How Your Body Is Telling You That You Aren’t Getting Enough Magnesium (And 5 Foods That’ll Up Your Intake)

Photo: Stocksy/Carina König
Despite the fact that magnesium is an incredibly important nutrient in the body, magnesium-rich foods aren't talked about nearly as frequently as much as we fuss over our protein, vitamin D, and iron intake. This is unfortunate, as magnesium deficiency is incredibly common.

“Magnesium is an unsung hero in the mineral world and plays a role in a slew of functions in the human body including muscle function, energy production, bone health, nerve function, even heart health," says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, CLEC. "And some studies show that magnesium can play a role in reducing anxiety and supporting sleep.” Current magnesium guidelines recommend 400–420 mg/day for men and 310–320 mg/day for women (more specific breakdowns here).

Experts In This Article

So what does that actually look like in terms of food? “There are a number of great food sources for magnesium,” says Sheri Kasper, RDN, LDN, a registered dietitian at FRESH Communications. Below, she highlights a few of the best.

The top 5 foods high in magnesium

1. Almonds (1 oz roasted): 80 mg

“A serving of almonds provides nearly 20 percent of the magnesium needed in a day," says Kasper. "Additionally, they are rich in healthy fat, protein, and fiber.”

2. Spinach (1/2 cup cooked): 78 mg

According to Kasper, spinach is rich in many nutrients that most Americans don’t get enough of—including magnesium, fiber, and iron.

3. Black Beans (1/2 cup cooked): 60 mg

“Black beans are rich in plant-based protein, fiber, and many different vitamins and minerals, magnesium included,” Kasper says.

4. Farmed Salmon: (3 ounces cooked): 26 mg

“90 percent of Americans don’t consume the recommended eight to 12 ounces of seafood each week. Farmed salmon packs heart-healthy omega-3s, magnesium and is considered a best choice for pregnant women and children, so it’s safe for the whole family.”

5. Milk (1 cup): 24-26 mg

According to Kasper, dairy milk is rich in many essential nutrients needed to support bone and blood pressure, such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, and vitamin D.

Unfortunately, despite all these delicious and versatile options, Taylor Fazio, MS, RD, CDN, wellness advisor at The Lanby, underlines that about 30 percent of adults are deficient in magnesium. And while you can get magnesium through food, 50 percent of people in the U.S. consume less than the recommended daily amount.

The major problem is that most healthy people don’t experience symptoms of magnesium deficiency in the short term because the kidneys can compensate by retaining it more efficiently. Over time, however, deficiency can result in a few key symptoms.

Magnesium deficiency symptoms

Muscle Cramps: Among the symptoms that may signal a magnesium deficiency, Kasper says that one of the most common is muscle cramps. This is related to the fact that magnesium is involved in muscle contractions.

Fatigue and Weakness: “Because low magnesium is often associated with low potassium levels, which is believed to cause weakness, especially in muscles,” says Kasper.

Altered Heart Rhythm: “Magnesium, potassium, sodium, and calcium are electrolytes that help regulate muscles and many other body functions, including your heart. With extreme magnesium deficiency, some people experience a faster than normal heart rate,” says Kasper.

Neurological Symptoms: “Magnesium plays an important role in proper nerve function,” says Kasper. “When deficient in magnesium, some people experience neurological symptoms varying from a light tingling in extremities to a seizure.”

Osteoporosis: “Magnesium aids in the regulation of blood calcium levels, and, in turn, can impact the amount of calcium available to build and maintain strong bones,” says Melissa Rifkin, MS, RD, CDN. “A deficiency may lead to weaker bones and, if not treated, over time could lead to the development of osteoporosis.”

High Blood Pressure: “Current observational studies suggest a magnesium deficiency has been identified as a risk factor for heart disease and may raise blood pressure,” says Rifkin.

So... does this mean we should all preemptively supplement? No. Most people can get the magnesium they need from eating a diet rich in healthy foods like whole grains, nuts and seeds, vegetables, seafood, and dairy. That said, Kasper notes that certain life stages, some medical conditions and some medications require special attention to magnesium and may warrant supplementation. It’s important to discuss these factors with your doctor before taking a supplement. “Some of those special circumstances include pregnancy, individuals with low magnesium due to kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, and digestive diseases. Also, medications such as those used to treat osteoporosis, some antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors, and others may interfere with magnesium absorption in a variety of ways,” Kasper says.

Bottom line? Do as Popeye does, and eat your spinach.

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