Shiitake mushrooms are great for a maintaining a healthy immune system. Photograph courtesy of Flickr user Building Blocks Show.
Mushrooms have special properties. No, we’re not talking about the hallucinogenic kind. The many varieties of fungi available in your local grocery store have a wealth of health benefits—shiitake mushrooms in particular.
“Shiitake mushrooms are a great addition to anyone’s diet and are mainly known for their immune system support,” says local dietitian Kait Fortunato. They contain lentinan, which makes our immune system strong, helping to fight off disease and infection. The American Cancer Society says lentinan is believed to stop or slow tumor growth, too, though it notes that more clinical trials are needed to understand the mushrooms’ effectiveness.
“Shiitake mushrooms also contain a compound called D-Eritadenine (DEA),” adds Fortuna. DEA helps lower cholesterol and supports cardiovascular health.
Finally, shiitakes are a good source of iron and antioxidants. The iron is key for vegetarians, whose diets may be lacking in it, while antioxidants help reduce free radicals.
How to prepare them: “Be careful not to soak or rinse them in water because they will get soggy,” warns Fortunato. Instead, wipe them with a damp paper towel to clean them.
How to cook them: “To maintain flavor and nutrition, sauté mushrooms in olive oil or broth for five to seven minutes,” Fortunato says.
How to include them in your diet: These mushrooms are known for their meaty flavor and texture, so they’re great substitutes in most meat dishes, Fortunato says. They also add plenty of flavor to soup, make for tasty side dishes or chicken toppings, and are an easy addition to vegetable stir-fries.
Similar types of mushrooms: Some of Fortunato’s other favorite varieties include cremini and porcini. Whichever mushroom you prefer, most of them “contain a rich amount of vitamins and minerals and are low in calories and high in fiber,” says our expert. In other words, you can’t go wrong.