Magnesium – Doesn’t Get Any Respect

Magnesium - periodic table

 

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 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 is an essential mineral that does a body good

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 it to get ‘energy’ from the food we eat.

 

People who eat more magnesium containing foods tend to have less 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.

 

People who get a lot of magnesium from their diet tend to have lower blood pressure, lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and better bones.

 

Fresh spinach leaves on a, white table

How to get more magnesium

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/day to 175-225 mg/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 more white flour products instead of 100% whole wheat
  • If you don’t eat a lot of green leafy vegetables
  • If you don’t eat many nuts, seeds, and legumes
  • If you regularly eat or drink sugar or sugary products/beverages
  • If you drink alcohol regularly [big magnesium depletion here]
  • If you take an H2 antagonist [Zantac] or proton pump inhibitor [Prevacid]
  • If you follow a calorie-restricted or high-protein, low carbohydrate diet that doesn’t include a lot of nuts, seeds, pulses [chickpeas, lentils, dried peas & beans]
  • if you have pre-diabetes or diabetes [lots of magnesium lost in urine]
  • use antibiotics like Gentamicin or Amphotericin
  • take diuretics like Lasix, Bumex, Edecrin or hydrochlorothiazide

 

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

 

Pumpkin seeds and fresh pumpkin on a table - by Doug Cook RD

 

Magnesium is abundant in unrefined whole grains products, such as 100% whole wheat bread and cereals, green vegetables (broccoli, Swiss chard, collard greens, spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts and kale etc), nuts and seeds and pulses (chickpeas, lentils, dried peas & beans). The following are a list of good food sources.

 

Food Magnesium content per 100g
Pumpkin seeds 532 mg (177mg per 1/3 cup)
Almonds 300 mg (100mg per 23 almonds)
Brazil nuts 225 mg (75mg per 8 nuts)
Peanuts (roasted) 183 mg (124mg per ½ cup)
Walnuts 158 mg (53mg per 7 walnuts)
Rice (whole grain brown) 110 mg (55mg per ½ cup cooked)
100% Whole grain bread 85 mg (about 3 slices)
Spinach 80 mg (about ½ cup cooked)
Cooked legumes 40 mg (about ½ cup cooked)
Broccoli 30 mg (about 1 cup chopped)
Banana 29 mg (1 medium)

 

Fresh spinach in a wooden bowl - by Doug Cook RD

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 100mg of magnesium.

 

A word of caution: taking more than 400mg of magnesium from supplements [but not food] can cause diarrhea – this is not something to be worried about, if this happens, just reduce the amount you’re getting from supplements.

 

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