Did you know that more than 300 chemical reactions in the body rely on the mineral magnesium, yet the average American only get about three quarters of the recommended 400 milligrams a day?  It is not overly surprising that the “standard American diet,” with a heavy reliance on packaged and refined foods, results in deficiency. What is surprising, however, is that even people with a comparatively healthy diet can be at risk of deficiency of magnesium in the body due to  improper meal planning, overcooked vegetables, or the wrong calcium to magnesium ratio. Dark leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and seeds are the best foods to ensure the body is getting enough magnesium.

What is the role of Magnesium in the body?

Maintains Nervous System Balance

All of our cells contain receptor cites that allow messages to be transported through the body. Some of the most studied receptors are the receptors found in brain cells. The NMDA receptor in the brain is the cite where recreational drugs and anesthetics seem to affect brain function. Research has shown that when magnesium levels are too low, the NMDA receptors are affected, and there is an increased risk of depression. Magnesium aids in calming the nervous system which is helpful not only for depression, but also sleep disorders, pre-menstral syndrome, irritability, and emotional disturbances.

Relaxes Muscles

Calcium contracts the muscles and magnesium relaxes them. Calcium blocking drugs are often given to stop heart disorders and headaches, but magnesium has been used to create the same effect.  Some women get bad menstrual cramps and headaches associated with hormone changes prior to their monthly cycle. About a week or two before my period I always take a calcium, magnesium, and zinc supplement. I notice my body also craves lots of magnesium rich foods. I think this is why so many women crave chocolate! I never get cramps or headaches, ever. Maybe I am just blessed with good genes.

Maintains Bone Health

About 50-60 percent of Magnesium is stored inside the bone. Research has found that even a mild ongoing magnesium deficiency can lead to bone loss. When magnesium levels get low inside the body, levels of the parathyroid hormone go down. This leads to a decrease in calcium absorption, and a loss of both calcium and magnesium in the urine. The relationship with calcium and magnesium is one of the most actively studied, yet frequently misunderstood mineral interactions. Magnesium is necessary for calcium absorption, however, both calcium and magnesium compete with each other. I worked at a health food store many years ago and the science of that time stated that magnesium and calcium ratios had to be 2:1 in order to be properly absorbed. Now research is dictating a 1:1 ratio and clinical trials show that supplements with the incorrect ratio may cause the mineral with the higher level to completely block out the absorption of the other. The best remedy for this is to get minerals through whole foods rather than supplements if possible.

Facilitates Energy Production

One of the functions of our cells is energy production. This requires a complicated task involving a long chain of chemical reactions. Many of these reactions cannot take place unless magnesium is present. Low magnesium levels can be a contributing factor in causing fatigue.

Decreases Inflammation

While some inflammation in the body is useful for tissue repair and injury, chronic inflammation has been frequently linked to a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and dementia. Research has shown that restoring magnesium to recommended intakes has reduced inflammation in clinical trials.

Maintains Healthy Blood Sugar Levels

Magnesium is involved in the control of blood sugar and glucose metabolism. Research has shown that people with low levels of magnesium have poor blood sugar levels and improvements were found when magnesium levels normalized.

Best Magnesium Rich Foods

  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Halibit
  • Collard Greens
  • Turnip Greens
  • Mustard Greens
  • Green Beans
  • Sea Vegetables
  • Black Strap Molasses
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Black Beans
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Cashews
  • Almonds

For a full list of all magnesium rich foods visit Worlds Healthiest Foods.

How to Prepare Vegetables to Maximize Magnesium Content

Magnesium is a mineral and unlike vitamins, nothing can be created or destroyed in the process of cooking. That being said, magnesium can be lost in the cooking water during boiling and steaming, especially the longer the process takes place. A study was conducted on spinach and kale and found that after boiling for 3-5 minutes 20 to 30 percent of the magnesium was lost into the water. One effective way to save the lost minerals is to re-purpose the water for a sauce or soup. Leafy greens are delicate and really do not need much more than a one to two minute quick steam or sauté.

Can I Be Eating Too Much Magnesium?

Too much Magnesium can occur from supplementation, but not usually from food alone. The National Academy of Sciences  and the Institute of Medicine have not established any upper limit on magnesium. A level of 350 milligrams, from supplementation alone, has been known to cause loose stools. Those with renal failure need to follow special guidelines on magnesium as the kidneys are the primary regulator of blood magnesium levels.

I have a pretty healthy diet rich in a variety of whole foods. I like to buy whatever seasonal produce that looks appealing. I often run out of a particular fruit or veg but have a whole crisper full of beets (Thanks Ashley!) So I can’t justify buying more until I use up what I have. What this means is that I may go for a while without spinach, kale, or dark leafy greens. I probably get most of the magnesium through almonds and almond milk, but after a while without the greens, I will crave them and feel the difference after I eat them. For me, magnesium is the best mineral for when I am feeling easily irritated, stressed out, muscle soreness, or having trouble sleeping. My favorite magnesium supplement, for when I am not eating what I should is Natural Calm by Natural Vitality. I like this one because it is loose powder and I can control how much I want to take. A serving gives 80 percent of the daily amount (325 milligrams), which is more than most people need.

This post was inspired by a woman wanting to know more about magnesium. Customer requests help me direct my creativity and are always welcome and appreciated.

Sarah with Feed Your Vitality


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Byrd-Bredbenner, Moe, Beshgetoor, Berning. Wardlaw’s Perspective’s in Nutrition. Ninth Edition. Mcgraw Hill. 2012.

Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods. Third Edition. North Atlantic Books.,Berkley, California. 2002.

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=75 Accessed 8/25/2013


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