Shiitake are edible mushrooms native to East Asia.
They’re tan to dark brown, with caps that grow between 2 and 4 inches (5 and 10 cm).
While typically eaten like vegetables, shiitake are fungi that grow naturally on decaying hardwood trees.
Around 83% of shiitake are grown in Japan, although the United States, Canada, Singapore, and China also produce them.
You can find them fresh, dried, or in various dietary supplements.
SUMMARY Shiitake mushrooms are brown-capped mushrooms used around the world for food and as supplements.
The nutrition profile of shiitake mushrooms
Shiitake are low in calories. They also offer good amounts of fiber, as well as B vitamins and some minerals.
The nutrients in 4 dried shiitake (15 grams) are:
Carbs: 11 grams
Fiber: 2 grams
Protein: 1 gram
Riboflavin: 11% of the Daily Value (DV)
Niacin: 11% of the DV
Copper: 39% of the DV
Vitamin B5: 33% of the DV
Selenium: 10% of the DV
Manganese: 9% of the DV
Zinc: 8% of the DV
Vitamin B6: 7% of the DV
Folate: 6% of the DV
Vitamin D: 6% of the DV
In addition, shiitake contain many of the same amino acids as meat.
They also boast polysaccharides, terpenoids, sterols, and lipids, some of which have immune-boosting, cholesterol-lowering, and anticancer effects.
The amount of bioactive compounds in shiitake depends on how and where the mushrooms are grown, stored, and prepared.
SUMMARY Shiitake mushrooms are low in calories. They also offer many vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting compounds.
How are they used?
Shiitake mushrooms have two main uses — as food and as supplements.
Shiitake as whole foods
You can cook with both fresh and dried shiitake, although the dried ones are slightly more popular.
Dried shiitake have an umami flavor that’s even more intense than when fresh.
Umami flavor can be described as savory or meaty. It’s often considered the fifth taste, alongside sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.
Both dried and fresh shiitake mushrooms are used in stir-fries, soups, stews, and other dishes.
Shiitake as supplements
Shiitake mushrooms have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. They’re also part of the medical traditions of Japan, Korea, and Eastern Russia.
In Chinese medicine, shiitake are thought to boost health and longevity, as well as improve circulation.
Studies suggest that some of the bioactive compounds in shiitake may protect against cancer and inflammation.
However, many of the studies have been done in animals or test tubes rather than people. Animal studies frequently use doses that far exceed those that people would normally get from food or supplements.
In addition, many of the mushroom-based supplements on the market have not been tested for potency.
Although the proposed benefits are promising, more research is needed.
SUMMARY Shiitake have a long history of use, both as a food and in supplements.
May aid heart health
Shiitake mushrooms may boost heart health. For example, they have three compounds that help lower cholesterol:
Eritadenine. This compound inhibits an enzyme involved in producing cholesterol.
Sterols. These molecules help block cholesterol absorption in your gut.
Beta-glucans. This type of fiber can lower cholesterol.
One study in rats with high blood pressure found that shiitake powder prevented an increase in blood pressure.
A study in lab rats fed a high-fat diet demonstrated that those given shiitake developed less fat in their livers, less plaque on their artery walls, and lower cholesterol levels than those that didn’t eat any mushrooms.
Still, these effects need to be confirmed in human studies before any solid conclusions can be made.
SUMMARY Several compounds in shiitake help lower cholesterol and may reduce your risk of heart disease.
May boost your immune system
Shiitake may also help strengthen your immune system.
One study gave people two dried shiitake daily. After one month, their immune markers improved and their inflammation levels dropped.
This immune effect might be partly due to one of the polysaccharides in shiitake mushrooms.
While people’s immune systems tend to weaken with age, a mouse study found that a supplement derived from shiitake helped reverse some age-related decline in immune function.
SUMMARY Eating shiitake mushrooms regularly may help boost your immune system.
Contain compounds with potential anticancer activity
Polysaccharides in shiitake mushrooms may also have an anticancer effect
For example, the polysaccharide lentinan helps fight tumors by activating your immune system.
Lentinan has been shown to inhibit the growth and spread of leukemia cells.
In China and Japan, an injectable form of lentinan is used alongside chemotherapy and other major cancer treatments to improve immune function and quality of life in people with gastric cancer.
However, the evidence is insufficient to determine whether eating shiitake mushrooms has any effect on cancer.
SUMMARY Lentinan is a polysaccharide in shiitake mushrooms that may help fight cancer.
Other potential benefits
Shiitake mushrooms may also help fight infections and promote bone health.
Promising antibacterial and antiviral effects
Several compounds in shiitake have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal effects.
As antibiotic resistance is growing, some scientists think it’s important to explore the antimicrobial potential of shiitake.
That said, while isolated compounds show antimicrobial activity in test tubes, eating shiitake is unlikely to have any effect on viral, bacterial, or fungal infections in people.
May strengthen your bones
Mushrooms are the only natural plant source of vitamin D.
Your body needs vitamin D to build strong bones, yet very few foods contain this important nutrient.
The vitamin D levels of mushrooms vary depending on how they’re grown. When exposed to UV light, they develop higher levels of this compound.
In one study, mice fed a low-calcium, low-vitamin-D diet developed symptoms of osteoporosis. In comparison, those given calcium and UV-enhanced shiitake had higher bone density.
However, keep in mind that shiitake provide vitamin D2. This is an inferior form compared with vitamin D3, which is found in fatty fish and some other animal foods.
SUMMARY Compounds in shiitake have antimicrobial properties, though you’re unlikely to gain benefits from eating the mushrooms themselves. Shiitake with higher vitamin D levels may improve your bone density.
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