Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Shiitake Mushrooms and Cancer Prevention

It's always been interesting to me to see what people have in their grocery carts. I don't shop in big, chain supermarkets all that often - only when I need some ingredient that isn't carried elsewhere. So when I do drop by the local mega-chain grocery, I often feel like an alien from another planet. I try not to let it show on my face. But for what people spend on those pounds and pounds of ground beef and sodas - diet or otherwise - plus all the other pre-packaged, processed foods, it seems to me that they could be spending less, eating healthier and helping to fight off diseases.

I heard a story once, which sounds like it could very well be true. Supposedly, during WWII, when the Nazi's invaded Belgium, they comandeered the butter, eggs and cheeses, as well as much of the red meat for their troops. The people were left to eat their meals without such luxuries. According to this story, the heart disease rates for the Belgians went down significantly during this period of hardship. After the war, when they were able to access the high fat diets they were used to, their heart disease rates went back up to where they had been before the war.

Is this story true? I don't know. What I do know is that what you put into your body has something to do with what you get out of it. I don't know anyone who would consider putting 30 octane gas in their car, but I see lots of people putting the equivalent in their grocery carts. And what boggles my mind is that it isn't based on cost.

I know that it's difficult sometimes, to connect our daily habits when we're, say, in our 20s, 30s or 40s, with the chronic ailments which often show up in our 60s and 70s. But just as the genetics of a tree, plus the nutrients in the soil and the water that helps it grow, creates a healthy tree or one that attracts disease and insects - so our genetics and our nutrition help us grow healthy or create disease.

So when I saw that Chris over at Melecotte was doing a Cooking to Combat Cancer event, my knee jerk response was: "I'm in!" I mean, as a healthcare professional, I find myself talking to my patients every day about healthy diet and exercise. But Chris' event is strictly about cancer. So I dug into my memory bank to come up with something that would be specific to cancer, and remembered shiitake mushrooms.

All mushrooms seem to have some cancer-fighting abilities, but shiitakes are the champions. Or should I say champignons? Sorry. Couldn't help myself there. Anyway, shiitakis have a polysaccharide called lentinan, a (1-3) β-D-glucan, (why does science always have to sound complicated?) as the active compound responsible for the anti-tumor effects. Shiitakes have many other health benefits, too, but mostly I cook with them because they're absolutely delicious. I buy the large bag of dried shiitakes from Costsco, and keep them as part of my larder.

I was tiring of chicken and not really drawn to another meat dish. What could I cook with the shiitakes? Fish. Any version of it would do. My mind scoured the fish layed out in our local Whole Foods market, and settled on the shrimp. Yes! That's what I started to crave - shrimp with shiitakes. And then snow peas begged to be let in. And, of course, scallions. OK....That should be easy enough. Since I wasn't in a rice mood, I decided on some Pancet (Pancit?) noodles from a local Vietnamese market.

I like to walk to the market. It's about 9 blocks away, and a brisk walk there and back, carrying groceries, is sometimes what constitutes my exercise for the day. Frankly, I prefer that to a stairmaster or a treadmill. (Exercise - another good disease-fighting technique!)

But I digress.

Arriving home, I began to concoct the following dish. Since I never measure, all measurements are approximate.

Shrimp With Shiitakes, Snow Peas and Pancet Noodles

1/2 pound shrimp - any size that works comfortably with chopsticks
1 large handful snow peas
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
1/2 C sliced scallions - I use most of the scallion, including the green part.
1 large handful dried shiitakes
1C boiling water
diced garlic to taste
diced ginger to taste
Oyster sauce
approx. 2 TBS oil - not olive. Canola or peanut work well. You can also use sesame oil.*
1 pkg. of pancet noodles.**

Rinse the shiitakes, place them in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let them soften while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Slice the onions and the scallions
Peel and dice the garlic and the ginger

If you've bought raw shrimp, you will want to shell and devein it first. If you've bought cooked shrimp with the tail on, you will want to remove the tails first, before cooking. Wash the shrimp and let them soak in cold water till you're ready to use them.

At this point, you will want to remove any tough stems from your shiitakes, squeeze out any excess water and put them in a bowl. Save the soaking water.

Pour the oil into the pan over medium high heat. Add the garlic and ginger and stir for about 30 seconds. If you're using raw shrimp, add them now. If you're using cooked shrimp, you will want to wait.

Add the shiitakes, snow peas and scallions and stir for about 1 minute. Add the pancet noodles after you've cut the noodles in half. (Easier to eat that way.) Reduce heat just a bit, and continue stirring for another couple of minutes. Add shrimp if you're using cooked shrimp, the water from the mushrooms, and a good slosh of oyster sauce. Stir so that everything is coated, reduce heat, cover pan while you set the table. Remove cover and serve.


*I've read recipes that say you should add sesame oil by the drops - as in "Add a few drops of sesame oil for taste." This makes it sound like sesame oil might be a little overwhelming if you added more than a few drops. I have never found this to be true. In fact, quite the opposite. Unless I use at least 50% sesame oil, I don't really taste it.

**Pancet noodles can be found in Asian grocery stores. They look like hefty spaghetti. Not flat, like linguini, but round like spaghetti. If you cannot access this kind of noodle, I'm sure you can use any kind you might have on hand. Or substitute rice for noodles and just serve it on the side.

For more health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture

For a place to share what you've learned about vitamins, herbs, or any natural medicine, visit my other blog Second Opinion.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Toni. Your story about the Belgians reminds me of something my wife read about the people who eat the calorie restricted diets in order to live longer. They take in so few calories that they don't have the energy to swim or bike or even take long walks. Is that living? In the end, I think it all comes down to balance.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I never knew about the cancer-fighting properties of shiitakes. I do know that they are delicious. I'm partial to the fresh ones, which are now available even in our small town market.

Anonymous said...

cancer fighters and packed full of umami? mushrooms know no bounds of wonderfulness! Thanks for the info, I had no idea. Yay for my favorite food!

Freya said...

I love shiitake mushrooms and this dish looks so good!

Toni said...

Terry - I've heard of the restricted calorie approach to longevity. Yes, it's statistically effective, but I'm in your camp. Is that living? Not to me it isn't. In the end, we all go, so why not enjoy living while you're here?

Lydia - I agree with you about the fresh ones - they are fabulous. But I still keep the dried ones around so that I'm never without.

Ann - Isn't it wonderful when something so good is good for you? Gotta love that!

Freya and Paul - Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Toni, Thanks so much for participating. I always learn so much from your postings! Interestingly, I have never tried Shiitake mushrooms. By the looks of this recipe - its time to try!

Toni said...

Oh Chris - you are in for a treat! They are extra yummy. Some people substitute them for meat, they are that rich. There are lots and lots of uses for them. This recipe is just a start.

Anonymous said...

Hi ! Youe cookery it's so good. Nice to meet you

Toni said...

Hi Candy - Thanks for the compliment! Hope your husband's birthday was a great success!

Anonymous said...

I just came across your article on topgrubs.com and I have to say I love your entries. The step by step pictures are great!

Chef Jeena said...

You have a great blog here and your post on mushrooms was an interesting read. Pig meat is also a worry as it is bad for your health and can give you worms- food for thought !

I will be back to visit your blog as it is excellent.

Jeena xx

visit jeenas blog for healthy recipes
updated daily !

Unknown said...

Toni, this is a wonderful post.

My boss has cancer now and has been out for nearly six months, with chemo just devastating her.

I wish we had known more about cancer-fighting food when we were young.

Unknown said...

I like shiitakes, and often use them in noodle soup, Japanese style or Indonesian style. I am a big fan of mushrooms myself. Lovely post, Toni! Good to know you.

Anonymous said...

great article!
do these mushrooms need to be organic?