It is hard to go wrong eating any edible mushroom. They are rich in fiber, vitamins C, calcium, minerals and protein, along with the B vitamins. And probably best of all they are an excellent source of antioxidants. But perhaps the best of the best are shiitake mushrooms. They have become famous for their rich smoky flavor, and it's said to have 10 times the amount of flavor as white button mushrooms. But the health benefits of shiitake mushrooms have made them a symbol of longevity in Asia.

Perhaps the most important health benefit coming from shiitake mushrooms are their anti-tumor effects. They are abundant in the compound lentinan, which in studies with mice has demonstrated complete tumor regression in most of the test cases. In Japan it has been a form of alternative medicine for cancer patients, increasing their survival rate substantially. Lentinan has also been found to protect the liver and relief from an array of stomach ailments.

Those advantages are by themselves reason enough to eat shiitake mushrooms. But when prepared the right way they are an absolute delight as a side dish. They're produce mostly in China now, but Japan was once the largest producer. They've been found in the wild since prehistoric times and have been used therapeutically in Asia for thousands of years. So this is not some new fad food to come along.

You can find shiitake mushrooms in most grocery stores and Asian markets, and when you buy them check their firmness and be sure that they are not wet and slimy. Store them in a loosely closed paper bag in the refrigerator, but I try to prepare them shortly after purchase. They will become soggy if submerged in water so just wipe them clean before preparation. They are really quite easy to prepare and their robust flavor will be a complement to many dishes, especially chicken and fish. I use them as a side-dish to both of these main entrées.

One can find a number of ways to prepare them by searching the Internet, but I find they're best prepared by sautéing them in olive oil and garlic. You'll probably find that their stems are unsuitable to eat, so by sautéing the caps with the stem up will allow you to get them prepared properly. Fresh rosemary or oregano can also be added to the sauté, so experiment to find what you like. You may get a little sticker-shock with their costs, but for a treat occasionally they are well worth the price.

As stated earlier you really can't go wrong with any edible mushrooms, but as far as nutritional value and taste they are not all created equal. Americans consume about 900,000,000 pounds of mushrooms yearly, but by far the most (estimated 95%) comes from a single species: the common button mushroom and its relatives, the Portobello and the Crimini mushrooms. They all have valuable nutrients, but there is a whole wide world out there of different mushroom types that you probably haven't heard of.

Endorphins are an important regulator of pain, but also pleasure.  Most people produce them  through exercise, but certain foods,  especially chocolate  can produce a similar effect.  Read more about it on our website.  Rich Carroll is a writer and health advocate now living in Chicago.

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