Ever wondered if edible mushrooms are classified as vegetarian food or otherwise? I have! And I have always received conflicting answers from my friends. I have seen some of my vegetarian friends eating a big bowl of mushroom Manchurian without any problem. And I am talking about the ones that avoid even eggs. But at the same time, we all know that mushroom is a type of fungi that is associated more with the animal kingdom. Also, mushrooms have that fleshy texture that reminds us of meat. So, I decided to look into the delicious mushroom family, and in due course, bring out the health facts and nutrient information about it.
It is common knowledge that not all mushrooms are edible. There are several thousand types of mushrooms, out of which around a dozen are produced commercially and consumed widely. People have consumed the visibly large fungi for ages. There is strong evidence for the consumption of mushrooms in ancient Chinese, Roman, and Greek civilizations. In China, mushrooms were widely used for their medicinal properties. In European cultures, the mushroom was a delicacy of the rich and the powerful. Among the American tribes, hallucinogenic mushrooms were present during their rituals – both spiritual and recreational. As time passed by, people started consuming mushrooms for their nutritional value. But, not all of these macro-fungi are edible. Some are poisonous, and some are even lethal on intake. So, it is very important to know what type of mushroom you are eating. Wild mushrooms consumption should be done only under supervision. To be honest, it is best to avoid endeavoring to consume wild mushrooms. Even commercially available mushrooms might be allergic to some people. Some mushrooms grown for mass consumption are: button mushroom, beefsteak fungus, cauliflower mushroom, oyster mushroom, lobster mushroom, portobello mushroom, shiitake mushroom, truffle, etc.
Health Benefits Of Mushrooms
Rich in Vitamins: B vitamins are crucial for the overall health of the body. Mushrooms have B vitamins like riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and niacin. Riboflavin is required for the active transfer of oxygen to cells through blood. Meanwhile, pantothenic acid breaks down and converts fats, carbs, and protein into energy. B vitamins also contribute to the healthy functioning of the nervous system. Also, mushrooms produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight or even UV light in underground farms. Therefore, naturally, it is a very good source of vitamin D. Vitamin D regulates the availability of minerals and also helps in maintaining bone structure. Vitamin D is crucial in fighting inflammatory diseases. According to Spanish government reports, more than 80% of COVID19 patients admitted to hospitals were vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D has the capability to lower the risk of pneumonia. It decreases the number of inflammatory cytokines that cause a burden to your immune system. So, try having vitamin D rich foods like mushrooms, especially during the pandemic.
Good Mineral Source: Mushrooms are good storage capsules for numerous minerals that are required by the human body. Copper is one of the minerals available in mushrooms, which aids in the production of red blood cells. Fresh oxygen is delivered all over the body with the help of red blood cells. Potassium is another mineral available in mushrooms abundantly. It is responsible for the growth of nerves and muscles. It is good for heart function as well. Mushrooms contain a rare mineral called selenium. It acts as an antioxidant and protects body cells from the damaging effects of aging. This also boosts the immunity in our bodies.
Light Nourishment: Mushrooms are light on our stomach but nourishes our body with dietary fibers like beta-glucan. It is present in fungi like shiitake mushrooms and oyster mushrooms. Beta-glucan does a good job of controlling blood sugar levels. Therefore, it is good for people with diabetes. With essentially nil fat content, mushrooms help in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. It also paves the way for active metabolism.
Reduces Hypertension: Why do junk foods taste better? What makes them “tasty”? When you look at the ingredients list behind your favorite potato chips or instant noodles packaging, you will find it has enormous amounts of salt and taste enhancers. So, when you munch on junk food regularly, you are consuming lots of salt. This, in due time, leads to health issues like hypertension and obesity. As stated earlier, mushrooms do not have fat content. Likewise, these fungi have a compound for replacing salt called glutamate ribonucleotides. Added to that, they have very low sodium content in it. This establishes that mushrooms are naturally a bit salty in flavor but do not have the disadvantages of salt.
Supplies Rare Antioxidants: Compounds that prevent cell damage in our body are termed antioxidants. Mushrooms contain antioxidants like ergothioneine and glutathione, which have important physiological functions. They decrease the strain invoked on our mind and body. Research reveals that mushrooms’ regular consumption will reduce the risks of brain damage and prevent diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. These antioxidants stop the growth of tumorous cells and fight cancer.
Why Meat Substitute?
Firstly, we need to address why we need a meat substitute. There are umpteen reasons why people are avoiding meat. I will list out a few here.
Veganism: A large chunk of people are converting to a trend of following just a plant-based diet, even avoiding dairy products. To be fair, it is not a newly invented trend. Veganism has been followed by millions for several decades. We do not have to get into the politics of veganism right now. But people who recently started to follow veganism find it difficult to avoid meat. Vegans do not eat food made from any sentient creature. Mushroom, with its fleshy and juicy texture, will act temporarily to suppress the temptation and craving for animal meat.
Vegetarian Culture: Lifelong vegetarians will not have tasted meat and might be repulsive to the thought of eating an animal. For instance, in a country like India, where there is a substantial percentage of the vegetarian population, mushrooms can fill the gap. There are some conservative vegetarians who will even avoid eating mushrooms as they consider fungi to be more along with the animal kingdom. But the truth is fungi are non-sentient, which means they do not have a central nervous system and do not experience life and pain. They generate their own energy through photosynthesis. This makes for a good argument to consume mushrooms without any guilt.
Food Allergy: There are people who have an allergy to certain ingredients. Seafood allergy is one of the most common food allergies. Alpha-gal syndrome is a food allergy to meat such as beef, pork, mutton, etc. They find mushrooms to be an effective solution, not just as a meat substitute. The antioxidants in the shrooms combats the enzymes causing some allergies. Nevertheless, remember edible mushrooms could be allergic to many.
Environmentalists: People concerned with our environment also raise the question about meat consumption. The meat industry is a major contributor to global warming because of greenhouse gas emissions. Commercial mushrooms are grown in dark farms and are environmentally friendly. So, these are just some of the popular reasons for people to give up meat and look for substitutes.
Is Mushroom a Worthy Meat Substitute?
Lab-grown meat is a billion-dollar idea, and there are some amazing startups like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, etc., who have done exceptional business. These artificial meats are made from plants like peas, soy, beans, coconut oil, beetroot, and so on. New innovations are made from time to time. Mushrooms are used as an active ingredient in Emergy Foods’ newest plant-based steak. The alt-meat movement and the suddenly upcoming startups are not new to employ mushrooms as a meat substitute. But the fact is, people have been consciously consuming mushrooms as a meat replacement for ages. Centuries ago, when tribal hunters found it difficult to find a wild boar during winter, edible mushrooms found under the bark of trees were considered to be lifesavers. The umami flavor rendered by dried shiitake mushrooms is matchless. The texture, taste, nutrition provided by mushrooms should definitely be taken into account. Of course, the mushrooms cannot compete with meat in terms of available protein or iron. But they serve as a nutritious, belly-filling substitute with a low-calorie count. This will be deemed as worthy by many. Go on and add a handful of sautéed mushrooms to your next breakfast plate or prepare a rich mushroom cream soup to comfort yourself!