Lion’s Mane Mushrooms Roar with Nutritional Benefits
Learn all about the health properties of these pretty, fluffy lion’s mane mushrooms, and how to include them in your diet.
Have you heard about Lion’s Mane mushrooms? You’ve probably seen them in supplements and powders, as they have surged in popularity based on their health benefits. But you can also eat Lion’s Mane mushrooms, if you are lucky enough to find them. What are these mushrooms? Well, as the name implies, these are a variety of large, white, shaggy mushrooms that resemble a lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus, also called “pom pom” mushrooms). They are popular in many Asian countries such as China, India, Japan and Korea, where this mushroom has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. However, Lion’s Mane mushrooms are becoming increasingly available in the U.S., too. I had the chance to see how they grow in a Pennsylvania mushroom farm, and a mushroom farmer grows them in my farmer’s market at Ojai, too.
Health Benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
So, what so special about Lion’s Mane mushrooms? These mushrooms contain bioactive substances that may have beneficial effects on the body, especially the brain, heart and gut. While we need to learn more about how these mushrooms protect human health, here are some of the potential science-based benefits of eating Lion’s Mane mushrooms:
Brain Health. The brain’s ability to grow and form new connections typically declines with age, which may explain why mental functioning gets worse in many older adults. However, studies have found that Lion’s Mane mushrooms contain two special compounds that can stimulate the growth of brain cells: hericenones and erinacines, slowing down the decline of mental functioning.
Digestive Health. Stomach ulcers are often caused by two major factors: overgrowth of a bacteria called H. pylori and damage to the mucous layer of the stomach that’s often due to long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Studies have found that Lion’s Mane extract may in fact protect against the development of stomach ulcers by inhibiting the growth of H. pylori and protecting the stomach lining from damage.
Heart Health. Some of the major risk factors for heart disease include obesity, high triglycerides, large amounts of oxidized cholesterol and an increased tendency to get blood clots, but research shows that Lion’s Mane extract can influence some of these factors and reduce the risk of heart disease. Studies in rats and mice have found that Lion’s Mane mushroom extract improves fat metabolism and lowers triglyceride levels. Another study done in rats fed a high-fat diet and given daily doses of lion’s mane extract observed 27% lower triglyceride levels and 42% less weight gain after 28 days. Since obesity and high triglycerides are both considered risk factors for heart disease, this is one way that these mushrooms may contribute to heart health.
Diabetes Management. Lion’s Mane mushrooms may be beneficial for diabetes management by improving blood sugar control and reducing some of these side effects. One way that it may lower blood sugars is by blocking the activity of the enzyme alpha-glucosidase, which breaks down carbs in the small intestine. When this enzyme is blocked, the body is unable to digest and absorb carbs as effectively, which results in lower blood sugar levels.
Reducing Inflammation and Oxidative Stress. Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress are believed to be at the root of many modern illnesses, including heart disease, cancer and autoimmune disorders. Current research shows that these mushrooms contain powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that may help reduce the impact of these illnesses. A study examining the antioxidant abilities of 14 different mushroom species found that lion’s mane had the fourth highest antioxidant activity and recommended it be considered a good dietary source of antioxidants.
How to Use Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
These mushrooms can be enjoyed fresh and cooked in recipes, as dried in cooking, or steeped as a tea. Their extracts are often used in over-the-counter health supplements. These mushrooms have various culinary and medical uses in several Asian countries. Since it has a mild flavor reminiscent of the sea, Lion’s Mane are often used for a whole-food, plant-based vegan seafood dishes, along with other types of mushrooms.
3 Tips for Cooking with Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
1. Sauté it with Greens, Garlic and EVOO. Wash a medium head of lion’s mane thoroughly. Cut the mushroom into 1/2 inch “steaks”. Place them in a sauté pan on medium heat with olive oil and garlic. Cook for 6 to 7 minutes and flip until the mushrooms have released water and start to brown. Add greens and sauté until wilted but bright green.
2. Make Vegan “Crab Cakes”. Create a veggie patty with chickpeas, grains, and Lion’s Mane mushrooms.
3. Make a Mushroom Latte. Use Lion’s Mane powder, plant-based milk, maple syrup, cinnamon and a shot of espresso or strong brewed coffee.
Written by Michelle Miller-Burgos, dietetic intern, and Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
Photos by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
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