Could mushrooms be the Japanese secret to longevity?

14 Jun 2022

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mushrooms Photo: Marina Leonova

Japan is the fourth-healthiest country in the world (no small feat, when you consider that America is way down the list at #35), and one specific region in the country is especially known for having a population of people who live into the triple digits in good health: Okinawa.

People in Okinawa have lower rates of cancer, heart disease, and dementia than people in the U.S., and Okinawan women live longer than women in every other country. For these reasons, National Geographic fellow and longevity expert Dan Buettner named Okinawa a “blue zone,” one of five places in the world where people don’t just survive in old age, but thrive.

Of course, no single habit accounts for this population's longevity—movement, purpose, and family support all play a role—but diet is a significant factor. This is where Shroomboom’s interest in the region comes into play, as mushrooms sit alongside sweet potatoes, tofu, and white rice as foods most often consumed by Okinawans.

According to registered dietitian and Japanese native Asako Miyashita, RDN, five mushroom types in particular are staples in the Okinawan diet. Keep reading to find out what they are, why they’re so powerful, and how to cook with them at home.


What makes shiitake mushrooms so special? They contain more than 100 different compounds with immune-protecting properties. One of those compounds is eritadenine, which has also been shown to help lower cholesterol. Additionally, shiitake mushrooms contain RNA, which benefits the immune system and has antiviral effects. “It also helps with skin issues because RNA is essential to cells replicating themselves,” Miyashita says.

Try cooking with shiitake at home using these recipes for a vegan shiitake miso cream rice bowl and tofu steak with miso mushrooms.


mushrooms Photo: Yuval Zukerman

According to Miyashita, shimeji mushrooms, which can be either brown or white, are a staple in Japanese cooking, including in Okinawa. This type of mushroom contains iron, calcium, potassium, fiber, and even a little bit of protein. Shimeji mushrooms also contain a B vitamin called niacin, which has neuroprotective properties. In other words, these 'shrooms are literal brain food.

Try shimeji mushrooms prepared simply as a side with a little soy sauce, garlic, and butter.


“Generally mushrooms are rich in vitamin D, but maitake mushrooms have the highest vitamin D content,” Miyashita says. A refresher on why getting enough vitamin D is a must: It supports the immune system, helps with calcium absorption, protects against chronic inflammation, and has been linked to longevity.

Enjoy these stellar 'shrooms packed with vitamin D by sautéing ’em up with tahini, miso dressing, and seaweed flakes or marinating them to add to a salad.


Enoki mushrooms, also common in Okinawa, are long, thin, white mushrooms that have a mild taste which makes them super versatile. This type of mushroom is abundant in B vitamins, especially B1 (thiamin), Miyashita says. Thiamin is key to maintaining healthy blood levels, making enoki another mushroom that directly benefits the cardiovascular system.

Cook enoki on the skillet with sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and soy sauce for a flavor-rich side dish.


This mushroom variety is more expensive than others because it’s a little trickier to cultivate. In fact, matsutake are so prized that they’re considered a delicacy. But if you can get your hands on some, your body will certainly benefit. They contain beta glucan, which helps improve cholesterol and may even help protect against certain types of cancer.

Since matsutake mushrooms are more of a special-occasion 'shroom, use them to make simple dishes in which they can shine, such as Wild Pine Mushroom Rice or Matsutake Baked in Parchment with Fresh Herbs.

While every mushroom type has its own unique characteristics, many fungi have a number of overlapping benefits. Miyashita points out all mushrooms have fiber, antioxidants, and trace minerals that are highly beneficial. So, if you can’t find one of the above five kinds of mushrooms at your local grocery store, get what’s accessible to you. Then, start cooking!

“In Japan, people use mushrooms almost every day in miso soup or with rice or salads,” Miyashita says. If you’re looking for a way to begin incorporating mushrooms into your diet, you can start there, but have fun experimenting with them in new ways too. After all, with any luck, you’ll be eating mushrooms for a very, very long time.


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@vikas profile image
Great article thank you!