This year has been a crash-course in COVID knowledge. In January we had a vague understanding of the virus; 12 months later, we can recite the best ways to avoid exposure, rattle off nearby testing centers, and run through common symptoms from memory. And, as vaccination looms in the not-so-distant future, we continue to learn more about how best to fight and weaken COVID-19. Based on new research and expert opinion, you might consider armoring yourself with an ancient superfood: mushrooms.
Here's why, and for more COVID-related tips, here's The One Vitamin Doctors Are Urging Everyone to Take Right Now.
Perhaps one of the most polarizing foods in terms of taste, doctors, and nutritionists agree that mushrooms can provide a vital boost against COVID-19.
Jenny Bennett, a naturopathic doctor in Seattle with a focus on immune-mediated conditions, says that both shiitake and maitake mushrooms are "phenomenal for immune system enhancement."
"Shiitake especially," she says. "There is a ton of research on how it reduces viral activity, and can actually reduce the amount of virus in your body."
Mushrooms naturally inhibit viral enzymes, according to studies like those cited in the Mayo Clinic Book of Alternative Medicine, but their superpowers don't end there. They can also slow viral uptake, meaning you might actually get less sick and see symptoms progress at a slower rate if you incorporate mushrooms into a regular diet.
Beyond their direct benefits, mushrooms also help your body by stimulating an immune response in general—there's evidence that they promote biochemical factors (i.e. alkalinity) that help prevent viral replication.
So when's the right time to make mushrooms a part of your diet?
"They're best taken the moment you feel the symptoms," Dr. Bennett advises. "You always get the best effects when you take them immediately, and taking them early will reduce symptoms progressing further."
In the name of being preventative rather than reactive, you might consider incorporating mushrooms into meals now, regardless of whether or not you've contracted COVID-19. For those of us who aren't inherent fans of the health staple, nutritionist Sharon Katzman offers advice on how to make them more appetizing.
If you're more mushroom-averse, she says, you can buy dry or powdered varieties and sprinkle them into other dishes. Or, if you're into soups, try adding mushrooms to your favorite broth.
Dr. Bennett adds that it's also effective to buy mushrooms fresh and sautee them in butter or a bit of oil.
"Or, you can steep them as teas," she says, with a laugh. "They actually don't taste terribly fungal."
Mushroom tea may sound unappetizing, but when taken with a side of 2020, maybe it's the most fitting beverage we've had all year. You could also try one of these 23 Healthy Mushroom Recipes.