Magnesium. The Mighty Mineral That Doesn't Get Any Respect


( Magnesium is the fourth most common mineral in the body after calcium, potassium and sodium. You’d think being in the top four, magnesium would get some attention when it comes to health and well-being as much as calcium does for example. But despite it’s importance, not many people could say why getting enough magnesium is important, nor name a good food source, of this essential mineral that gets no respect

Magnesium - an essential nutrient that wears many hats

Magnesium plays a number of roles in the body, being involved in more than 325 different metabolic reactions which means it’s in high demand. It helps the body to metabolize fat, protein and carbohydrate enabling our cells to get ‘energy’ from the food we eat. People who eat more magnesium containing foods tend to have less prediabetes [insulin resistance] and diabetes. It aids in the proper functioning of your genes, DNA synthesis and for cell replication (your body’s cells are constantly being renewed). Magnesium helps to both relax and contract your muscles which is very important for those who exercise and, especially so for athletes.

Magnesium helps different types of muscles including your heart and blood vessels and it’s very important in bone health by helping calcium and phosphorus to be used to make a strong skeleton. Magnesium is needed to help convert vitamin D into its active form; without enough magnesium, vitamin D can't do all of the amazing things it's meant to do when it comes to reducing the risk for chronic disease. People who get a lot of magnesium from their diet tend to have lower blood pressure, lower rates of heart disease, stroke, muscle aches, migraines, depression, chronic fatigue, insomnia, asthma and allergies.

How much do we need for optimal health?

Despite magnesium’s vital role in health, most people aren’t getting enough from the foods that they eat. Based on analysis of dietary intakes, it’s estimated that people in Western societies are getting less than half of those recorded 100 years ago from about 500 mg per day to 175-250 mg per day, and magnesium intake is still falling. This is due primarily because our modern diets are highly processed and refined. To make matters worse, research is suggesting that the amount of magnesium required for optimum health has been underestimated in the past. While there isn’t an easy test to determine magnesium status (i.e. a blood test), there are some nutritional risk factors and eating habits that are associated with low magnesium intake:

  • If you eat a lot of refined white flour products instead of 100% whole grain products including wheat & oatbran
  • If you don’t eat a lot of green vegetables and dark green leafy vegetables
  • If you don’t eat many nuts, seeds, and pulses: chickpeas, lentils, dried peas & beans
  • If you regularly eat or drink sugar or sugar-sweetened foods and beverages
  • If you drink alcohol regularly
  • If you follow a calorie-restricted
  • If you take antacids like H2 [stomach acid] antagonists [Zantac] or proton pump inhibitors [Prevacid]
  • If you have a digestive health related issue like Crohn's, ulcerative colitis or Celiac disease
  • If you have pre-diabetes or diabetes [due to increased loss of magnesium in the urine]
  • Use the antibiotics Gentamicin or Amphotericin
  • If you're taking diuretics such as Lasix, Bumex, Edecrin or hydrochlorothiazide
  • Are an older adult due to a decreased absorption and decreased dietary intake of magnesium

How much do you need?

Age Women Men
14 - 18 360 mg 410 mg
19 - 30 310 mg  400 mg 
31+ 320 mg  420 mg

Magnesium is abundant in unrefined whole grains products, such as 100% whole wheat bread and cereals, green leafy vegetables (spinach and kale), nuts and seeds and pulses (lentils, chick peas, dried beans & peas). The following is a list of a few good food sources of magnesium

Food Magnesium content
Pumpkin seeds 177 mg per 1/3 cup
Spinach 157 mg per 1 cup, cooked
Black & white beans 110 - 135 mg per cup, cooked
Teff 126 mg per 1/2 cup, cooked
Quinoa 118 mg per 1/2 cup, cooked
Soybeans 108 mg per 1 cup, cooked
Artichoke 100 mg per 1 cup
Halibut 100 mg per 3.5 oz
Almonds 70 mg per 23 nuts
Walnuts 55 per 7 nuts
Brown rice 55 per 1/2 cup, cooked

What’s the bottom line?

Given the potential for sub-optimal magnesium intake, anyone not already doing so should make a conscious effort to eat more magnesium-rich foods every day. Even simple changes like eating more 100% whole grain products and boosting your intake of nuts and seeds can make a big impact. In addition to eating more magnesium rich foods, reach for a multivitamin/mineral – look for one with at least 100 mg of magnesium or take additional magnesium, my favourite brand is Natural Calm. A word of caution: taking more than 400 mg of magnesium from supplements [but not food] can cause soft to loose stooles – this is not something to be worried about, if this happens, it means you're just over your ideal magnesium requirement - just reduce the amount you’re getting from supplements.

For more information, check out the website Magnesium Rich Foods and Nutritional Magnesium and The Office of Dietary Supplements - Magnesium

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HealthCastle, founded in 1997, is the largest online nutrition community run by Registered Dietitians. Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or dietitian. Information and statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.