Shiitake mushrooms can be grown indoors or outdoors, which makes them easy to cultivate. They are the second most cultivated edible mushroom in the world, according to the American Cancer Society. Shiitake mushrooms are eaten in many forms and have many studied health benefits. Great for vegans and omnivores alike, these mushrooms have a meatier flavor and texture that can spice up an old recipe or make a good stand-alone meal.
Native to East Asia, shiitake mushrooms have been used for over 2000 years in China for food and health. It was not until the 1940s that these mushrooms were commercially cultivated. Research into their health benefits started in the 1960s and has continued to show positive results in laboratory and animal testing.
Shiitake spores are often planted in low-grade wood and grown outdoors in the shade. These mushrooms can be just as easily cultivated indoors as well. Those who want to grow mushrooms on private land will be happy to hear it does not require a lot of land, just protection from wind and sun. Since mushrooms are fungi and do not use light and photosynthesis for energy like regular plants, they need energy from the surrounding area, which is why they grow so well on trees and logs.
According to the University of Maryland, shiitake mushrooms contain all eight essential amino acids better than any other protein source, including red meat and eggs. One serving of mushrooms consists of four to five mushrooms and delivers approximately 41 calories, 0 grams of fat and 10 grams of carbohydrates. In addition to having the essential amino acids, these mushrooms are also a good source of vitamins and minerals, including iron and an antioxidant called selenium.
Lentinan, one of the main components of shiitakes has been found to be effective in suppressing cytochrome P450 1A, an inflammatory and carcinogenic enzyme. In vitro and animal testing have shown the mushroom extracts to be beneficial with anticancer activities in colon cells, but have yet to show promising results in clinical trials, according to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, MSKCC.
In addition to anti-tumor activity, animal studies have shown shiitake mushrooms to have beneficial cholesterol-lowering and antiviral tendencies, according to the American Cancer Society. These studies have been done with specific extracts such as lentinan versus the whole food. Lentin, a protein found in shiitake mushrooms, has strong anti-fungal properties and also helps decrease the proliferation of specific cancer cells. It is unknown if buying extracts of these mushrooms over the counter or eating them whole provides the same benefits as the extracts in the studies, advises the American Cancer Society.
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