Mushrooms are certainly one of the most delicious types of fungi, but they're also among the most medicinal. About 100 species of mushrooms are being studied for their health-promoting benefits, and about a half dozen really stand out for their ability to deliver a tremendous boost to your immune system.
You really can't go wrong with any of the edible mushrooms, as they are rich in protein, fiber, vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium, and minerals, along with being excellent sources of antioxidants.
Mushrooms contain polyphenols and selenium, which are common in the plant world, as well as antioxidants that are unique to mushrooms (like ergothioneine, which scientists are now beginning to recognize as a "master antioxidant").
That being said, if you're looking for the ultimate mushroom in terms of nutrition and flavor, the shitake mushroom may be king. Famous for their rich smoky flavor, shiitake mushrooms are said to have more than 10 times the flavor as white button mushrooms and they're known as a symbol of longevity in Asia because of their many health-promoting properties.1
Did You Know?
- This simple Healthy Sautéed Mushroom recipe takes just minutes to make and will add valuable nutrients and flavor to your meal
- Famous for their rich smoky flavor, shiitake mushrooms are said to have more than 10 times the flavor as white button mushroom
- Shiitake mushrooms are known as a symbol of longevity in Asia because of their many health-promoting properties
- Shiitake mushrooms may help boost immune system function and have anti-tumor, anti-fungal, antibacterial, and anti-viral propertiesx
- Shiitake mushrooms are widely available at grocery stores, Asian markets, and some farmer’s markets; look for mushrooms that are firm, plump, and clean, and avoid those that are wet or slimy
7-Minute Recipe: Healthy Shiitake Sautéed Mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms are easy to prepare and their robust flavor complements many dishes, like chicken or wild-caught fish. The recipe below, from The George Mateljan Foundation, takes just minutes to make, and will add valuable nutrients to your meal.2
Healthy Sautéed Shiitake Mushrooms
Calories: 212 per serving
- 1 lb. fresh sliced shiitake mushrooms (ideally organic)
- 3 Tbsp. low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: 2 Tbsp. each of fresh rosemary, oregano, or feta cheese
Serving Size: 2
- Chop garlic and let sit for 5 minutes to enhance its health-promoting properties.
- Remove stems from mushrooms and slice.
- Heat broth in a stainless steel skillet. When broth begins to steam, add mushrooms and cover for 3 minutes.
- Remove skillet cover and let mushrooms cook for 4 more minutes.
- Toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper and whatever optional ingredients desired.
What Makes Shiitake Mushrooms So Healthy?
Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) are a popular culinary mushroom used in dishes around the world. They contain a number of health-stimulating agents, including lentinan, the polysaccharide for which it was named.
Lentinan has been isolated and used to treat stomach and other cancers due to its anti-tumor properties, but has also been found to protect your liver,3 relieve other stomach ailments (hyperacidity, gallstones, and ulcers), anemia, ascites, and pleural effusion.
One of the more remarkable scientific studies demonstrating shiitake's antitumor effect was a Japanese animal study,4 in which mice suffering from sarcoma were given shiitake extract.
Six of 10 mice had complete tumor regression, and with slightly higher concentrations all 10 mice showed complete tumor regression. Shiitake mushrooms also demonstrate:
||Antiviral (including HIV, hepatitis, and the "common cold") effects
||Blood sugar stabilization
||Reduced platelet aggregation
In another study, adding one or two servings of dried shiitake mushrooms was found to have a beneficial, modulating effect on immune system function.7 The compound lentinan in shiitake mushrooms has been found to increase the survival rate of cancer patients.
And, in fact, in Japan the top two forms of alternative medicine used by cancer patients are a mushroom called Agaricus subrufescens (aka Agaricus blazei and Agaricus brasiliensis) and shiitake mushroom extract.9
The Mushroom Advantage: 4 Healthy Mushroom Varieties
If there's a certain type of edible mushroom that you enjoy, feel free to indulge, as they all have unique benefits. According to Steve Farrar, who has studied mushrooms professionally for the last three decades, Americans consume about 900 million pounds of mushrooms a year, but 95 percent of that is just one species: the common button mushroom and its relatives, the Crimini and the Portabello mushrooms.
Granted, the button mushroom is an excellent low-calorie food, especially for diabetics. It contains a number of valuable nutrients, including protein, enzymes, B vitamins (especially niacin), and vitamin D2.
However, there are many other types of mushrooms worthy of consideration if you want to improve your diet, including shiitake, reishi, cordyceps, turkey tail, and Himematsutake. You can learn more about these four healthy mushroom varieties in the infographic below.
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Shiitake Mushrooms Have Grown in the Wild Since Prehistoric Times
If you're interested in eating traditional food, you can't get much more "traditional" than shiitake mushrooms, which have been found in the wild since prehistoric times and have been used therapeutically in Asian countries for thousands of years. While Japan was once the largest producer of shiitake mushrooms, China now produces more than 80 percent of commercially sold shiitakes.
The US also has about 200 commercial growers of shiitake mushrooms, about half of which are grown in a natural forest setting using downed hardwood trees as the cultivation medium, according to The George Mateljan Foundation.10 Ideally, you'll want to look for organically grown mushrooms, or those you know were grown in non-polluted forests, because they absorb and concentrate whatever they grow in — good OR bad.
This is what gives mushrooms their potency, for better or worse. Mushrooms are known to concentrate heavy metals, as well as air and water pollutants. One way to know what you're getting is to grow your own. You can find a variety of DIY garden kits available online, which will eliminate any questions about what kind of mushroom you're eating.
How to Store and Prepare Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms are widely available at grocery stores, Asian markets, and some farmer's markets. Look for mushrooms that are firm, plump, and clean, and avoid those that are wet or slimy. Store fresh mushrooms in a paper bag (loosely closed) in your refrigerator, where they will keep for about one week. Dried mushrooms can be stored in your refrigerator or freezer (in a tightly sealed container) for about six months to one year.11
When you're ready to eat your mushrooms, avoid submersing them in water for cleaning, as they will become soggy. Instead, wipe them off with a damp cloth or use a mushroom brush for cleaning. In addition to the healthy sauté recipe above, you can add mushrooms to virtually any savory dish you're cooking (and dried shiitakes, in particular, are excellent for adding robust flavor to soup stocks12).
Sources and References