Nutritional Deficiencies: Filling the Gaps in Your Diet
There’s a problem lurking that is affecting your body, but -- chances are -- you’re not even aware that you’re at risk. Nutritional deficiencies are a growing problem for even the “apparently healthy” which is causing a variety of problems. And for many people, it has nothing to do with your diet.
You might think nutritional deficiencies are something that happens “over there”—in other countries, to those that are malnourished, or for anyone that don’t access to healthy food. While an unhealthy diet is one of the primary causes of nutrient deficiencies, it’s certainly not the only one. A variety of chronic health conditions, certain medications, persistent stress, and a host of other risk factors can make it more difficult for people to absorb the nutrients they need and increase people’s chances of developing deficiencies of essential vitamins or minerals.
Nutritional deficiencies are common across the entire world. In addition to all the “lifestyle” risk factors, your diet is a big contributing factor, too. The standard American diet is known for being light on essential nutrients. That’s because most people aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables to properly outfit their body with the nutrition they need for optimal health.
Why does this matter? Because even mild insufficiencies of important vitamins and minerals can interfere with your body’s healthy functioning. Your bodies feel these deficiencies quickly because your cells are programmed to work with the help of essential nutrients. When your body doesn’t get enough of these nutrients, your most critical bodily functions (including nerve signaling, digestion, and enzyme function) are impacted in a negative way. And -- if you experience deficiencies over the long haul -- it can negatively affect virtually every aspect of your body’s development and functioning.
Do we have your attention yet? Good. Because the fix isn’t overly difficult, and it can have a big impact on fixing your overall health.
Nutritional Deficiencies: The Most Common Mistake
If the news about nutritional deficiencies makes you want to go out and buy up all the vitamin and mineral supplements in sight, you’re not alone. More than 68 percent of American adults utilize dietary supplements in the hopes of giving their bodies a nutritional boost.
These purchases are well intentioned, but there’s just one problem: Many of the dietary supplements lining grocery store and pharmacy shelves are of the synthetic variety, and these supplements may not be as healthful as they claim. That’s largely because many of them use potentially harmful additives, include unhealthy levels of certain nutrients, aren’t properly absorbed by the body, and lack regulatory oversight. (This this covered in more detail in this blog post and in the book, Healing Mushrooms: A Practical and Culinary Guide to Using Mushrooms for Whole Body Health.)
If synthetic supplements aren’t going to provide the nutritional boost you seek, you’re left with deriving your vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat. While this wouldn’t be a problem if we all lived on our own organic farms, the reality is you don’t have the time or resources to prepare three square meals that are packed with produce every day of the week. You need a nutritional boost that is safe, reliable, and efficient—and that’s where mushroom nutrition comes in.
Functional mushroom are nutritional powerhouses that boast a number of benefits, from boosting the immune system to improving brain health, helping heart health, reducing stress, improving gut health, and protect against a variety of illnesses. In a world of “quick fixes” and failed supplement promises, mushrooms are a bonafide superfood with thousands of studies backing up their functional abilities.
In the next section, we’ll detail some of the most common nutrient deficiencies. Rather than freaking out, keep in mind there’s a safe and effective way to protect yourself against these nutritional deficiencies and give your body an extra boost—and it lies in the power of mushroom nutrition.
Common Nutrient Deficiencies—and How Mushrooms Can Help
Deficiency: B Vitamins
B vitamins include nutrients such as biotin, choline, folate, niacin, pantothenic acid, and riboflavin, all of which are essential for a vast number of bodily functions. These include maintaining the immune system, sustaining metabolic processes, establishing proper brain functioning, regulating energy levels, and maintaining the proper functionality of the entire nervous system. In other words? These are vitamins no person should go without!
Nevertheless, people can develop different B vitamin deficiencies for a number of reasons. For example:
- People with kidney disease, autoimmune conditions, or a propensity for high levels of alcohol consumption are at an increased for vitamin B6 deficiency
- Vitamin B12 deficiencies (which affect up to a one in four American adults) are common among vegans, people who have undergone weight loss surgery, people with disorders that affect the gut (such as Crohn’s disease), endurance athletes, heavy drinkers, people who take antidepressants, and women who use oral contraceptives
- Choline deficiencies are common among people who don’t consume animal products
- Elderly people are more prone to B vitamin deficiencies because they tend to have lower levels of stomach acid, which is necessary in order for B vitamins to be absorbed into the gut
Signs of vitamin B deficiencies include rashes and other skin issues, confusion or brain fog, depression, difficulty balancing, fatigue, mood swings, and numbness and/or weakness in the extremities.
How Mushrooms Can Help
Most functional mushrooms are packed with B vitamins, but two varieties warrant special call-outs for their high vitamin B content. Oyster mushrooms contain a variety of B vitamins, especially B6. As a result, they’ve been linked to healthier sleep, greater relaxation, and improved mood. Enoki mushrooms boast high levels of folate, niacin, and riboflavin. In fact, just one cup of these raw white mushrooms is packed with a whopping 23 percent of the RDA for niacin.
You can also enjoy an extra defense against the side effects of vitamin B deficiency through the consumption of cordyceps, reishi, and lion’s mane mushrooms. Cordyceps are powerhouses when it comes to providing a sustained source of energy, reducing fatigue, and maintaining physical stamina. Reishi can help bring balance to the immune and nervous systems. And lion’s mane mushrooms can protect the nervous system and may support brain health.
Iron never fails to make an appearance on lists of common nutrient deficiencies. In fact, approximately 25 percent of the world’s population suffers from iron deficiency. That number rises to 30 percent among menstruating women and 42 percent among young pregnant women. Iron deficiency is also particularly common among vegetarians, vegans, and children.
Experiencing iron deficiency is bad news because iron is critical for transporting oxygen throughout the body, regulating cell growth, synthesizing hormones, and producing new blood cells, among other functions. Given these benefits, it’s probably not surprising to learn that even a mild iron deficiency can result in anemia, fatigue, headaches, dull skin, weakness, anxiety and/or irritability, impaired immune function, diminished brain function, shortness of breath, and a greater mortality risk overall.
How Mushrooms Can Help
Mushrooms are particularly well known for their high iron content, which explains why these meaty ‘shrooms have been linked to increased immunity, improved skin quality, healthier joints and muscles, and more positive mood.
You can further buffer your body against the effects of iron deficiency through the consumption of cordyceps and reishi, which supports cellular processes, and helps your body produce its own energy and build stamina.
This powerful mineral plays a role in sustaining proper function of the cells, digestive system, muscles, organs (especially the heart and kidneys), tissues, and hormonal system. Potassium also helps conduct other essential nutrients throughout the body, including calcium and magnesium.
Potassium deficiency can result from excess sweating, diarrhea, vomiting, the use of antibiotics, and a variety of chronic health conditions including eating disorders and kidney disease. Signs of deficiency include skin issues, weakness, fatigue, depression, nausea, edema, insomnia, heart palpitations, weight loss, anxiety, a range of digestive issues, and cramping, tingling, or numbness in the arms and/or legs.
How Mushrooms Can Help
Mushrooms are also a stellar source of potassium, so it makes sense that they’ve proven especially beneficial to the cardiovascular and digestive systems. They’ve been shown to lower “bad” cholesterol, improve blood circulation, and assist with healthy digestion. These powerful ‘shrooms have also been shown to improve skin health, and provide nutrients that protect against inflammation and support immunity.
You can amplify the benefits of potassium with several other mushroom varieties. Chaga supports healthy skin and hair; and reishi contains powerful compounds that can bolster heart health.
This mineral is important for maintaining healthy metabolic functioning, boosting immunity, reducing inflammation, and sustaining healthy reproductive functioning. In the process, selenium may reduce the risk of a variety of autoimmune and thyroid diseases as well as various cancers.
It’s unusual for American adults to suffer from severe selenium deficiencies, but slight deficiencies are quite common. That matters, because even minor selenium insufficiencies can produce a range of symptoms consistent with hypothyroidism, including fatigue, cold sensitivity, dry skin, weight gain, muscle aches and weakness, joint swelling or stiffness, depression, thinning hair, and elevated blood cholesterol levels.
There are several reasons these symptoms might crop up. For starters, many people simply don’t consume enough selenium in their diets. This is compounded by the fact that soils across the U.S. are being depleted by unsustainable farming practices, which is stripping these soils of selenium and many other nutrients. This means the foods we eat don’t contain as much selenium as they would if they were grown in healthier soils. Finally, some gut disorders such as Crohn’s and celiac diseases and ulcerative colitis can inhibit the body’s ability to absorb selenium even when it’s present in food.
How Mushrooms Can Help
In general, functional mushrooms are packed with selenium, but shiitake mushrooms are arguably the star of the selenium show: Just ½ cup of shiitake provides 33 percent of the RDA for selenium. This helps explain why shiitake mushrooms have been linked to lowered cholesterol, reduced inflammation, and improved immunity.
Chaga and reishi mushrooms can also bolster many of the benefits of selenium. Chaga does this by supporting healthy skin and hair, and providing an immune system support thanks to its high antioxidant properties.
Deficiency: Vitamin D
Americans are spending less time outside, and that means more of us are at risk for vitamin D deficiency. In fact, avoiding time in the great outdoors and/or using topical sunscreens every time you go outside (which prevents your body from utilizing the sun’s rays to produce vitamin D) are two of the primary causes of vitamin D deficiency. This deficiency is also common among the elderly, people with darker skin, people who live in northern climates, obese people, people with Crohn’s or celiac disease, and the general population during the winter months.
Because many people fall into one or more of these categories, over 40 percent of the American population is suffering from a deficiency of vitamin D. Signs of this deficiency include bone pain, low mood, muscle weakness or fatigue, and a poorly functioning immune system. This makes sense when you consider that some of the primary benefits of adequate vitamin D consumption include stronger bones, better mood, higher energy, and increased immunity. The nutrient is so important that some researchers believe the current RDA for vitamin D is underestimated by a whopping factor of ten.
How Mushrooms Can Help
A wide range of mushrooms contain high levels of vitamin D, but tremella deserves special consideration here. That’s because this mushroom species contains more vitamin D than any other known single food source. (Yes, you read that right!) So it probably comes as no surprise that it’s been shown to protect against free radicals and boost immunity.
Still, tremella isn’t the only mushroom that warrants a mention here. Chaga can offer immune function support that helps complement the role of vitamin D in the body; cordyceps are an energy builders; and reishi can reduce occasional stress and promoting better quality sleep.
Once you begin to understand the benefits of mushroom nutrition, vitamin and mineral deficiencies start to seem a lot less scary. If you’re concerned about any of these deficiencies symptoms, there’s undoubtedly a mushroom variety (or several) that can help get your body back to its best.