April 03 2017

Dear Mark: Raw Mushrooms, Tom Brady’s Diet, and Beta-Glucan Alternatives

By Mark Sisson

the raw royal mushrooms on a black backgroundFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions. First, are raw mushrooms safe to eat? Are there toxins? Are there any other issues to consider? Second, what’s the deal with Tom Brady’s diet and lifestyle? It seems healthy enough, but there are some unanswered questions, too. And finally, are there any other ways to get beta-glucans without eating mushrooms, yeast, or oats?

Let’s go:

I love raw mushrooms, but I have also read that they should only be consumed cooked or they’re too harsh on the insides. Any truth to that?

Basic white mushrooms (agaricus bisporus) do contain a toxin called agaritine. In one study, researchers fed mice diets high in different types of mushrooms or synthetic agaritine to see how each option affected bladder cancer rates. Bladder cancer rates were as follows: mice eating fresh white mushroom, 30.8%; fresh shiitake, 23.5%; dried shiitake, 9.8%; pure agaritine, 50%; paraffin wax as control, 5.4%.

Yet storage, including in the fridge or freezer, and cooking all reduce agaritine to a considerable degree.

Recall that a couple years ago, I wrote about the extensive benefits of eating mushrooms. That stands. They are incredibly healthy and helpful when people actually eat them the way people actually eat them. Maybe don’t eat them raw in large amounts. I find them uninteresting raw, anyway, unless it’s on a salad. Nothing like a pan full of sautéd mushrooms in a reduced Worscestershire sauce/soy sauce/gelatin/butter sauce.

The second biggest knock against raw mushrooms—after controlling for the poisonous varieties—is that they contain chitin, a type of fiber that makes up the cellular walls of funguses (plus many insects). As the story goes, “lots of people” don’t produce enough chitinase, the enzyme that digests chitin, to handle large numbers of raw mushrooms.

Is it true? I doubt it. In 2007, stomach assays of 25 Italian adults found that 20 of them produced chitinase. And the widespread consumption of chitin-rich insects throughout human history never would have occurred if they gave you crippling stomach pain each time you ate one. Crickets aren’t that good.

In fact, chitin supplements have shown to provide major benefits.

  • Chitosan supplementation may reduce cartilage destruction in autoimmune arthritis.
  • In healthy men, pre-breakfast supplementation with 3 grams of chitosan increased fecal excretion of dioxins and PCBs, two prominent types of xenoestrogenic compounds found in most modern diets.
  • A chitin-glucan supplement (extracted from fungi) lowered oxidized LDL in humans. Oxidized LDL is likely causally related to atherosclerosis (as opposed to just plain ol’ LDL), so this could be a helpful supplement for people at risk.

A little off-topic, I would be interested in Mark’s take on Tom Brady’s diet, which I was reading about just yesterday. He is very much a health nut, but his diet, although okay for what it is, seems far too limited to me.

I mentioned this diet in Weekend Link Love a couple months ago. It is an interesting one:

“80% of what they eat is…the freshest vegetables. If it’s not organic, I don’t use it.” Not much to complain about here. 80% is a little high, of course. And is 80% a precise number, or is it shorthand for “a lot”? Does it refer to % of caloric energy or % of volume on the plate?

“And whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, millet, beans.” This is the mystery line. So much to unpack. Beans, for one, aren’t grains. And is this category included in the vegetable category? Whole grains aren’t vegetables, clearly. Yet the next line confirms that “the other 20 percent” is meat and fish, so there’s nothing left over for the grains. Unless… has Brady cracked 100 percent? Do his go up to eleven? Although it wasn’t specified, I’m guessing he’s gluten-free. No one eats millet if they don’t have to.

“The other 20 percent is lean meats: grass-fed steak, duck every now and then, and chicken. As for fish, I mostly cook wild salmon.” Good stuff here. All delicious and nutritious. Duck is a strange one to just toss in there every once in awhile. I love duck. But rarely do I think to myself, “I could really go for some duck breast.” Plus, it’s far from lean.

No nightshades. That means no peppers, tomatoes, potatoes. Some people report sensitivity to the alkaloids in nightshades, though I’ve never seen definitive evidence. The most common complain seems to be joint pain (PubMed search autofills “nightshade arthritis” but doesn’t produce any good results).

“No white sugar. No white flour. No MSG.” No arguments. I’m not too worried about MSG, but then again, I don’t eat foods that contain it.

“I’ll use raw olive oil, but I only cook with coconut oil.” Standard advice that I’m not sure is right. Olive oil—even, or especially EVOO—is quite stable in the presence of heat. The antioxidants protect it (which is why EVOO is so stable) and even prevent the formation of trans fats.

“Fats like canola oil turn into trans fats.” Yes and no. While making baked goods with canola oil has negligible effects on trans-fat formation, high-heat cooking and frying with vegetable oils significantly increases the trans-fat content of the oils.

Brady goes way beyond diet. He’s made an entire lifestyle shift, including going to bed by 9 PM and avoiding parties and alcohol. He shies away from heavy lifting for fear of excessive “shortening” of the muscle, opting instead for flexibility, which he says “softens” and “lengthens” the muscles.

Whatever he’s doing works. Not every individual piece of his diet and lifestyle approach is optimal. But the stuff that works is enough to push him over the edge.

Unfortunately, I’m allergic to mushrooms. Any options for getting beta-glucans other than via oats or yeasts?

Kelp has a fair bit of beta-glucans. You could gnaw on dried kombu or use it in your cooking. Other, tougher seaweeds likely have it as well.

You could try a supplement, though most are sourced from baker’s yeast. If that’s an issue.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care and be sure to chime in down below if you have anything to add.


TAGS:  dear mark, toxins

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

19 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Raw Mushrooms, Tom Brady’s Diet, and Beta-Glucan Alternatives”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Thanks for the comments re. Brady’s diet. I agree with what you say. Such a restricted eating plan wouldn’t work for everyone, but it does seem to work for him–at least to some extent. Healthy eating goes only just so far, however, and a 39-year-old is an old man in the NFL.

  2. I’m one of the 20% who get crippling stomach pains from mushrooms, whether raw or cooked. Any seafood, animal or vegetable, brings on projectile vomiting. I do fine with steel-cut, long-cooked oats.

    1. I’m fortunate in that very little upsets my stomach. I’m somewhat lactose intolerant so I don’t drink milk by the glassful, but I’m okay with it cooked into other dishes. Cheese, yogurt, and butter don’t bother me. It’s not a food, of course, but the few times I’ve been prescribed Vicodin it came right back up again. My stomach absolutely will not tolerate that stuff.

  3. I believe that although Tom Brady is the greatest qb ever, because he’s won the most championships with the least talent around him, his success comes from his God given talent, not his diet. Detroit Lions Bobby Layne, the second greatest qb ever for the same reasons listed above, was a professional drinker who was known to take a few pops during halftime, and occasionally one in the huddle.

    1. I agree that Brady’s success is due in large part to his natural talent, but also to the fact that he’s been able to avoid career-ending injuries. He may be on the right track in avoiding foods that potentially contribute to inflammation–or maybe not. Whichever the case, he is doing everything he can to remain competitive. Thing is, people don’t all age at the same rate. I think that Brady has inherited some exceptionally good genes in that respect, and that might be the main thing he has going for him.

    2. Not really valid to compare someone who played 70 years ago with the athletes of today. No way he could compete these days with a drinking problem. The advanced training techniques and diets and supplementation are all almost a must to stay competitive in sports. But yes, the Tom Brady’s, LeBron James’ and Roger Federer’s of the world, those elite athletes and possible GOAT’s do all that but they have god-given talent, reflexes, eyesight, quick twitch muscles, intellect, focus and mental fortitude etc. that make them really special.

      1. Didn’t you read? Layne didn’t have a drinking problem, he was a professional at it.

    1. LOL!!! I think his go up to 11 JUST LIKE in Spinal Tap!!! As in NOT!!! I think Brady’s diet and sleep put him pretty far ahead of mainstream, even if it’s not quite primal.

  4. not worried about MSG? Havent you seen the studies on glutamate and brain issues like ADHD, anxiety, alzheimers, etc?

  5. To me mushrooms just taste so much better cooked…I just don’t ever see a reason to eat them raw. They pretty much have no taste.

  6. I never peel shrimp. I eat them shells and all, especially when friend or roasted. That’s a healthy dose of Chitosan. As for nightshades. Besides alkaloids there is salicylic acid in that family as well and that causes some folks problems.

  7. I love raw mushrooms. When I’m prepping them for use in a recipe, I end up eating half of them raw while I’m slicing, chopping them. When they’re raw, they taste like mushrooms, not like the cooked ones that end up tasting like whatever they’re being cooked in. One of my favorite ways to use the raw ones is a dipper for salsa, hummus, dips, etc. – they’re especially good raw as a dipper with chicken liver paté.

    1. Preach it! I even bought an Oyster mushroom farm and ate them right off the block they grew on (after a gentle washing). I picked the farm up for about 15$ at Far West Fungi; it produced mushrooms for nearly six months at an astonishing rate. Those mushrooms were awesome raw, and even better lightly sauteed with a little avocado oil and a dash of salt. They also had shitake!

  8. Great post! I love mushrooms raw and cooked. I’d probably lean more towards cooked though if I had a choice.

  9. If you’re commenting on Tom Brady, can you also dissect Bob Harper’s heart attack? Last I checked he was Paleo, but in a recent interview he mentioned he’s refocusing on fruit, veg and wholegrains!?

  10. After listening to Tom Brady on his weekly interviews on the local radio station, there may be an explanation to to 80-20 %’s referred to above.

    He stated that he is mostly a vegan without the complete strictness of a vegan (if that makes sense). IOW, if he wants a steak he will have one but eating animal meat is few and far between.

  11. Very interesting points on Chitin. The Italian study showed 20 of 25 to have Chitinase (enzyme to break It down), A key finding was that the range of this enzyme was gigantic from very little to a lot. So Chitin could still be a problem for many who were identified as chitinase producers. Also eating chitin for those who can’t digest it, may not be gut wrenching discomfort, rather it may cause no symptoms similar to other non-digestible fiber like psyllium. The real problem as I see it is your earlier statement that fungi use Chitin to build their cell walls. They also create “biofilms” with chitin to protect them from the immune system. If you don’t produce enough chitinase, they grow unchecked and you wind up with candida overgrowth -and other even worse species. You have no weapons to regain your health if you produce no, or not enough chitinase. This is why systemic enzyme therapy is so effective.