The rise in ‘superfoods’ over the last decade has been exponential, moving from a time where the term was relatively unknown to today, where people are labeling every other food as having super powers. But what actually is a superfood and should you believe the hype or is the term just a marketing strategy for businesses to drive demand for their product?
By definition a superfood is a ‘nutrient rich type of food considered by experts to have profound benefits for health and well-being’.
Superfoods which have been rife in 2017 have included goji berries, avocado, turmeric, chia seeds and kale. 2018 will certainly see the inclusion of new foods within this group, one of which that is already ramping up, in terms of popularity, is mushrooms.
Recent studies into various different types of mushrooms have found that they may have huge health benefits with regards to reducing the build-up of free radicals.
Free radicals are a by-product that occurs within the body after various different bodily functions and environmental stressors, such as eating (digestion), exercise and sun exposure, smoking and other forms of toxin exposure.
If free radicals build up too much it can lead to cellular damage, most commonly seen when people age, which leads to wrinkles, skin pigmentation, Alzheimer’s and cancer – among many other health issues.
Findings from a recent study at Penn State (1) found that certain strains of mushroom contain very high amounts of two antioxidants that counteract free-radical build up, these are ergothioneine and glutathione.
The highest amounts of these antioxidants were found in the wild, porcini species.
Common mushrooms that you buy in supermarkets, such as white button, had a lot less ergothioneine and glutathione in them, however still more than other foods.
The next step with this research is to specifically determine the influence of these mushroom species at reducing the rate of neurodegenerative disease. However it’s already been noted that countries who consume more ergothioneine have lower rates of neurodegenerative disease such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, this includes Italy and France.
With research such as this confirming the potential health benefits of mushroom consumption, it’s to be expected that a new wave of mushroom based supplements will shortly follow.
Supplement providers have already been reactive to this boost in demand with mushroom based tea, mushroom capsules and mushroom powders already creeping into the health market.
1. Beelman et al. Mushrooms: A rich source of the antioxidants ergothioneine and glutathione. 2017. Food Chemistry, 2017; 233: 429.