By Ginger Hultin, MS RDN CSO
Magnesium is a mineral gaining a lot of attention lately and for good reason. Involved in hundreds of processes in the body, it is an essential mineral critical for muscles to work properly, including the heart. Magnesium is a part of key enzymes, or chemicals in the body that help regulate energy within the cells. It is also an important nutrient for bone and nerve health. Magnesium is a major player; it exists in the body in significant amounts until some other minerals. Read on to learn more about this important mineral crucial for human health to be sure you’re getting enough.
The minimum recommended daily allowance for magnesium is 310-320 milligrams (mg) for women and 400-420 mg for men. If you eat a whole-foods based diet rich in unprocessed, fresh food you are likely getting enough but many Americans aren’t meeting their needs due to a low-quality, highly processed diet. For example, whole wheat is rich in magnesium but when it is processed, the germ and bran are removed leaving white flour for crackers, bread, pasta and baked goods devoid of this important mineral.
Magnesium is found mostly within the cells, muscles and bones, not floating around in the blood so getting a blood test isn’t always the best way to determine if you’re getting enough. A number of medications and diseases, especially of the gut, compromise magnesium absorption. It is not uncommon for people living in the U.S. to be low in magnesium; certain groups are more likely to experience low levels including women and the elderly.
Magnesium comes in many supplemental forms aside from being found in food. In a variety of over-the-counter products, you can choose from magnesium citrate, oxide, glycinate or chloride in powders and pills. Keep in mind that one side effect of magnesium supplementation is loose stools. Use caution in those with impaired kidney function and also monitor blood pressure magnesium supplementation can lead to low blood pressure and disturbances in heart rhythm with high dosing. Before supplementing, be sure to discuss with your doctor for proper dosing, safety and to be sure it won’t interact with any of your medications or other supplements and won’t be interfering with any lab testing. When in doubt, focus on the many food sources of magnesium which are also packed with fiber, vitamins, other minerals and antioxidants.
Foods Richest in Magnesium
Magnesium is plentiful in a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Toxic effects have not been identified from eating food sources rich in magnesium, so if you love these healthy foods, no need to hold back. Meet your 300-400mg daily intake by including the following foods in your diet:
Beans: antioxidant rich black beans offer 120mg of magnesium in 1 cup. Serve vegetarian black bean tacos, make black bean brownies (double bonus because cocoa is so rich in magnesium!), or sprinkle on a salad for added protein and fiber.
- Whole grains: a variety of whole grains are rich in magnesium. ¾ cup quinoa offers 118 mg magnesium and 1 cup of brown rice contains over 80 mg.
Nuts: cashews are particularly rich in magnesium; just ¼ cup, you get 117 mg magnesium. Add cashews to stir fry dishes or grind into a creamy cashew butter to spread on fresh fruit.
- Seeds: 1 ounce of pumpkin seeds contain 150 mg of magnesium! Use them year round in trail mix or added to cereal or salads for a magnesium punch to your meals.
- Spinach: 1 cup of spinach provides 156 mg of magnesium. Vegetables like spinach and broccoli are rich in magnesium because it is part of the chlorophyll molecule – the compound that makes plants green. Add spinach to any salad, omelet, or smoothie for a boost of magnesium and other health benefits.
Chocolate: one of the most magnesium rich foods, 1 gram of cocoa contains 140mg of magnesium. Blend cocoa powder into smoothies, yogurt, or chia pudding for a non-dessert incorporation of this delicious food.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Magnesium. http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/magnesium. Published 1/31/14. Accessed 5/4/16.
Higdon, J. Linus Pauling Institute. Magnesium. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/magnesium. Published 2001. Accessed 5/4/16.
Natural Medicines Database. Magnesium. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=998. Updated 2/24/2016. Accessed 5/6/2016
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Prevents and repairs oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals.
Support the body’s resistance to infection and strengthen immune vigilance and response.
Improves mood, memory, and focus.
Reduces risk factors for common degenerative and age-related diseases.