From vitamin A to zinc, there’s a whole alphabet of vitamins and minerals that the human body needs on a regular basis to function properly. One of those key compounds is magnesium. Virtually every organ requires some amount of it, and getting proper intake can offer a range of benefits like keeping bones strong and preventing certain diseases.
Health benefits of magnesium
Magnesium plays a role in a wide range of different human health processes, and is used up by nearly every component of the body, from the heart to the kidneys and muscles.
Not only is it an essential mineral itself, but magnesium also helps the body regulate other vitamins and minerals like calcium, potassium, copper, zinc, and vitamin D. Here are just some of the ways magnesium influences almost every part of the body.
Combining a low-fat diet plan with foods rich in magnesium can naturally help to reduce blood pressure—and lower blood pressure is a key part of reducing the risk of stroke and otherwise keeping the heart healthy. In fact, studies have found that there is as much as a 58 percent lower chance of heart attack in those who have proper levels of magnesium.
Because magnesium helps activate vitamin D stores within the body, it’s linked to improved bone density and the formation of stronger bone crystals. Studies have found that good magnesium intake can even lower the risk of osteoporosis, especially in postmenopausal women.
Blood sugar regulation
Studies have also found that getting proper magnesium intake can help to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. These studies were focused on natural dietary sources of magnesium (not supplements), but the evidence does suggest that insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity become properly balanced with help from this mineral.
Low levels of magnesium have been connected to anxiety, and research suggests that getting more of this important mineral may be able to help improve anxiety-related symptoms. Depression is also linked—in fact, many antidepressants work by raising brain magnesium, which increases serotonin levels.
Additional studies have found that women experiencing PMS may be able to find relief from symptoms like bloating, leg swelling, weight gain, and insomnia just by increasing intake of magnesium. Combining it with B6 vitamins also helps improve the effectiveness.
Recommended daily values of magnesium
Just how much magnesium does the body need to maintain good health? This depends largely upon age, but the National Institutes of Health suggest the following dosages.
- Children between 1 and 3 years of age: 80 milligrams per day
- Children between 4 and 8 years of age: 130 milligrams per day
- Pre-teens 9 to 13 years of age: 240 milligrams per day
- Adult females: 310-320 milligrams per day (and as much as 360 milligrams during periods of breastfeeding)
- Male adults: 400-420 milligrams per day
These are only suggested intake amounts, from which the body will absorb what it needs to perform properly.
The risk for a magnesium deficiency
Magnesium deficiencies are very real and occur with surprising frequency, particularly since the standard diet doesn’t include many sources of this mineral, which comes in large quantities in plant-derived foods like leafy greens.
Actual symptoms of a deficiency are rare unless the case is severe, but over time, not getting enough of the mineral could lead to the increased chance of developing diabetes, osteoporosis, even heart disease.
Deficiencies don’t always happen because of poor diet choices, though; sometimes chronic conditions, illness, or age can affect your body’s ability to absorb the mineral. Here are some of the issues that may be the underlying cause of a deficiency:
- Kidney disease
- Digestion-related conditions like Crohn’s disease
- Taking anticancer or antibacterial medications
- Abuse of alcohol or drugs
In these cases it might be ideal to do routine bloodwork to monitor your levels of magnesium or talk to your doctor about starting on supplements.
Natural sources of magnesium
Magnesium is naturally found in a huge range of foods, and many vegetables and plant-based goods are adequate enough to provide the body with all it needs. In particular, leafy greens, legumes, and nuts and seeds are the best sources for magnesium. Here are five of your best bets for natural sources of this essential mineral.
- Pumpkin seeds: These little morsels are filled with magnesium—each serving provides 48 percent of the daily recommended allowance of the mineral. After you buy a bag, try amping them up with these delicious spice blends.
- Spinach: There’s a reason Popeye uses spinach for fuel. Greens are some of the healthiest foods you could consume; in particular, spinach provides a huge amount of magnesium (and other important minerals like iron). One serving of these leaves delivers nearly 40 percent of the daily recommended value of magnesium. Here’s how you can make a side dish of creamed spinach without any dairy to make it even healthier (the secret is coconut milk).
- Cashews: These buttery nuts provide 29 percent of the daily recommended value of magnesium, and they’re so easy to eat on a daily basis because they’re so versatile and delicious. You don’t have to just eat them either; try this cashew milk chai recipe for a creative way to fulfill your servings. In addition to magnesium, cashews provide protein, calcium, and other minerals the body needs.
- Swiss chard: Another leafy green that’s packed with nutritional content is Swiss chard. Each serving delivers 38 percent of the daily recommended value of magnesium along with plenty of other nutritional content.
- Black beans: Numerous legumes provide high levels of magnesium, but black beans are among the best of the bunch. They provide 30 percent of the daily recommended allowance for every serving, putting them high on the list of important foods to eat when trying to get plenty of the mineral. While you can eat them whole with rice or refried for burritos and tacos, you can also use black beans to make desserts like brownies!
Adding the above foods to a nutrition plan is the first step in making certain you’re getting the right levels of magnesium every day.
Magnesium supplements and health
Magnesium supplements are another good way to provide the body with the proper amount of magnesium you need to stay healthy. However, it’s generally best to focus first on getting magnesium naturally by eating foods like those listed above that provide ample amounts of it. That’s because the body can more readily absorb magnesium in this format.
If using supplements, remember that they are indeed supplements, and that they aren’t a magic bullet that will instantly give you all the magnesium stores you need to thrive. Instead, they’re best used along with a proper diet to make sure you have adequate levels. One thing to remember is that the body actually only absorbs as much magnesium as it needs and excessively high doses could trigger uncomfortable symptoms like diarrhea, so it’s best not to overload your system.
Good supplements will also be natural, using no synthetic sources of magnesium to deliver the mineral. Look at the label and pay attention to the ingredients listed to ensure you have the highest quality product that can deliver the best results.
Tasty recipes that provide magnesium
Supplements are great, but getting magnesium from dietary sources is the best way to ensure that you maintain proper levels. Here are some great recipes that include magnesium-rich ingredients.
Quinoa is packed with magnesium, and this superfood recipe brings plenty of other nutrients into the mix as well, including protein and fiber. It’s easy to make and goes great with almost any kind of meal plan.
Another easy way to increase magnesium through quinoa is with this granola recipe. Simple to make and so tasty, it’s an easy way to fit this whole grain into your diet whether it’s for breakfast, lunch, or a snack. Add on top of yogurt for even more nutritional benefits.
Broccoli provides big levels of magnesium in every bite, and this recipe uses garlic and fresh parmesan to make the dish even more delicious. The addition of almonds adds crunch and some extra protein.
Fish is also naturally rich in magnesium, and this recipe blends the delicate taste of opah with fresh mango salsa to create a delicious dish that’s filled with Caribbean-inspired flavors.
Another surprising source of magnesium comes in the form of yogurt—try this panna cotta recipe for the perfect blend of sweet and tart.