by Rachael Link, MS, RD
Magnesium plays a central role in just about every bodily process, from the synthesis of DNA to the metabolism of insulin. Low levels of this crucial mineral have even been tied to an entire laundry list of chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s, diabetes and heart disease. It goes without saying that no nutritious diet can really ever be complete without a few servings of magnesium-rich foods.
Fortunately, there are plenty of delicious options to help you meet your daily needs and prevent magnesium deficiency. There’s a good amount of magnesium in superfoods like avocado, almonds and figs, plus several other nutritious foods as well.
Despite the widespread availability of magnesium in the diet, the World Health Organization reported that less than 60 percent of adults in the United States are meeting the adequate intake values for magnesium. (1)
So what is the best source of magnesium, and how can you ensure you’re getting enough in your diet? Here’s what you need to know about this important nutrient and its impact on your health — and the top magnesium-rich foods.
What Is Magnesium?
Magnesium is an element and mineral found throughout nature and one of the body’s electrolytes. In the body, it is the fourth most abundant mineral and is absolutely crucial to many aspects of health.
About 99 percent of your body’s total magnesium is stored in your bones, muscles and soft tissues while only about 1 percent is concentrated in the blood. Low levels of magnesium have been associated with a number of conditions and diseases, including Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, migraines, hypertension, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and heart disease. (2a)
Unfortunately, it’s possible to have a magnesium deficiency even with a healthy diet. Therefore, it’s important to ensure you’re eating plenty of magnesium foods and getting enough of this vital mineral to maintain optimal health.
Some of the best sources of magnesium are leafy greens, such as spinach of chard, but there are plenty of other foods with magnesium as well. There are even magnesium fertilizers that have been tested to increase the magnesium availability of soils, potentially helping foods with magnesium absorption. (2b)
Additionally, magnesium supplements, such as magnesium citrate, and magnesium oil are also available for those who may have a more severe magnesium deficiency.
Transdermal magnesium supplementation is another way to utilize magnesium, though research is limited on its effectiveness. What is transdermal magnesium? It’s applying magnesium in the form of magnesium chloride topically to help absorb the mineral into the skin. (2c)
Top 10 Magnesium-Rich Foods
Here the top 10 magnesium-rich foods based on magnesium content (values of mg in food from the USDA): (3)
- Spinach, cooked — 1 cup: 157 milligrams (39 percent DV)
- Swiss chard, cooked — 1 cup: 150 milligrams (38 percent DV)
- Dark Chocolate — 1 square: 95 milligrams (24 percent DV)
- Pumpkin seeds, dried — 1/8 cup: 92 milligrams (23 percent DV)
- Almonds — 1 ounce: 75 milligrams (19 percent DV)
- Black beans — 1/2 cup: 60 milligrams (15 percent DV)
- Avocado — 1 medium: 58 milligrams (15 percent DV)
- Figs, dried — 1/2 cup: 50 miligrams (13 percent DV)
- Yogurt or kefir — 1 cup: 46.5 milligrams (12 percent DV)
- Banana — 1 medium: 32 milligrams (8 percent DV)
Magnesium Benefits + Benefits of Magnesium-Rich Foods
- Alleviates PMS Symptoms
- Reduces Blood Pressure
- Boosts Performance
- Relieves Inflammation
- Prevents Migraines
- Improves Blood Sugar
- Fights Against Depression
- Enhances Sleep Quality
1. Alleviates PMS Symptoms
Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, is a group of symptoms that occur in women one to two weeks before menstruation. Symptoms can vary but typically include mood swings, weight gain, food cravings, water retention, fatigue, irritability, sore breasts and digestive issues.
Some studies have shown that magnesium may be able to help effectively reduce these symptoms. In one 2010 study, a combination of magnesium and vitamin B6 was found to significantly decrease PMS symptoms compared to a control group. (4) Another study published in the Journal of Women’s Health showed that 200 milligrams of magnesium daily helped reduce the severity of several PMS symptoms, including weight gain, swelling, bloating and breast tenderness. (5)
Next time you start to feel the cramps and bloating coming on, try loading up your diet with plenty of magnesium-rich foods to ward off symptoms. Besides upping your magnesium intake, a few other natural remedies for PMS include taking vitamin B6, chasteberry and progesterone cream.
2. Reduces Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Increased blood pressure forces your heart to work harder, which can put a strain on the heart muscle and eventually lead to heart disease.
Filling your diet with magnesium-rich foods may be able to help keep your blood pressure in check to promote better heart health. A study in Mexico even found that taking magnesium supplementation reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in adults with high blood pressure. (6)
For best results, make sure you’re getting plenty of foods high in magnesium and potassium in your diet. Upping your intake of food sources of potassium may also help regulate blood pressure by increasing the excretion of sodium through the urine. (7) Other natural ways to lower blood pressure include eating lots of fiber-rich foods, limiting your sodium intake and getting in more omega-3 fatty acids.
3. Boosts Performance
Because of its role in muscle function and energy production, magnesium is believed to have an impact on exercise performance. During strenuous exercise, it’s estimated that magnesium requirements increase by 10 percent to 20 percent. (8)
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the effects of magnesium on performance in 124 elderly women. After 12 weeks, daily supplementation with magnesium oxide was found to improve physical performance compared to a control group. (9)
Another study from Germany showed that triathletes who were given magnesium supplementation for four weeks had improvements in their swimming, cycling and running times. (10)
Besides eating plenty of magnesium-rich foods, be sure to include some of the other best foods for athletes in your diet to enhance physical performance even more.
4. Relieves Inflammation
Inflammation is a normal immune response designed to help protect the body from infection and injury. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, can actually contribute to health problems and chronic disease.
Low levels of magnesium have been linked to inflammation in several studies. A study in 2014, for example, found that both low magnesium intake and low levels of magnesium in the blood were associated with higher levels of markers of inflammation. (11)
Meanwhile, increasing your intake of magnesium has been shown to decrease inflammation. A study published in the Archives of Medical Research showed that taking magnesium chloride was able to reduce levels of inflammation in 62 adults with prediabetes. (12)
It’s no surprise that many foods high in magnesium make the list of top anti-inflammatory foods as well. Most of these foods also contain beneficial antioxidants and phytonutrients that can help keep inflammation at bay.
5. Prevents Migraines
Migraines are a type of headache disorder characterized by migraine symptoms like nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and a severe throbbing pain. This debilitating condition is also incredibly common. In 2012, an estimated 14 percent of American adults reported suffering from migraines in the past three months. (13)
Low levels of magnesium may contribute to migraines, and some studies have found that magnesium supplementation could even reduce migraine frequency.
One study measured the effects of magnesium supplementation in 86 children with frequent migraines. Children received either a magnesium oxide supplement or a placebo for 16 weeks. At the end of the study, those who took magnesium had significantly less headache frequency and lower headache severity compared to the placebo group. (14) Another study found that magnesium was more effective and fast-acting in providing migraine relief than a common medication. (15)
In addition to including plenty of magnesium-rich foods in your diet, following a well-rounded diet and minimizing your intake of refined sugars and processed meats can also help you get rid of a migraine.
6. Improves Blood Sugar
Some studies have found that taking a magnesium supplement benefits your blood sugar and can even prevent insulin resistance.
Insulin is the hormone responsible for transporting sugar (glucose) from the blood to the tissues to be used as fuel. If you consistently eat lots of carbs and refined sugar, you will produce more and more insulin as your body tries to keep up with the increased demand. Sustaining high levels of insulin for long periods of time can cause insulin resistance, decreasing its ability to shuttle glucose effectively, resulting in high blood sugar.
A study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that oral magnesium supplementation improved insulin sensitivity and reduced blood sugar levels in diabetic patients with low magnesium levels. (16)
Additional research has found that magnesium could protect against diabetes. One study followed 4,497 participants for 20 years and found that those with the highest intake of magnesium were 47 percent less likely to develop diabetes. (17)
Other ways to help maintain normal blood sugar include getting in plenty of physical activity, managing your stress levels, filling up on fiber and protein, and keeping your carb intake in check.
7. Fights Against Depression
Magnesium has potent mood-boosting properties and can help fight against depression. In fact, some studies have even found that a low intake could be associated with an increased risk of depression. In one study, young adults with the lowest intake of magnesium were at a 22 percent greater risk of developing depression. (18)
Fascinatingly, some research has even found that magnesium could be as effective as antidepressants in treating depression. One study published in Magnesium Research compared the effects of magnesium supplementation with an antidepressant medication and found that magnesium supplements were equally effective in the treatment of depression. (19) Another recent study in 2017 found that magnesium supplementation significantly improved symptoms of both depression and anxiety after just six weeks. (20)
Combine magnesium with other natural remedies for depression, such as eating lots of probiotic-rich foods, getting in plenty of vitamin D, and minimizing your intake of refined carbs and sugar.
8. Enhances Sleep Quality
If you suffer from insomnia and counting sheep just isn’t doing the trick, you may want to consider increasing your intake of magnesium-rich foods. Research has shown that there may be a connection between magnesium and sleep, with some studies showing that magnesium supplementation could help reduce insomnia.
One study out of Iran showed that taking a magnesium supplement reduced insomnia severity, increased sleep time and decreased the amount of time needed to fall asleep in 46 elderly participants. (21) Another study found that a supplement containing a mix of magnesium, melatonin and zinc improved sleep quality in residents at a long-term care facility. (22)
Be sure to pair magnesium with other natural insomnia-busters and natural sleep aids like calcium, essential oils and valerian root to maximize results.
Why Your Body Needs Magnesium
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals when it comes to maintaining optimal health. In fact, magnesium is involved in more than 300 reactions in the body and is needed for many important bodily functions, including:
- DNA synthesis
- Muscle contractions
- Blood pressure regulation
- Protein synthesis
- Insulin metabolism
- Nerve transmission
Magnesium deficiency has been linked to a number of health conditions, such as heart disease, migraines, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Eating plenty of foods rich in magnesium is key to keeping your magnesium levels up and minimizing your risk of adverse side effects. For men, it’s recommended to get 400–420 milligrams per day, and women need 310–320 milligrams daily. (23)
Magnesium-Rich Foods Recipes
Getting your daily dose of magnesium doesn’t have to be difficult. By incorporating a few servings of magnesium foods each day, you can easily reap the benefits of this essential mineral and prevent deficiency. Here are a few recipes using magnesium-rich foods that a dietitian would approve to get you started:
- Strawberry Spinach Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing
- Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Bites
- Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
- Garlicky Swiss Chard and Chickpeas
- Avocado Chocolate Mousse
Other foods to incorporate that provide dietary magnesium include edamame, raisins, cashews and the top 10 foods listed above containing magnesium.
Magnesium was first isolated by English scientist Sir Humphrey Davy in 1808. It is named after Magnesia, a district in Thessaly, Greece, and is closely related to the minerals magnetite and manganese.
Not only is magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body, but it’s also the seventh most abundant element in the crust of the Earth and the eighth most abundant element in the entire universe.
There are many different forms of magnesium, making this an incredibly versatile mineral. It can be combined with water to form milk of magnesia, an antacid and laxative, or made into epsom salt, which has been used for hundreds of years to soothe aches and pains.
Plus, magnesium falls just behind iron and aluminum as the most commonly used structural metal. It has been used to construct everything from aircrafts to automobiles to electronics and more.
Interestingly enough, despite how widespread magnesium is, its pure form is not found in nature as it readily reacts with other elements.
If you’re getting your magnesium from food sources, you don’t need to worry about any magnesium side effects from eating too much. Excess magnesium from food is simply filtered by the kidneys and excreted through the urine.
High doses of magnesium supplements, on the other hand, can cause adverse side effects like diarrhea, nausea and abdominal cramping. Extremely high doses can lead to a magnesium overdose and magnesium toxicity. The tolerable upper intake level for supplemental magnesium is 350 milligrams per day for those above the age of nine. Stick to the recommended magnesium dosage to sidestep negative effects on health.
Supplemental magnesium may also have some interactions with certain types of medications. Magnesium can attach to tetracyclines, a type of antibiotic, and decrease their effectiveness. Take these antibiotics at least two hours before or four to six hours after a magnesium-containing supplement.
Magnesium supplements may also lower blood pressure and relax the muscles. If you’re taking a medication for high blood pressure or a muscle relaxant, talk to your doctor before taking a magnesium supplement as it may alter the effects of these medications.
- Magnesium is an important mineral involved in many aspects of health. Low levels have been linked to several conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease and diabetes.
- There are plenty of magnesium-rich foods to help you meet your daily needs. There is a good amount of magnesium in spinach, Swiss chard, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds and more.
- Getting enough magnesium in your diet from magnesium food sources may come with a host of health benefits, from alleviating symptoms of PMS to fighting depression and improving sleep quality.
- Ideally, try getting as much magnesium as possible from real foods instead of supplements unless you have a severe deficiency. Magnesium-rich foods also supply other important nutrients that can help you optimize your health.
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