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, 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.
Fortunately, there are plenty of delicious options to help you meet your daily needs and prevent magnesium deficiency. There’s a good amount of this nutrient in superfoods like such as leafy greens, avocado, bananas and potatoes — along with some nuts, beans and grains — and the list of magnesium-rich foods doesn’t end there.
Despite the widespread availability of magnesium in the diet, the World Health Organization reports that less than 60 percent of adults in the United States meet the adequate intake values. Other research suggests that about two-thirds of the population does not achieve the recommended daily intake.
So what are the best sources of magnesium, and how can you ensure you bet enough in your diet? Here’s what you need to know about this important nutrient and its impact on your health — as well as the top magnesium-rich foods to consume.
What Is Magnesium?
Magnesium is an element and mineral found throughout nature and one of the body’s electrolytes. 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.
In the body, it is the fourth most abundant mineral and a cofactor to hundreds of enzyme systems, affecting muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, blood pressure regulation, and more.
What are the symptoms of low magnesium in the body?
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.
Symptoms and conditions tied to low intake of this electrolyte include:
- kidney and liver damage
- migraine headaches
- nutrient deficiencies, including vitamin K, vitamin B1, calcium and potassium
- restless leg syndrome
- worsened PMS symptoms
- behavioral disorders and mood swings
- insomnia and trouble sleeping
- weak bones and potentially osteoporosis
- recurrent bacterial or fungal infections due to low levels of nitric oxide or a depressed immune system
- tooth cavities
- muscle weakness and cramps
- eclampsia and preeclampsia
Unfortunately, it’s possible to have a magnesium deficiency even with a healthy diet. Therefore, it’s important to ensure you eat plenty of nutrient-dense, magnesium-rich foods that boost your daily intake.
What is magnesium good for? It’s one of the most important nutrients when it comes to maintaining optimal health.
In fact, it is involved in more than 300 reactions in the body and needed for many important bodily functions. Magnesium benefits include supporting:
- DNA synthesis
- Muscle contractions
- Blood pressure regulation
- Protein synthesis
- Insulin metabolism
- Nerve transmission
Here’s a bit more about the many roles and benefits that this electrolyte has:
1. Can Help Alleviate PMS Symptoms
Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, is a group of symptoms that occurs 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 study, a combination of magnesium and vitamin B6 was found to significantly decrease PMS symptoms compared to a control group.
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.
2. Supports Healthy Blood Pressure and Heart Health
A 2018 review states, “Subclinical magnesium deficiency increases the risk of numerous types of cardiovascular disease,” including coronary artery disease and hypertension.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It 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, as well as those high in potassium, may be able to help promote better heart health and normal blood pressure levels.
One study even found evidence that supplementing with magnesium reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in adults with hypertension.
Keep in mind that potassium is another important electrolyte for heart health and circulation because it increases the excretion of sodium through the urine.
3. May Help Boost Physical Performance
Because of its role in muscle function and energy production, this electrolyte is believed to have an impact on exercise performance. During strenuous exercise, it’s estimated that requirements increase by 10 percent to 20 percent.
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.
Another study demonstrated that triathletes who were given magnesium supplements for four weeks had improvements in their swimming, cycling and running times.
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. Helps Control Inflammation
Low levels of magnesium have been linked to higher levels of inflammation in several studies. A study in 2014, for example, found that both low magnesium intake and low levels in the blood were associated with higher levels of markers of low-grade chronic inflammation, which is believed to be due to increased release of cytokines and free radicals.
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.
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 free radical damage under control.
5. May Prevent 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.
Low levels of magnesium may contribute to migraines, and some studies have found that 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 the supplement had significantly less headache frequency and lower headache severity compared to the placebo group.
Another study found that it was more effective and fast-acting in providing migraine relief than a common medication.
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. Can Help Normalize Blood Sugar and Protect Against Metabolic Syndrome
There’s evidence suggesting that higher magnesium intake can benefit blood sugar levels and may help prevent insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Several studies have linked low levels with chronic inflammation and metabolic syndrome.
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.
Additional research has found that the mineral could protect against diabetes. One study followed 4,497 participants for 20 years and uncovered that those with the highest intake were 47 percent less likely to develop diabetes.
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 and Anxiety
Magnesium has potent mood-boosting properties and can help fight against depression and anxiety. 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 found to have an estimated 22 percent greater risk of developing depression.
Fascinatingly, some research has even found that it 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.
Another study in 2017 found that magnesium supplementation significantly improved symptoms of both depression and anxiety after just six weeks. In addition, a 2017 review stated that among 18 studies, “existing evidence is suggestive of a beneficial effect of Mg on subjective anxiety in anxiety vulnerable samples.”
Combine this mineral with other natural treatments 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. Can Hep Enhance Sleep Quality
If you suffer from insomnia and counting sheep just doesn’t do 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 supplementation could help reduce insomnia.
In one study, participants who took supplements experienced reduced insomnia severity, increased sleep time and decreased amount of time needed to fall asleep. 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.
Be sure to pair it with other natural insomnia-busters and natural sleep aids like calcium, essential oils and valerian root to maximize results.
9. Plays an Important Role in Metabolism of Vitamin D
Research suggests magnesium plays a vital role in the body’s metabolism of vitamin D. Meanwhile, vitamin D plays a role in calcium absorption into the bones and has an effect on other important vitamins and minerals that contribute to both health, including vitamin K and phosphorus.
- bone-related disorders
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- chronic pain
- and more
This illustrates the necessity of well-rounded nutrition and proper vitamin D and magnesium intake.
10. Supports Healthy Cognitive Function
This electrolyte is known to play an essential role in nerve transmission and neuromuscular conduction, which is why it seems to have a protective role against excessive excitation that can lead to neuronal cell death.
Low levels have been associated with neurological disorders due to dysfunctions within the nervous system. Research is ongoing regarding the effects it may have in the treatment of chronic pain, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and stroke, but what we know is that it seems to act as a low-risk adjunct treatment among those with mood and cognitive diseases.
11. May Help Curb Asthma Symptoms
Research is still underway, but there’s growing evidence that magnesium may have a role in managing asthma symptoms in both children and adults through its dual effects as an anti-inflammatory and broncho-dilating agent. While it isn’t intended to replace other asthma treatments, some doctors recommend it as an adjunct treatment that is low-cost and low-risk.
Top 20 Magnesium-Rich Foods
What single food is highest in magnesium? Some of the best dietary sources are leafy greens, such as spinach and Swiss chard, but there are plenty of other magnesium-rich foods that increase your daily intake too.
Which fruits are high in magnesium? Avocado, figs and bananas are among the best.
Here is a list of the top 20 magnesium-rich foods to include in your diet:
- Wheat bran
- Spinach, cooked
- Swiss chard, cooked
- Dark chocolate
- Sunflower seeds, dried
- Almonds/almond butter
- Pumpkin seeds, dried
- Buckwheat groats/kasha
- Black bean
- Figs, dried
- Yogurt or kefir
- Mung beans
For men, the recommended daily intake of magnesium is about 400–420 milligrams per day. For women, it’s about 310–320 milligrams daily.
According to the National Institutes of Health, below are the current recommended daily allowances for magnesium:
- Infants–6 months: 30 milligrams
- 7–12 months: 75 milligrams
- 1–3 years: 80 milligrams
- 4–8 years: 130 milligrams
- 9–13 years: 240 milligrams
- 14–18 years: 410 milligrams for men; 360 milligrams for women
- 19–30 years: 400 milligrams for men; 310 milligrams for women
- Adults 31 years and older: 420 milligrams for men; 320 milligrams for women
- Pregnant women: 350–360 milligrams
- Women who are breastfeeding: 310–320 milligrams
How can you raise your magnesium levels quickly? The best way is to eat foods that are high in magnesium (greens, nuts, seeds, beans, etc.) and/or to take a daily supplement.
Who should take magnesium in supplement form?
There are several different types of magnesium supplements available, such as magnesium citrate, and magnesium oil. These can benefit many people but are especially helpful for those who have a known severe deficiency.
You’re most at risk for magnesium deficiency if you have:
- a liver disorder
- heart failure
- inflammatory bowel disease
- frequent vomiting or diarrhea
- kidney dysfunction
- other conditions that affect absorption
Older adults and women seem to be affected more often than younger adults and men. Athletes and people with malabsorption issues can also benefit from increasing their daily intake.
Transdermal magnesium supplementation is another way to utilize the mineral, though research is limited on its effectiveness. This involves applying the mineral in the form of magnesium chloride topically to help it absorb into the skin.
Yet another potential way to boost levels is by using Epsom salt (a magnesium sulfate compound), such as by adding some to your baths. Again, though, more research is needed on the effectiveness of absorption through these methods.
Getting your daily dose of this nutrient doesn’t have to be difficult. By incorporating a few servings of magnesium-rich foods into your meals each day, you should be able to meet your needs.
Here are a few healthy recipes 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
Risks and Side Effects
Although, as you can tell, there are many magnesium benefits, getting too much of this mineral can be problematic.
If you’re getting enough from food sources, you don’t need to worry about side effects from eating too much. Excess magnesium from food is simply filtered by the kidneys and excreted through the urine.
However, high doses of magnesium supplements can cause adverse side effects like diarrhea, nausea and abdominal cramping.
Extremely high doses can lead to a magnesium overdose and symptoms of toxicity. The tolerable upper intake level from supplements is 350 milligrams per day for those above the age of nine.
Stick to the recommended dosage to sidestep negative effects on health.
Supplements can also have some interactions with certain types of medications. It 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 supplementing.
Another concern is that supplements may lower blood pressure. If you take a medication for high blood pressure or a muscle relaxant, talk to your doctor before taking any 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.
- Getting enough of this electrolyte, preferably through consuming magnesium-rich foods, may come with a host of health benefits, from alleviating symptoms of PMS and headaches to fighting depression, constipation and insomnia.
- What are the best sources of magnesium? Foods high in magnesium include leafy greens, cocoa, avocados, bananas, potatoes, and some nuts, beans and grains.
- Ideally, try getting as much magnesium as possible from your diet by eating magnesium-rich foods instead of supplements unless you have a deficiency. If you’re an athlete or suffer from malabsorption issues, supplementing can also be beneficial.