The importance of magnesium in your diet

Many Americans do not get enough magnesium in their diets

You’re on your way to work and grab your usual bagel or donut with coffee for breakfast. When lunch time rolls around, you might be too busy to leave your desk and end up having birthday cake from the break room or snacks from the vending machine. By the end of the day, you’re likely famished and picking up fast food or pizza on your way home for dinner is a temptation. If this scenario describes the way you eat on a regular basis you might be in danger of having a magnesium deficiency.

People who eat a lot of sugary pastries and junk food can have magnesium deficiency because these foods contain little to none of the mineral.

The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 75% of all American adults do not get the USDA Daily Recommended Intake of 420 mg (for men over age 30) or 320 mg (for women over age 30.) It is difficult to detect magnesium deficiency in blood tests as the body stores magnesium in muscle and bone cells. Signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency usually do not appear until your levels have become severely low.

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include muscle cramps and spasms, depressed or apathetic mood, fatigue, high blood pressure, chronic insomnia, irregular heartbeat and increased risk for osteoporosis.

Magnesium is essential for good health

On average, the human body contains about 25 grams of magnesium. It is one of the six essential minerals you need in your diet to stay in good health along with calcium, iron, iodine, zinc and phosphorus.

In fact, getting enough magnesium is essential to life itself as it plays a key role in regulating the electric activity of the heart as well as breathing, energy production, stress reduction, restful sleep and insulin sensitivity.

While many doctors encourage their patients, particularly women, to take calcium supplements, they often do not mention that magnesium—as well as vitamin D—is essential for the body to actually absorb the calcium. Magnesium keeps the calcium in liquid form in your bloodstream so that it can be readily absorbed by the intestines. For this reason, it is imperative to take calcium with magnesium and vitamin D.

Who is at risk for magnesium deficiency?

Aside from those with poor diets, patients who suffer a variety of medical conditions are at a higher risk for magnesium deficiency.
The main reason for magnesium deficiency involves anything that interferes with the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals during digestion. Anyone with a chronic gastrointestinal condition such as Crohn’s or celiac disease is at risk for this reason.

Regular, long-term use of some medications such as proton pump inhibitors can also prevent absorption of vital minerals and nutrients in your diet. Proton pump inhibitors, or PPI’s work by reducing the amount of stomach acid made by glands in the lining of the stomach. Popular PPI’s include omeprazole (Prilosec), Esomeprazole (Nexium) and omeprazole with sodium bicarbonate (Zegerid) and are used to treat ailments such as acid reflux and ulcers. Over time, these medications can interfere with proper digestion and absorption of essential nutrients. Long-term use of antibiotics such as tetracyclines can have the same side effects.

Diabetics need more magnesium in their diets and should make sure to eat plenty of magnesium-rich foods or take supplements.

People who have a vitamin D deficiency may have low levels of magnesium as well because the body needs magnesium to metabolize vitamin D.

Alcoholics frequently have low magnesium levels from poor nutrition and increased urination.

How can you get more magnesium in your diet?

Supplements are definitely an option. Again, if you are over the age of 30, you should aim to get 420 mg of magnesium daily if you are male and 320 mg daily if you are female. Many multivitamins contain magnesium as well. Although some vitamins and minerals, such as iron, are best absorbed without food, generally speaking it is best to take multivitamins with a small meal or snack to increase absorption and decrease your risk of experiencing an upset stomach.

If you think you might have a magnesium deficiency and decide to take a supplement, check in with your doctor or a registered dietitian to determine the best supplement for you.

Foods that are rich in magnesium

It is always a good idea, however, to get as many nutrients as possible from the foods you eat. There are plenty of tasty, magnesium-rich foods you can add to your diet. The best sources of magnesium are nuts and seeds, but whole grains, beans and leafy green vegetables are also good.

Here is a list of the best food sources of magnesium measured out in amounts of 3.5 ounces or 100 grams:

Almonds (contain 270 mg of magnesium)
Pumpkin seeds (262 mg)
Dark chocolate (176 mg)
Peanuts (168 mg)
Popcorn (151 mg)

Eating just one ounce of almonds provides 18% of your daily recommended amount of magnesium. However, it should also be noted that eating too much salt can deplete magnesium levels. If you’re eating nuts, seeds or even popcorn, choose low-sodium or unsalted varieties.

Other foods that are rich in magnesium include spinach, Swiss chard, yogurt, black beans, avocados, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, coffee, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, oats, figs and bananas.

The bottom-line is that in our busy lives it is easy to fill our diets with foods that are handy and appeal to our ingrained cravings for sweetness and saltiness. Often, however, these foods are not necessarily rich in the nutrients we need to have energy and stay in good health. By adding more magnesium-rich foods to your diet, especially if you are at risk for deficiencies, you may enjoy better health.

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Author: Katherine Weinstein

Since becoming a mom and then learning that I had celiac disease a few years later, I have become much more aware of the importance of diet and nutrition for good health. Career wise, I have worked as an adjunct instructor of drama, a museum fundraiser and most recently as a freelance grant writer and online teacher’s assistant and writing tutor. I am passionate about the arts, history and nature.

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