Magnesium plays a central role in just about every bodily process, from the synthesis of DNA to the metabolism of insulin. Health benefits of magnesium cannot be understated, for low levels of this crucial mineral have even been tied to an entire laundry list of chronic conditions — like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, bone-related issues and heart disease. Thus, it goes without saying that no nutritious diet can really ever be complete without a few servings of magnesium-rich foods.
Despite the widespread availability of magnesium in the diet, the World Health Organization reports that less than 60 percent of adults in the U.S. meet the adequate intake values. Other research suggests that about two-thirds of the population does not achieve the recommended daily intake.
Fortunately, there are plenty of delicious options to help you meet your daily needs and prevent magnesium deficiency. In general, the recommended daily intake of magnesium for women is about 310–320 milligrams daily. For men, it’s about 400–420 milligrams per day. (Check out our article on magnesium supplements.)
So what are the best sources of magnesium, and how can you ensure you bet enough in your diet? Start by eating more of these 10 foods high in magnesium.
1. Wheat bran
In addition to being an excellent source of dietary fiber, wheat bran is also rich in minerals, including magnesium as well as manganese, selenium and phosphorus. It’s also low in calories and fat, while supplying a good amount of protein per serving.
One ounce (approximately 28 grams) of wheat bran contains about 171 milligrams magnesium (43 percent Daily Value, or DV). That’s nearly half of your Daily Value in one food yet only 60 calories.
Wheat bran supports your gut health by acting as a prebiotic. Prebiotics pass through the gastrointestinal tract and remain undigested because the human body isn’t able to break them down.
How do you eat wheat bran? You can find it as small flakes or in powdered form. The best way to eat bran is adding it to your everyday recipes, like yogurt parfait, hot or cold cereal, salads, soups, casseroles, and smoothies.
This gluten-free grain was a major food crop of the Aztecs, and some estimate that it was domesticated between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago. It’s becoming popular again due to its health benefits and nutrition. One cup (approximately 246 grams) of cooked amaranth grain contains about 160 milligrams of magnesium (40 percent DV).
Amaranth is a great source of protein, fiber, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and iron. For example, it provides nine grams of protein for one cup of cooked grain.
Amaranth grain is particularly high in lysine, an amino acid found in low quantities in other grains. Lysine is important for proper growth, and research shows that it plays an essential role in the production of carnitine, a nutrient responsible for converting fatty acids into energy and helping lower cholesterol.
A great way to add amaranth into your diet is to eat it for breakfast. Many people start their days with oats — try amaranth grain instead. It adds a nuttiness to your oatmeal, and it mixes perfectly with fruit and raw yogurt.
3. Spinach, cooked
Raw spinach is rich in many important nutrients, but when cooked, it becomes very rich in magnesium. How much? Try 157 milligrams of magnesium, or 39 percent DV, for one cup of cooked spinach.
The cooked spinach nutrition profile contains a more concentrated amount of several other nutrients, too. For that same one cup of cooked spinach, it possesses 889 micrograms of vitamin K (1,111 percent DV), 18,867 international units of vitamin A (377 percent DV), 1.7 milligrams of manganese (84 percent DV) and 263 micrograms of folate (66 percent DV). Meanwhile, only 41 calories. It’s a similar story for Swiss chard, cooked.
Studies suggest that vegetables such as spinach may have anti-aging properties. In fact, research shows that spinach can protect brain health from age-related diseases and even reverse existing damage that has taken place in the cerebral cortex of the brain following a stroke.
Spinach and Swiss chard work well in most dishes, including Thai, Indian and Italian cuisines. Add it in towards the end of the dish cooking time, as these hearty greens cook in under 10 minutes.
4. Sunflower seeds, dried
Sunflower seeds are the edible fruit of the sunflower plant and are a popular addition to both meals and snacks. They’re also loaded with magnesium, sporting 150 milligrams of magnesium per cup of dried sunflower seeds with the hull (37 percent DV).
Although there are relatively few calories in sunflower seeds, each serving packs in a serious punch of micronutrients like vitamin E, thiamine, manganese and copper.
Consuming seeds like sunflower seeds has been shown to help lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, two of the major risk factors for heart disease. One study showed that eating 30 grams of sunflower seeds each day led to reductions in total cholesterol, bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
They can be consumed raw, sprouted, roasted, toasted and just about any way in between. They are commonly ground into sunflower seed butter, which has become an increasingly popular alternative to other nut butters over the past decade.
5. Black beans
Considered both a carb and a protein, black beans are also high in fiber and a good source of amino acids (which form proteins). A one cup serving (about 172 grams) of cooked black beans provides approximately 120 milligrams of magnesium (30 percent DV).
Very nutrient dense, one serving of black beans also contain over 20 percent Daily Value of folate, manganese, thiamine, phosphorus and iron.
A study found that including black beans in a typical Western-style meal helps regulate release of insulin and also increases antioxidant status. Because of black beans’ ability to provide “time released” energy in the form of starches, they make an excellent carbohydrate source for anyone who has a form of resistance to insulin (the blood sugar-lowering hormone), like those who are prediabetic or who have diabetes.
Most people tend to use precooked, canned beans because the cooking time for dried beans can be a bit long. Cooking black beans from scratch requires you to plan a day ahead in order to soak the beans. However, many people feel that beans made from scratch taste the best and hold their texture more than precooked kinds.
Available both fresh and canned, mackerel is a favorite among fish lovers thanks to its versatility, flavor and incredible nutrient profile. One three-ounce serving of cooked Atlantic mackerel contains approximately 82.5 milligrams of magnesium (21 percent DV).
Mackerel fish packs in tons of protein, omega-3 fatty acids and micronutrients for a low amount of calories. In particular, mackerel is especially high in vitamin B12 (269 percent DV for one serving), selenium, niacin and phosphorus, among a range of other essential vitamins and minerals.
Importantly, mackerel fish is known for its ability to boost heart health and reduce blood pressure. One study published demonstrated that by supplementing 12 men with high blood pressure with three cans of mackerel daily for eight months, blood pressure significantly declined. Another review compiled the results of several studies and concluded that adding a few servings of mackerel into the diet per day can lead to long-term reductions in blood pressure.
Try mackerel grilled, roasted, baked or even straight out of the can as part of a tasty salad, snack, side dish or main course.
Cashews are technically seeds, as opposed to nuts, and come from a tropical tree. One ounce (about 28 grams) of raw cashews contains 81.8 milligrams of magnesium (20 percent DV).
Cashews nutrition is also rich in the minerals copper and zinc as well as plant-based protein, dietary fiber, and antioxidants in the form of phytosterols and phenolic compounds.
Studies demonstrate that cashews have beneficial effects on oxidative stress levels, inflammation and vascular/arterial activity that promotes a healthy heart.
There are countless ways to add cashews to your meals: consuming raw cashews as a healthy snack, adding them to grain-free granola or oatmeal with breakfast, having some cashew butter with fruit, throwing some into a salad, or tossing them into a healthy stir-fry.
Flaxseeds, sometimes called linseeds, have been consumed for at least 6,000 years, making them one of the world’s first cultivated superfoods. Two tablespoons of whole/unground flaxseed (considered about one serving) contains about 80 milligrams of magnesium (20 percent DV).
Overall, flaxseeds are nutritious because they’re rich in minerals, fiber, as well as anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (although not the same type found in fish). They also provide us with antioxidant substances called lignans that help promote hormonal balance in addition to several other benefits of flaxseed.
A study published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism found that adding flaxseeds into your diet can naturally reduce “bad cholesterol” levels by increasing the amount of fat excreted through bowel movements.
To reap the most health benefits, experts usually recommend ground flaxseeds instead of whole flaxseeds. They can be added to things like oatmeal, baked goods, coatings for meat, yogurt and more.
9. Almonds/almond butter
Almonds are appreciated across the globe, where they’re used in numerous ways: eaten raw as a healthy snack, as the base ingredient in almond butter and almond flour, blended into almond milk, and made into many types of body lotions, oils and fragrances.
They’re also a food high in magnesium. One ounce (28 grams) of almonds provides about 57 milligrams of magnesium (19 percent DV). In the medical world, almonds nutrition is most praised due to the presence of monounsaturated fatty acids, dietary fiber and antioxidants.
Almonds are a great source of vitamin E and other antioxidants that nourish the skin and reduce signs of aging. Research finds that almonds nutrition contains high concentrations of catechin, epicatechin and flavonol antioxidants. These compounds fight skin cancer and damage by reversing oxidative stress from a poor diet, pollution and UV light exposure.
For health benefits, the standard recommendation is to eat a small “handful,” or roughly a 1/4 cup (about 1 to 1.5 ounces), of nuts daily. If you eat almond butter, aim for about one to two tablespoons.
10. Dark chocolate
We’re not talking about just any type of chocolate but in particular dark chocolate with 70 percent to 85 percent cocoa solids. For just one ounce, it contains 63.8 milligrams of magnesium (16 percent DV).
Dark chocolate is also high in three other minerals, including 0.5 milligram manganese (27 percent DV), 0.5 milligram copper (25 percent DV) and 3.3 milligrams iron (19 percent DV).
Flavanols are the main type of flavonoid found in chocolate. According to Cleveland Clinic, research has shown that flavanols have a very positive effect on heart health by reducing blood pressure and improving blood flow to the heart as well as the brain.
Although chocolate can be a great addition to a healthy diet, it’s important to keep in mind that each serving packs in a high amount of dark chocolate calories. To avoid overindulging, it’s best to eat a little piece by itself after a solid meal or include it in a recipe.