-inflammatory, reduce stress, and diminish insomnia.
Huitlacoche, maitake, shiitake, cordyceps, turkey tail, oyster mushrooms, and lion’s mane all have significant and proven health benefits, as well. Mushrooms aren’t a panacea, and anyone considering eating them for their medicinal benefits should consult a physician, but if they dominate 2022’s culinary industry, we could certainly do worse.