Mushrooms are one of the oldest living things on our planet. Recent studies show that they’ve been around for over 800 million years, while humans have only been on this planet for a mere 2 million years.
Throughout history, mushrooms have been an important part of traditional medicine, food, and religious ceremonies.
However, are mushrooms vegan?
By definition, mushrooms are fungi. This means that they are neither alive nor sentient. Therefore, mushrooms are 100% vegan and all-natural! They don’t possess a brain or a nervous system to feel or process pain. In fact, they’re a very healthy addition to any vegan diet.
Today’s post is going to be all about mushrooms! I’ll explain why some vegans don’t eat mushrooms. Then, I’ll give you some cool facts about mushrooms, show you the healthiest mushroom species, and explain why they’re so healthy.
Do Vegans Eat Fungus?
First, let’s start with a simple definition to help simplify things:
- Fungus (Fun-Gus): any of a group of spore-producing organisms feeding on organic matter, including molds, yeast, mushrooms, and toadstools.
Some vegans I’ve talked about this with getting hung up on the word “organisms,” believing that the mushrooms are somehow alive.
While fungus species are certainly alive and are, in fact, living organisms, they’re not sentient. It’s important to remember that plants are also living organisms.
Pretty much everything we consume is (or was) alive. Minerals from the earth and water are about the only two non-living things that humans consume.
Being vegan doesn’t mean that we don’t eat living things. It means that we don’t eat sentient living things. Sentience is defined as, “The capacity to have feelings.”
To have feelings, in a scientific manner, a creature must possess a central nervous system as well as the ability to perceive and react to its environment.
Pretty much every animal on the planet is sentient, with the exception of certain species of bivalve shellfish like oysters, clams, and mussels.
For this reason, there are actually some vegans who eat oysters. Personally, I don’t. However, the argument for the so-called “bivalvegan diet” is rather compelling, and worth understanding.
So, given these definitions, fungi are living, but are not sentient. This means that vegans can consume fungi in good conscience; the same way they consume fruits, vegetables, and other herbs.
Are Mushrooms A Type Of Vegetable?
Notice how I mentioned that fungi are different from vegetables… That’s because they are.
Mushrooms are NOT a type of vegetable. They’re a type of fungus that grows, lives, and reproduces quite differently from your average vegetable. While mushrooms may be biologically classified as a type of fungus, they’re often grouped with “vegetables” by nutritionists.
Although this isn’t exactly accurate, it’s understandable considering that most people aren’t concerned about the complex differences between fungi and vegetables.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a minute to go over exactly what mushrooms are and how they’re different from vegetables…
What’s The Difference Between Mushrooms & Vegetables
Fungi (the plural form of fungus) are an interesting type of organism. On the surface, they look and act similar to plants and veggies. However, once you look a bit deeper, you’ll find that they aren’t at all like plants.
Of all the different types of fungus, mushrooms are probably the most similar to vegetables since they typically grow in the soil and require moisture.
That’s where the similarities end, though.
For once, mushrooms don’t require sunlight to grow. In fact, they grow better in low-light conditions, such as caves, shaded forests, and rocky overhangs. They grow especially well in decaying organic material, such as fallen trees, animal feces, and the remains of dead animals.
Mushrooms are the ultimate recycling organism on our planet. Without mushrooms and fungi, there would be a lot more “trash” around us. Fungi feed off of dead matter, creating space for more life to grow and evolve.
Mushrooms also reproduce very differently than vegetables. Vegetables are grown from a seed or a root. The seed is planted in optimal soil, watered, and exposed to optimal levels of light.
Over an extended period of time (usually several months), the seed grows up through the soil, into the sunlight, and grows into full maturity, after which it’s harvested.
Mushrooms, on the other hand, reproduce through spores.
They start growing underground, forming a root structure of mycelium. Then, they push hyphae (premature mushrooms) through the surface of the dirt.
These then evolved into large fruiting mushrooms. The mushrooms reach full maturity within a couple of weeks, burst, and release spores into the air.
Spores “mate” by pairing with each other. Then, they form their own mycelium networks, and continue the cycle! You can learn more about the life cycle of mushrooms in this video:
Of course, this is far from a full explanation of the complexities of fungi. However, it should help you understand a few of the key differences between mushrooms and vegetables.
Are Mushrooms Good For A Vegan Diet?
Alright, so now that you know a little bit more about what mushrooms are and how they’re different from your everyday vegetables, let’s take a few minutes to talk about eating mushrooms.
Mushrooms are incredibly healthy for vegans. They’re a great source of natural minerals, protein, and antioxidants.
In fact, I’d argue that it’s more important for vegans to consume mushrooms than it is for non-vegans to consume mushrooms. This is because mushrooms are incredibly rich in minerals.
Vegans often become deficient in certain minerals that non-vegans easily get from meat. When your body becomes deficient, it can result in disease, pain, and other not-so-great symptoms.
Eating mushrooms is a great way to get the important minerals that your body isn’t getting from meat!
Health Benefits Of Mushrooms
Mushrooms have long been regarded as healthy and medicinal by human civilizations. Mushrooms grow all around the world and cultures throughout history have cultivated and used them since the dawn of humanity.
Some mushrooms are better suited for culinary use due to their high protein content, while others are better suited as supplements, due to their health benefits.
This brings me to my next topic – the health benefits of mushrooms!
Take a look at this visual if you’re interested in learning more about why mushrooms are so healthy for you and why you should start including them in your diet more often:
|Health Benefits of Mushrooms||Explanation|
|Rich in Antioxidants||Antioxidants are compounds that prevent (or slow) oxidation. Oxidation is the scientific term for “decay.” It’s what happens when metal rusts. It’s also what happens to our skin as we age. Therefore, antioxidants are an important part of anti-aging routines. However, they also help boost your immunity, keep your cells healthy, prevent cancer, and prevent disease!|
|High in Protein||Almost all mushroom species are relatively high in protein when compared to vegetables. This means that they’re both low-calorie and filling. As vegans, it can often be hard to get all of the protein we need in our diet without meat. So, it’s important to find plants (or in this case, fungi) that are high in protein so that we can get enough to keep our energy levels high!|
|Rich in Minerals||Since mushrooms grow in organic, nutrient-dense soil and substrate, they’re a rich source of minerals. Minerals are natural compounds found within the earth and living creatures. Many humans get a good dose of minerals every time they eat meat. Vegans don’t eat meat, so we often suffer from low mineral levels. Having the right mineral levels in our bodies is very important to stay in good health. So, by eating mineral-rich mushrooms, we’re keeping our bodies in optimal health!|
|Medicinal Benefits||Lastly, some species of mushrooms are commonly associated with amazing medicinal benefits. Scientists are still learning more about how mushrooms prevent disease. However, preliminary evidence suggests that certain species of mushrooms can prevent cancer, keep blood pressure in check, prevent heart attacks, and even prevent Alzheimer’s!|
Keep in mind, that this is just a short summary of the many health benefits of mushrooms. If you’re interested in learning more, there are tons of great resources out there! Here’s a great video to check out if you have some time and want to learn more about this amazing fungus:
Are Mushrooms A Good Meat Substitute?
Most people use mushrooms as a “side” or a topping with their food. However, mushrooms are also a great meat substitute! In fact, mushrooms are often used in vegan burgers and meat alternatives to provide protein and texture.
A single 4-calorie serving of mushrooms has around 0.6 grams of protein. If you do the math, this means that you could get around 20 grams of protein by consuming a mere 130 calories worth of mushrooms.
This means that mushrooms are up there with soy and peas, as far as the amount of protein they provide per gram. That being said, mushrooms are relatively high in fiber, so you’ll probably get full before you’re able to consume that much protein.
It takes more than protein for something to be a good meat substitute, though.
The other reason why mushrooms are a great meat substitute is that they have a naturally savory flavor. Certain species have a strong umami flavor, which is the same flavor profile you’ll find in vegan seasonings like nutritional yeast.
If you mix mushrooms down with some seasoning, lightly sear them in a pan, and mix them in with your favorite pasta, rice, or quinoa, the dish will be just as satisfying as if you ate meat.
What Are The Healthiest Mushrooms?
Here’s a quick overview of some of the healthiest species of mushrooms. Some of these are popular culinary mushrooms that can be found in your local grocery store, while others are “medicinal mushrooms” that are cultivated for their medicinal benefits and used as supplements.
1) Reishi Mushrooms
Reishi mushrooms are commonly associated with a strong immune system, so they’re a great addition to your diet! Additionally, they’ve also shown promise in combating allergy symptoms and preventing cancer!
2) Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms are native to East Asia and are commonly used in Asian cuisine. Like reishi mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms boost your white blood cell count and improve your immunity. They’re also attributed to anti-inflammatory benefits.
3) Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
In addition to their anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties, lion’s mane mushrooms are also known to provide anti-anxiety benefits. They can also help repair damaged nerve cells!
4) Chanterelle Mushrooms
Chanterelles are primarily used in the culinary world as a high-end garnish, side dish, or salad topping. They’re known for their bright orange color and are high in polysaccharides (natural fatty acids in plants). They also have anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties as well.
5) Chaga Mushrooms
Chaga mushrooms are often found in organic fitness supplements and superfood blends. These mushrooms are known for their powerful anti-inflammatory properties and are high in antioxidants as well.
Are All Mushrooms Vegan?
Technically speaking, all mushrooms are vegan. There isn’t a single species of mushrooms or fungi that is sentient or has a central nervous system.
In addition to that, mushrooms are always ethically harvested, and they’re not a crop that damages the ecosystem or contributes to greenhouse gas emissions (like soy and corn crops).
That being said, there are some vegans who don’t agree.
They argue that because certain species of mushrooms feed on the remains of dead animals, the resulting mushrooms are non-vegan. The most common species that these individuals target is the oyster mushroom.
This is because oyster mushrooms require a bit more nitrogen than other species of mushrooms.
One of the best sources of nitrogen is found in dead bodies. For this reason, oyster mushroom spores often grow close to or around the area where an animal recently died and decayed into the ground.
That being said, the logic behind certain species being non-vegan doesn’t really add up.
It would be one thing if farmers were going out of their way to kill animals to help oyster mushrooms grow. However, this isn’t the case. Oyster mushrooms only grow on dead animal remains in the wild, as the bodies represent an abundant source of nitrogen.
When cultivated by mushroom farmers, however, there’s no need for dead animal matter. Instead, they can use a soil or substrate mixture that’s naturally high in nitrogen and is animal-free!
Are “Magic” Mushrooms Vegan?
So-called “magic” mushrooms have been a huge topic in the news lately. This is due to the increasing number of studies coming out that show how psilocybin mushrooms can improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, and other severe psychological disorders.
Psilocybin is an organic compound found in magic mushrooms that can cause hallucinations. For this reason, most countries regard it as an illegal drug. However, some medical tests are being legally conducted and are showing great promise!
All of this being said, magic mushrooms are just as vegan-friendly as culinary and medicinal mushrooms. So, if you ever find yourself somewhere where magic mushrooms are legal, you shouldn’t worry about dietary restrictions.
Conclusion – Mushrooms Are Great For Plant-Based Eaters
Not only are mushrooms 100% vegan, but they’re also a great addition to any plant-based diet. They’re rich in protein, filling, delicious, and are a great source of natural minerals. Plus, some species show remarkable anti-inflammatory benefits as well.
If you’re looking for a good sauce to cook your mushrooms in, be sure to check out my list of the best vegan Worcestershire sauce alternatives to give them a flavorful kick!