Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

What About Magnesium?


food sources of magnesium: bran muffins, pumpk...

food sources of magnesium: bran muffins, pumpkin seeds, barley, buckwheat flour, low-fat vanilla yogurt, trail mix, halibut steaks, garbanzo beans, lima beans, soybeans, and spinach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I took nutrition courses, I don’t remember  learning much about magnesium.  When I taught nutrition courses, I was as guilty as my professors by not paying too much attention to this important mineral.

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body.  About half resides in the bones and the other half is contained in the cells.

One percent is found in the blood and highly regulated and maintained. Magnesium is involved in about 300 enzyme reactions.  It is needed for the metabolism of carbohydrate, protein, and fat, muscle and nerve function, healthy bones and a regular heartbeat.

How much do you need?

·      Women aged 19-30 need 310 mg/day

·      Men aged 19-30 need 400 mg/day

·      Women 31 and over need 410 mg/day

·      Men 31 and over need 420 mg/day

On average, females consume only about 70% and most males consume about 80% of these daily needs.

Food Sources

Whole grains:  Whole-wheat pita = 44 mg.

Vegetables: 2 cups of spinach = 47 mg.

Fruits: 1 banana = 37 mg.

Dairy: 1 cup of yogurt 27 mg.

Nuts: 2 tablespoons peanut butter = 49 mg.; 1 oz. almonds = 81 mg.

Eating these foods will provide over half of your daily needs. Milk, meat and eggs are also good sources.  Refined grains are poor sources since the germ of the grain is removed during processing.

Taking supplements may have some drawbacks – consuming large amounts may cause diarrhea, cramps and nausea. Because of this, the upper level from supplements is set at 350 mg for adults.

Deficiencies are rare since the kidneys compensate for low magnesium intake by excreting less of it.  Deficiencies may occur due to medications such as diuretics and some antibiotics.

Are there potential health benefits?  The research suggests:

·       Reduced risk for type 2 diabetes.  Magnesium plays a large role in carbohydrate metabolism and may influence the release and activity of insulin.  Low levels of magnesium are common in diabetics and may also contribute to insulin resistance.

·       Maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. A diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables, both of which are good sources of magnesium, has consistently been shown to lower blood pressure.  Studies with the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) have confirmed this effect.

·       Reduced risk for coronary artery disease.  Several studies have suggested higher levels of magnesium to lower risk for coronary artery disease, leading to heart attacks and strokes. There is also evidence that getting enough magnesium will help to prevent heart arrhythmia.  In a recent study, researchers measured the magnesium levels of 7,664 healthy adults using urine tests.  The participants were then followed for 10.5 years to assess the incidence of ischemic heart disease (IHD). Those people with the lowest urinary levels of magnesium were 70 percent more likely to die from IHD when compared to those with higher levels.  The authors concluded that magnesium levels are an independent risk factor  for IHD.   (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 2013).

Some Tips on Getting Enough Magnesium

·       Spread peanut butter on whole-wheat crackers for a snack.

·       Add black beans to salsa for a veggie dip.

·       Add baby spinach to a salad.

·       Sprinkle chopped almonds on whole grain cereal in the morning.


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2 thoughts on “What About Magnesium?

  1. Found this on WebMD. Magnesium apparently plays a key role in the regulation of sleep. Research has shown that even marginal magnesium deficiency can prevent the brain from settling down at night. One of the most absorbable forms of magnesium is magnesium citrate powder, available in health food stores. Try taking two doses, following label directions, a day, with the second dose right before bed. I would not recommend going above the upper limits of 350mg, though.


  2. Very informative article! What do you know about magnesium and sleep? I’ve heard all sorts of things that taking magnesium before bed improves sleep. But I wonder how much of this is just placebo effect.


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