A Newcomer’s Guide to Using Shiitake Mushroom for Health and Wellness
Strolling down the produce aisle at the grocery store can be a delight to the senses and imagination. Colorful carrots and luscious lettuce burst from their stands. You may find yourself dreaming about what you could make with tomatoes, beets, squash, celery, potatoes, and the dazzling array of fruits before you.
But did you know that in between all these gorgeous vegetables, you might find one ingredient that could provide health miracles?
Shiitake mushrooms are the often-overlooked hero of your grocery store produce section. Read on to learn more about these amazing mushrooms and all the health benefits they may provide.
What Are Shiitake Mushrooms?
Before we dive into the benefits shiitake mushrooms can offer, let’s talk some about what they are. These mushrooms are edible and are, in fact, the second-most popular mushrooms in the culinary world. They offer a meaty flavor which makes them excellent to include in vegetarian dishes that may need a heartier boost.
Shiitake mushrooms are brown in color and have whitish stems and gills. They are usually around an inch or two in diameter, and their stems are somewhat thin, taking up only about half their diameter. Dried shiitake mushrooms may appear wrinkled or cracked, but when rehydrated, washed, and cooked, they will likely appear smooth and dark brown.
Improve Heart Health
One of the primary benefits shiitake mushrooms can offer is a boost to your heart health. They contain some compounds which can be helpful for reducing cholesterol. These include eritadenine, a compound that inhibits a cholesterol-producing enzyme; sterols, which help block cholesterol absorption; and beta glucans.
There have also been some studies that have shown shiitake mushroom powder may help to prevent increases in blood pressure. They might also help prevent fat from developing on livers and plaque from accumulating on artery walls. However, these studies have only been performed on rats so far.
Help Your Immune System
Some people also say shiitake mushrooms may help to support your immune system. These mushrooms contain polysaccharides, a kind of carbohydrate which may help to regulate the immune system. One small human study showed that people who ate shiitake mushrooms had lower levels of inflammation and improved immune markers.
In general, people’s immune systems tend to weaken as they age; this is normal, but it can put older adults at risk of more frequent and severe diseases. One study in mice showed that a shiitake supplement helped to reduce age-related immune system decline. Although this will need a lot more study before it’s provable in humans, it’s a promising indication.
One of the most powerful things people claim shiitake mushrooms can do is to fight cancer. In 2018, more than 18 million people were diagnosed with cancer, and 9.5 million people around the world died from the disease. Almost all of us have lost someone to cancer, and it’s one of the diseases that doctors are working hardest to cure.
Some of the polysaccharides in shiitake mushrooms may help to fight certain cancer cells. Lentinan, one of those polysaccharides, helps to activate your immune system, which can help you fight off tumors. It may also help to slow down the growth and spread of leukemia cells, though no research has yet shown that eating shiitake mushrooms will have any effect on cancer.
The topic of fighting off viruses is one that’s been on our minds more than usual this year. As the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged our world, many of us have searched for ways to keep our surroundings sanitary and ourselves safe. Although wearing a mask, social distancing, and washing your hands are still the best ways to fight the virus, shiitake mushrooms may also help.
Shiitake mushrooms contain several compounds which can act as antivirals, destroying viral particles. They may also help to kill bacteria and fungal particles which can cause health risks, too. However, it’s important to note these properties show up in test tubes, not necessarily in the human body.
Osteoporosis is one of those conditions many of us fear developing as we get older. As our bones weaken and become more brittle, a simple fall could lead to a broken hip, or stepping wrong off a step could break your ankle. This condition is painful and can be very difficult to reverse once it’s begun.
One way you can help to strengthen your bones may be incorporating shiitake mushrooms into your diet. This is because these mushrooms contain vitamin D – in fact, mushrooms are the only natural plant source of this vitamin. Vitamin D can help to strengthen your bones, and some preliminary studies in mice have even suggested shiitake mushrooms could help to improve bone density.
Obesity is another of the most dangerous diseases plaguing Americans today. As of 2016, nearly two billion adults worldwide were overweight, and more than 650 million were obese. Obesity can put you at greater risk for a huge variety of diseases, and it’s one of the key factors shortening lifespans in our country today.
Shiitake mushrooms may help to combat obesity and help you keep your weight under control. The eritadenine and glucans we mentioned earlier have fat-reducing properties that can help you eat less, feel fuller, and reduce fat levels. Incorporating them into your diet could help you feel fuller faster, avoid putting on more fat, and begin to lose weight.
Boost Your Energy
Raise your hand if you’ve had a moment in the last week when you just wanted to lay your head down on your desk and go to sleep. Now that all of us have our hands in the air, we can start addressing the national sleep deprivation crisis we face every day. Most of us rely on at least one cup of coffee to get us through the day, but that level of caffeine can be unhealthy.
Shiitake mushrooms can help you to find the energy you need to get through that afternoon slump without reaching for the coffee pot. These mushrooms contain Vitamin B, which helps to increase the amount of adrenaline you have coursing through your body. They can also help your digestive system more effectively turn food nutrients into energy, giving you the boost you need.
Improve Skin Health
Skincare is one of those things most of us think about from the time we enter puberty. Whether it’s trying to prevent a breakout or prevent fine wrinkles, we want to take excellent care of our skin. Shiitake mushroom can be a great way to get the glowing skin you’ve always wanted without resorting to harsh chemical treatments.
Selenium is an element that, in combination with vitamins A and E, can help reduce acne and the resulting scarring. One hundred grams of shiitake mushrooms contain about 8 percent of your recommended daily selenium intake. This means that, if you’re also taking vitamin A and E supplements, shiitake mushrooms can act as a natural acne treatment.
How to Cook with Shiitake
Shiitake mushrooms are delicious when cooked properly and are a huge part of the culinary world, especially in Asian cuisine. If you’re looking to gain the benefits they can offer, cooking with them can be a simple and tasty way to incorporate them into your life. If you have fresh shiitake mushrooms, you may want to begin by washing them and removing the stems.
Shiitake mushrooms can be delicious on their own when sautéed in oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. You can also add them to a stir fry with whatever other vegetables sound good to you. Add them to vegetable soups, hearty stews, or pasta sauces for an extra boost of flavor and health benefits.
Using Shiitake Supplements
If you can’t find fresh shiitake mushrooms in your area or if you simply don’t enjoy eating them, you can still get the benefits they offer. Many retailers offer shiitake supplements, often in the form of powder, that you can use. This may also help you to get a higher concentration of shiitake in your diet since it’s hard to eat that many mushrooms every day.
Before you start taking shiitake or any other supplement, it’s important to talk to your doctor. Some supplements can interact with your medications and cause them to be less effective. Your doctor will also be able to advise you on how much to take for your specific body size, weight, and diet.
Discover the Benefits of Shiitake Mushroom
Shiitake mushrooms not only delicious, they can also have a number of health benefits. From improving your immune function and heart health to helping to fight deadly diseases, these mushrooms can put you in your best health yet. Start cooking with them or talk to your doctor about how to incorporate shiitake mushroom supplements into your diet.
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