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They lower blood pressure, boost immunity, prevent heart disease, help you to lose weight – mushrooms are ridiculously good for you.

Did you know that mushrooms contain more antioxidants than carrots or tomatoes? These antioxidants boost immunity while reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, with an International Journal for Cancer study finding that women who ate 10 grams of mushrooms a day were 64 percent less likely to develop breast cancer. Plus, mushrooms are great for anyone watching their weight: researchers at John Hopkins Weight Management Center found that replacing a meal full of meat with mushrooms meant 420 fewer calories and 30 fewer grams of fat a day.

Shiitake

Used historically in Japan and China to boost qi (life energy) these mushrooms are loaded with iron to strengthen immunity and help your body produce energy, plus vitamin C and fibre. Shiitake mushrooms contain eritadenine, a substance that has been shown in animal studies to reduce cholesterol. They are a great vegetarian source of protein, and numerous studies show they promote heart health. The most nutritious way to prepare them is to sauté them in a little vegetable stock, rather than oil.

Lion’s mane

With their stemless, globular shape and teeth-like spines, these don’t look anything like your typical mushroom, but they have amazing healing properties, including the ability to improve brain health: a Biomedical Research study showed that these mushrooms helped protect against memory problems caused by a build-up of amyloid beta, which is associated with Alzheimer’s, plus they relieve anxiety and depression, lower cholesterol, and reduce inflammation. (Note: Lion’s mane mushrooms may aggravate allergy and asthma symptoms – check with your health practitioner.)

Crimini (portabella)

These look like white button mushrooms, but are darker, with a deeper flavour. As well as being tasty, criminis are full of zinc, magnesium, potassium, and energising B-group vitamins. Research has found that they have anti-cancer effects, and an extract has been shown to protect DNA from oxidative damage. Criminis also prevent circulating levels of oestrogen in the body from becoming excessive, so reducing breast cancer risk.

Reishi

These oddly-shaped mushrooms are full of nutrients that support cardiovascular health and boost immunity, as well as providing powerful antibacterial and antiviral properties. Studies show reishis can prevent tumours and hypertension, reduce anxiety, and alleviate insomnia. You will need to boil them in soup or tea, as they are too hard to eat raw; or, take a supplement.

Chanterelle

A delicious variety with a meaty texture and peppery taste, chanterelles, like most mushrooms, are rich in fibre, vitamins A, D, and the B-group, all of the essential amino acids, plus potassium to help regulate blood pressure and bone-strengthening calcium. They also contain anti-inflammatory compounds that ward off cancer, infections, and rheumatoid arthritis, and anti-coagulant compounds, which help to prevent blood clots.

Turkey tail

Long used to help prevent cancer while boosting immunity, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study has shown that turkey tails positively affect the immune system of breast cancer patients, while the US Food and Drug Administration recently approved a clinical trial for prostate cancer patients to take the extract in combination with chemotherapy. Like reishi, they are tough, so you need to brew them, or take a supplement.

Margaux J. Rathbun B.S., NTP, is an internationally acclaimed nutritionist. Visit her at www.authenticselfwellness.com