From the first cereal commercial you see as a kid, you learn that you need vitamins and minerals in abundance. Like magnesium, for one. “Your body needs it to function correctly,” says registered dietitian Anna Taylor, RD.
Here’s how to know if you’re getting enough — and what to eat to keep your levels up.
The benefits of magnesium
Magnesium is a real heavy hitter, Taylor says. It’s necessary for more than 300 enzymatic processes in the body, including:
- Normal daily functions, like muscle contraction and heart rhythm.
- Protein production.
- Blood sugar and blood pressure control.
- Bone health.
- Making DNA.
- Creating energy.
The problem is, many people don’t get enough, forcing the body to compensate.
“When your magnesium levels are down, your body filters out less magnesium than normal to keep adequate levels in your body,” Taylor says. “But that’s not a great long-term strategy.”
What are the symptoms of a magnesium deficiency?
It’s usually not a problem if you have days here and there where you don’t get enough magnesium. But an ongoing lack of it in your diet can lead to magnesium deficiency.
Certain conditions (and some medications) can also make it harder for your body to have adequate magnesium levels. These conditions include:
- Crohn’s disease.
- Celiac disease.
- Chronic diarrhea
- Alcohol use disorder.
- Type 2 diabetes.
Early signs of magnesium deficiency include:
- Loss of appetite.
As magnesium deficiency gets worse, other symptoms may occur, including:
- Abnormal heart rhythms.
- Coronary spasms.
- Muscle spasms and cramps.
- Personality changes.
How to make sure you’re getting enough magnesium
To get enough magnesium in your diet, experts recommend:
- Men: 400-420 milligrams per day.
- Women: 310-320 milligrams per day.
But before you pull out the calculator, Taylor has some advice: “I rarely recommend people tally up magnesium or other vital nutrients,” she says. “It’s tedious, difficult and ungainly. Instead, make sure to include a variety of fiber-rich plant foods in your diet every day.”
What foods are high in magnesium?
Here are Taylor’s top picks.
1. Nuts and seeds
- Almonds (roasted): 1 ounce = 80 milligrams of magnesium (20% of the recommended dietary allowance).
- Cashews (roasted): 1 ounce = 72 milligrams of magnesium (18% RDA).
- Flaxseed (whole): 1 tablespoon = 40 milligrams of magnesium (10% RDA).
- Peanuts (dry roasted): 1 ounce = 49 milligrams of magnesium (12% RDA).
- Pumpkin seeds (hulled, roasted): 1 ounce = 150 milligrams of magnesium (37% RDA).
- Black beans (boiled): 1/2 cup = 60 milligrams of magnesium (15% RDA).
- Edamame (cooked, prepared): 1/2 cup = 50 milligrams of magnesium (12% RDA).
- Lima beans (cooked): 1/2 cup = 40 milligrams of magnesium (10% RDA).
3. Fiber-rich whole grains
- Quinoa (cooked): 1/2 cup = 60 milligrams of magnesium (15% RDA).
- Shredded wheat (plain, unfrosted): 1 cup = 56 milligrams of magnesium (14% RDA).
4. Low-fat dairy products
- Milk (nonfat): 1 cup = 24-27 milligrams of magnesium (7% RDA).
- Yogurt (plain, low fat): 8 oz. = 42 milligrams of magnesium (10% RDA).
- Spinach (cooked): 1/2 cup = 78 milligrams of magnesium (19% RDA).
- Dark chocolate (70-85% cocoa): 1 oz. = 64 milligrams of magnesium (16% RDA).
“Tap, mineral and bottled waters can be magnesium sources — but it’s difficult to know how much magnesium they contain because it depends on the water source,” Taylor says. “It’s anywhere from 1 milligram per liter to 120 milligrams per liter.”
So, if you drink the recommended two liters of water per day, that could be up to 240 milligrams of magnesium.
To reach the recommended amounts, Taylor recommends eating:
- Fruits and vegetables: Five handfuls per day.
- Whole grains: At least three servings per day.
- Nuts and seeds: 1 ounce or 1/4 cup per day.
- Legumes: One serving most days of the week.
Should you take a magnesium supplement?
Magnesium supplements can be helpful if a doctor determines that you have a magnesium deficiency. But if you have no major health problems, Taylor says you should get magnesium from your diet.
“Food first is my mantra,” she says. “If you take a dietary supplement for magnesium and take too much, you’re going to get some uncomfortable side effects, such as cramping, diarrhea and nausea.”
Eating magnesium-rich foods also gives you more nutritional bang for your buck. “You’re not just getting magnesium from these foods — you’re also getting so many fantastic nutrients, such as vitamins, other minerals and phytonutrients,” she says. “Phytonutrients are plant compounds that are antioxidants, immunity boosters, anti-cancer agents and anti-inflammatories.”