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Fungi’s out to save the forest with mushroom based meat alternatives

Mushrooms on a plate.

Researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) have found that substituting just 20% of beef with a fungi-based meat alternative could decrease deforestation by 50% by 2050.

Mushrooms on a plate.According to the researchers, microbial protein, as the fungi-based “meat” is called, can replicate the taste and texture of real beef. But microbial proteins require far less land to produce, and growing the fungi also involves less emissions from agriculture and deforestation.

Florian Humpenöder, researcher at PIK and lead author of the study, explained that current food systems are responsible for around one-third of emissions globally, as forests are replaced with land for cattle or to grow food for the cattle. But existing biotechnology could allow us to grow fungi and other microbes through fermentation, and those microbes can be made into low-impact proteins that mimic real meat in terms of flavor and texture. These meat alternatives can even have similar nutrients to beef.

“The substitution of ruminant meat with microbial protein in the future could considerably reduce the greenhouse gas footprint of the food system,” Humpenöder said in a press release. “The good news is that people do not need to be afraid they can eat only greens in the future. They can continue eating burgers and the like, it’s just that those burger patties will be produced in a different way.”

Using computer simulation models, the researchers, who published their findings in Nature, were able to project and analyze how these microbial proteins could play into global food and agricultural systems.

Humpenöder noted that the findings, which run through 2050, show that swapping 20% of beef per capita with microbial proteins could cut deforestation and land-use change emissions in half when compared to business-as-usual.

“The reduced numbers of cattle do not only reduce the pressure on land but also reduce methane emissions from the rumen of cattle and nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizing feed or manure management,” Humpenöder said. “So replacing minced red meat with microbial protein would be a great start to reduce the detrimental impacts of present-day beef production.”

Microbial proteins are already available in many supermarkets worldwide, and these microbes are made in cultures the same way beer or bread is made. But scaling up to replace more beef with microbial proteins could have profound environmental impacts, from lowering emissions, as this study suggests, to protecting animals, since producing microbial proteins doesn’t require killing cattle.

“Alternatives to animal proteins, including substitutes for dairy products, can massively benefit animal welfare, save water and avert pressure from carbon-rich and biodiverse ecosystems,” said co-author Alexander Popp, leader of the Land Use Management group at PIK.

One thing that will still need more attention is the energy supply necessary for producing these meat alternatives.

“A large-scale transformation towards biotech food requires a large-scale decarbonisation of electricity generation so that the climate protection potential can be fully developed,” Popp said. “Yet if we do this properly, microbial protein can help meat-lovers embrace the change. It can really make a difference.”

Originally Posted on Ecowatch

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Can adding mushrooms to your diet help with high blood sugar levels

Brown mushrooms on a chopping board.

For many, staying on top of heart health is a top-of-mind concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the United States—ahead of the likes of cancer and COVID-19—finding ways to keep factors that affect heart health like hypertension, or high blood pressure, in control are key.2

Now, new research revealed that adding one commonly accessible ingredient to your diet could contribute to lowering blood pressure levels—mushrooms. A review published in Phytotherapy Research spotlights how incorporating edible mushrooms into your diet might improve one’s hypertension.1

Brown mushrooms on a chopping board.The authors note that much has been written about the health benefits of these fungi ingredients, but it has often been “difficult to fully comprehend the role of mushrooms as dietary interventions in alleviating hypertension and other cardiovascular malfunctions.”

Among their findings, they explain that the mushroom-contained bioactive compounds like cordycepin, lovastatin, eritadenine, and ergosterol are thought to “directly influence gene expression that induces cardiovascular” function due to the fact they are structurally similar to, among other things, adenosine—a chemical that can lower blood pressure.

When asked to put these findings in context, Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, senior clinical dietitian at UCLA Medical Center, assistant professor at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and author of the book Recipe For Survival, told Health that a serving of mushrooms—for people who aren’t allergic, at least—could help lower blood pressure.

“In the context of an otherwise less-than-healthy diet, it may not make a huge or significant difference in overall risk,” she explained, “but when added to a varied and overall healthy Mediterranean or DASH diet, it may help even more.”

In their review, the study authors write that edible mushrooms have long been known to be “functional foods” that serve as a rich bioactive resource, meaning they contain compounds that stimulate bodily actions that generate overall good health.

Bioactive foods have been studied as preventive tools for not just heart disease, but cancer, among other conditions.3

The review notes that mushrooms are often incorporated in heart-healthy approaches to eating patterns like the Mediterranean and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diets due to the fact that they contain bioactive substances like proteins, sterols, vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and amino acids.

Dr. Hunnes added that mushrooms are known “to contain a decent amount of potassium per serving.” This would equate to about 11% of DV (daily value) or between 300 and 400mg. She explained that potassium is an important component of both DASH and Mediterranean diets due to the fact that “it can help regulate blood pressure,” which can in turn help reduce heart attack and stroke risk.

“Mushrooms are discussed as a part of a healthy plant-based diet not as the specific magic in hypertension management,” Mary Ellen DiPaola, RD, CDE, IBCLC, UCSF Outpatient senior dietitian, told Health. “Other non-nutrition lifestyle factors also play a significant role.”

In examining the review, Dr. Hunnes pointed to the fact that 1 serving—or 84 grams—of raw, edible mushrooms increased macronutrients (5%), dietary fiber (2%–6%), riboflavin (15%), potassium (11%), niacin (13%–26%), copper (13%–22%), vitamin D (9%–11%), and choline levels (14%).

“These nutrients and bioactive constituents play a role in cellular metabolism, circulating levels of certain micronutrients that may lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and blood pressure, such as potassium,” she explained.

“There are also a number of compounds—many of which may not even have a name yet—that contribute to the health benefits of mushrooms on the microbiome and/or blood pressure,” Dr. Hunnes continued.

In their paper’s conclusions, the authors note that the bioactive properties in mushrooms could pave the way for pharmaceutical innovations. They claim “these molecules could act as potential drug candidates that reduce hypertension, which also necessitates evidence from pharmacology and clinical biochemistry.”

While all of this might sound promising, what if you’re allergic to mushrooms?

DiPaola, who is also unaffiliated with the new research, noted that the DASH diet offers ingredients aside from mushrooms that contain many of the same heart health-promoting properties as the mushrooms outlined by the review—they are plant-based, contain adequate fiber, have less sodium, contain sufficient calcium, and feature moderate levels of protein.

“There may be other fungi out there that can act in a similar fashion to edible mushrooms for individuals who are allergic to mushrooms,” Dr. Hunnes suggested. “However, a whole-food, plant-based diet often confers similar, healthful benefits.”

If anything, the review spurs conversation around the many ways what we consume can benefit our cardiovascular health, including lowering high blood pressure levels.

DiPaola recommends plant-based, whole foods as evidenced by both the Mediterranean and DASH diets. Additionally, healthy lifestyle behaviors that include exercise, stress management, maintaining a healthy weight, and management of other comorbidities with heart disease are key.

The review authors clarify that mushrooms alone are not the sole answer and more research needs to be conducted to understand their bioactive compounds and how those impact hypertension.

“Thus, edible mushrooms have a lot of scope in clinical evaluations that necessitates phylogenetic and toxicological analysis of mushroom bioactive constituents,” the authors concluded. “So, next time when you stir up a ‘mushroom risotto,’ appreciate the potential of biologically and nutritionally unique fungus à la ‘edible mushrooms.’”

For her part, Dr. Hunnes recommended a well-rounded, nutrient-heavy diet.

She said, “A whole-food, plant-based diet that is varied in the types of plant-foods consumed—especially avocado, nuts, seeds, legumes, greens—can be extremely beneficial for blood pressure and heart health.”

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