In this article:
- What Food Items Are High in Magnesium?
- What Is the Function of Magnesium in the Body?
- What Are the Symptoms of Low Magnesium Levels?
- What Is the Daily Requirement for Magnesium?
- What Precautions Should Be Taken to Improve the Absorption of Magnesium in the Body?
- Does Magnesium Have an Effect on Anxiety and Depression?
- Final Word
Magnesium is an alkaline earth metal and mineral. (1) It is needed by the human body in abundant amounts to perform a variety of key physiological functions such as energy production, oxidative phosphorylation, building DNA and RNA, glycolysis, protein synthesis, regulation of blood sugar and blood pressure, muscle contraction, bone development, maintaining normal heart rhythm, and nerve impulse conduction. (2)
What Food Items Are High in Magnesium?
Here are some of the best dietary sources of magnesium:
1. Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds contain up to 37% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for magnesium. They can help with heart health, blood sugar control, and blood pressure management, all possible benefits due to their high magnesium content.
Studies have observationally shown that low magnesium levels increase the risk for cardiovascular diseases (CVD). However, more clinical trials are needed to prove this. (3)
One cup of cooked spinach provides 39% of the RDA for magnesium. Magnesium is required for calcium absorption, and a lack of magnesium is a risk factor for low bone mineral density and possible fractures or osteoporosis in older women. (4)
Spinach also contains a fair amount of calcium if it is cooked.
Almonds offer many benefits. Aside from being a super source of omega-3s, they also contain magnesium, up to 19% of the RDA. Almonds are also low glycemic, which makes them popular for aiding blood sugar control.
Magnesium may play a role in enhancing insulin sensitivity, as shown in one trial. The subjects had low magnesium levels and supplementation improved beta cell function. (5)
Avocados contain 10% of your daily magnesium value in 1 cup. Although they are high in fat, much of that fat is polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, both of which are heart-healthy fats and provide benefits for cardiovascular health. (6)
A medium banana contains 8% of the daily value for magnesium and 10% of the recommended amount for potassium.
Magnesium plays an important role as it carries ions such as sodium and potassium into the cells. Without enough magnesium, these nutrients do not get into the cells, which can cause problems such as an irregular heartbeat. (7)
6. Dark chocolate
In one 3.5-oz bar of dark chocolate, and by this we mean over 70% cacao content, you will find over 50% of the RDA for magnesium. This number would still be impressive even with a much smaller serving size.
One of the things dark chocolate does is induce blood flow and vessel relaxation. This is needed to lower blood pressure, one of the benefits of magnesium, as a recent analysis of randomized controlled trials found. (8)
7. Black beans
Black beans contain magnesium, calcium, iron, phosphorus, copper, and zinc. All of these minerals together help build bones and bone structure. A majority of magnesium is stored in bones. (1)
It is important to get enough of these minerals in the diet so they are not released from the bone, which can lead to bone thinning.
You can derive 9% of your recommended daily amount of magnesium from ½ cup of tofu.
Tofu is soy based, which has been shown in a recent analysis of controlled trials to at least partially be associated with lowering cholesterol. (9) Soy proteins are a great source of plant flavones, which could be partially responsible for this effect.
One cup of cooked oatmeal can provide 15% of the RDA for magnesium. Oatmeal is a heart-healthy food that can lower CVD risk. (10)
Quinoa is a whole grain, and half a cup of cooked quinoa contains 15% of the RDA for magnesium. The bran, or outer layer of the plant, is where minerals such as magnesium are stored, (11) and it is left intact in whole grains.
In addition to those already listed, low-fat dairy products such as milk and yogurt are good sources of magnesium, as well as other types of nuts such as cashews.
What Is the Function of Magnesium in the Body?
Magnesium has a very wide variety of functions in the body. (12) Some of these include regulating blood sugar, assisting enzymes (which have innumerable types and functions in the body), regulating blood pressure, and aiding calcium absorption.
This mineral can also be used as a calming agent. A recent review of studies found magnesium had a positive effect on anxiety. (13) It is important to note these studies are mostly subjective, and further research is needed to establish a definitive connection.
What Are the Symptoms of Low Magnesium Levels?
The kidneys help the body retain magnesium, so it is rare to be actually deficient in it. The risk factors for becoming so include age and gastrointestinal disorders.
Symptoms of a deficiency include nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, and weakness. These may progress to cramps, numbness in the hands or feet, and abnormal heartbeat if not addressed.
Because magnesium acts with calcium and potassium, their levels may also get low if magnesium is low. (14)
What Is the Daily Requirement for Magnesium?
The RDA for magnesium varies according to age.
The recommended amount is 80–240 mg for children, 360 mg for adult females, and 320–400 mg a day for pregnant females depending on age. Adult males need 400–420 mg a day, with teen males at the high end and older males at the low end. (15)
What Precautions Should Be Taken to Improve the Absorption of Magnesium in the Body?
Magnesium, calcium, and zinc interact with each other. It is recommended not to take calcium at the same time as magnesium to reduce the interaction.
In addition, it is advised to address low vitamin D levels and not take high-dose zinc supplements with it. All of these will affect the amount of magnesium absorbed.
Does Magnesium Have an Effect on Anxiety and Depression?
It has some effect, and there is some research-based evidence to back this claim. One study found magnesium to cause a subjective improvement in anxiety.
Some studies have noted that magnesium has an anti-inflammatory effect, may help with stress hormone release, and reduces the activity of GABA, which is a neurotransmitter and, if overstimulated, can cause anxiety. One other study noted a direct impact on depression. (16)
The ideal way to meet your daily recommended intake of this magnesium is through food sources as they offer other vital nutrients and health benefits as well. (17) Plus, magnesium can be retained in the body, so it is best to get it from food and not a supplement.
However, if you are unable to meet your required fill through dietary intake alone, you can consider taking a magnesium supplement which may be available as a powder or a capsule.
Note that overuse of magnesium supplements, especially in certain binders, such as magnesium oxide, can have a laxative effect. Only about 40% of magnesium ingested is absorbed when intake is typical, and this changes with the amount of intake. (18)
Plus, magnesium supplements can adversely interact with certain medications, so it is important to consult your doctor before starting supplementation.
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- Orchard TS, Larson JC, Alghothani N, et al. Magnesium intake, bone mineral density, and fractures: results from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;99(4):926-933. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.067488.
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- Ludovici V, Barthelmes J, Nägele MP, et al. Cocoa, Blood Pressure, and Vascular Function. Front Nutr. 2017;4:36. Published 2017 Aug 2. doi:10.3389/fnut.2017.00036.
- Zampelas A. The Effects of Soy and its Components on Risk Factors and End Points of Cardiovascular Diseases. Nutrients. 2019;11(11):2621. Published 2019 Nov 1. doi:10.3390/nu11112621.
- Wehrli F, Taneri PE, Bano A, et al. Oat Intake and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease and All-Cause Mortality: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2021;13(8):2560. Published 2021 Jul 26. doi:10.3390/nu13082560.
- Hussain MI, Farooq M, Syed QA, Ishaq A, Al-Ghamdi AA, Hatamleh AA. Botany, Nutritional Value, Phytochemical Composition and Biological Activities of Quinoa. Plants (Basel). 2021;10(11):2258. Published 2021 Oct 22. doi:10.3390/plants10112258.
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