Try ’em out and see if you don’t transform into an Ayurvedic god-man.
If you’re skeptical about mushroom supplements, welcome. I used to be one of you. I had seen mushrooms touted for their superfood properties on both Goop and Infowars (my two baseline sources for nutritional information) but found them inscrutable and confusing and bad-tasting. Now, however, I love them, mostly because I accidentally brought a mushroom textbook with me on a long flight and was forced to read it cover to cover, and partly because I am convinced they will make me feel and look better.
Healing Mushrooms is the title of a wellness text and recipe book by Tero Isokauppila that is the same color, weight, and density as the Zadie Smith book I left at home. Isokauppila, a Finnish plant-based nutritionist and “subject matter expert on all things pertaining to mushrooms, superfoods, and natural health,” wants all of us to eat more mushrooms. According to him, around 40% of modern pharmaceuticals already utilize mushrooms, and humans share as much as 85% of our RNA and 50% of our DNA with fungi. Fungi are closer relatives to humans on the cellular level than plants are—we share a more recent common ancestor. This information is, at best, a very boring item of trivia, unless air travel renders you especially depressed, anxious, and susceptible to theories of self-betterment. By the time I arrived in California, I was convinced mushrooms were going to be my panacea.
And they are, kind of! The story Isokauppila loves to tell is that a mushroom-heavy diet has kept illness at bay for the past 10 years of his life, despite frequent and debilitating cross-continental travel. Chelsey Schneider, a clinical nutrition supervisor at New York’s Mount Sinai, corroborates this anecdote: “I work with cancer patients and do their diets throughout their treatments. Something that comes up a lot is the immune system, which is usually compromised thanks to the treatments they’re undergoing, and they want to know what they can do to boost their immune systems naturally. Chinese mushrooms are actually one of the few foods that affect and boost immune systems.”
Chelsey—why? “It basically has to do with these things called polysaccharides, chemical compounds that support your immune system by stimulating different killer cells. The other thing is they have a lot of minerals that work as antioxidants, which protect from damage due to inflammation.” Nutritionist Angela Lemond, who runs her own dietary practice in Plano, Texas, praises two specific antioxidants: ergothioneine, which supports further supports immunity, and selenium, which, according to the National Institutes of Health, may play a role in preventing cancer.
The benefits vary by breed. Isokauppila sticks to four key categories of shroom, and I will continue to invoke him because he is the most ardent mushroom devotee I have ever read about, and also because he is an unbelievably handsome Finnish man. A bone-chilling passage of his tome warns against stacking mushrooms on top of an existing medication program, so please consult your doctor first, and behold the amazing and terrible powers of the four main fungi:
Reishi: Good for stress relief and better sleep, reishi supports your endocrine system and balances hormones. It’s also an antihistamine, apparently. I tried drinking a reishi-spiked beverage before interacting with my boyfriend’s cat but remained very allergic. I slept soundly, though! Best taken at night.
Chaga: A beauty shroom for lustrous hair and gleaming skin. “If reishi is the queen of mushrooms,” writes Isokauppila, “chaga is the big daddy, the implacable and respected father of the mushroomworld.” Packed with antioxidants and high in ORAC value, which just means it makes you prettier. Take in the morning or late afternoon.
Cordyceps: For athletic and sexual (!) stamina. Boosts ATP production in the body, which leads to more energy. Take in the morning or late afternoon.
Lion’s Mane: For emotional and intellectual stamina. It supports your nervous system somehow—at this point in the book, the man sitting next to me began interrogating me about my intentions in California, eliminating my ability to focus on the text. Eat whenever, and please leave me alone, sir!!
Cardi B Goes Up in Smoke
The biggest problem facing mushrooms, other than that they are boring, is that they are unpleasant to snack on. For the record, Schneider advocates the “whole food” approach to nutrition; buying mushroom mixes or shrooms in bulk and mixing them into stir-frys or salads regularly. (This way, you’re getting the fiber and vitamins mushrooms also provide.) While not her preferred vehicle, she says that elixirs and teas are fine. If you’re me, they’re perfect, because I hate the taste of mushrooms. But I love these two things:
Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee Mix: It only tastes slightly worse than regular coffee, but in a botanical, healthy way. Cordyceps and chaga energize you and fight inflammation, which is nice of them.
Moon Juice Vanilla Mushroom Adaptogenic Protein: This tastes so good mixed with store bought hot chocolate. Its reishi will not defend against your boyfriend’s cat, but it will lull you soundly to sleep, where allergies cannot bother you.
In conclusion: Never throw out books you one day might accidentally bring with you on a plane, and later write about for a prominent men’s magazine. Also: Eat mushrooms. You will either live forever or die looking very good.
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