Okay, fine: When it comes to comfort food, mushrooms typically don’t make the list of crowd favorites. To some, they can taste bland and spongy. To others, they’re straight-up revolting—and ‘shrooms rarely engender any hosannas unless the cheering comes from the dedicated foodie crowd.
But some new research published in the Journal of Medicinal Food might just change your perception of the soft fungal masses—and help ensconce them in the list of functional foods that positively affect health beyond nutrition. The premise? They might help sharpen your mind.
The exotic, bioactive compounds in some edible and medicinal mushrooms—maitake, oyster mushrooms, snow mushrooms, and termite mushrooms—may protect the brain and even improve cognition, reported scientists at the University of Malaya in Malaysia. It turns out that mushrooms have neurotrophic (nerve-boosting) compounds, which can enhance the growth of neurons in the brain and encourage nerve production, according to the researchers’ review of major studies.
“Regular consumption of the mushrooms may reduce or delay development of age-related neurodegeneration,” they note in the study.
The protective benefits could extend to helping to prevent the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, crippling neurodegenerative diseases that are expected to hit 42 million people worldwide by 2020.
And hey: If you want to slap that portobello on a burger instead, we’re not gonna stop you.