The next time you order a pizza or prepare a creamy risotto, or a sauce to accompany some chicken breasts, remember to use mushrooms. Not only will they add flavor, but they will protect your intestines.
New research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst is proving that edible mushrooms can counteract throughout the digestive system the health risks associated with the Western-style diet, which is often high in fatty foods and added sugars.
Research on the health benefits of consuming mushrooms, sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is led by nutritionist Zhenhua Liu, associate professor in the College of Public Health and Health Sciences, who received a $300,000 USDA grant.
Since fatty and sugary foods contribute to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and a host of other chronic health problems around the world, but especially in the West, Liu is investigating whether to incorporate mushrooms in Western-style diets it can improve gut health and provide a preventative shield against disease.
Diet and lifestyle are modifiable factors that play a critical role in public health, Liu explains. Her lab investigates how these factors and their metabolically related genetic variants interact to influence the development of chronic diseases.
“Intestinal dysfunction is thought to be one of the underlying mechanisms that contribute significantly to the development of Western diet-related diseases,” says Liu. In previous research, scientists found that a rarely studied bacterium, Turicibacter, is almost completely depleted by obesity induced by a high-fat diet, but not by genetic obesity.
And one of the star fungi of this research is the oyster mushroom, found in most parts of the world, and possesses a unique dietary composition that is rich in multiple nutrients that are lacking in the Western-style diet, such as dietary fiber and vitamin D.
“It’s a perfect complement as a natural whole food to improve the quality of this diet,” Liu says, “with the added benefit of improving our overall gut health.”
Liu’s study is looking at the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which these mushrooms improve gut health. Specifically, the UMass Amherst team will examine the fungus’s interaction with Turicibacter in Western-style diet-related gut dysfunction and the effect it may have on gut microbiome remodeling.
“We hope that this study will provide mechanistic understanding of the role of Turicibacter in dietary obesity and gut health,” says Liu. “It will also provide important insights into mushrooms as a whole-food approach to improving diet quality and gut health.”
According to the Harvard University School of Public Health, fungi, and especially mushrooms, are an important source of:
- The group of B vitamins
- Vitamin D
Among the most popular mushrooms for preparing meals are:
- Cremini (beautiful baby)
In addition to their nutritional properties, mushrooms have been used for millennia as part of the natural medicine cabinet.