In addition to its ability to potentially lift your spirits, magnesium also promotes restful sleep, bowel regularity, and brain health. Yet despite its wide-ranging perks, approximately 75 percent of Americans aren’t getting enough of this mineral on a daily basis. Ahead, experts share the ins and outs of why you might prioritize incorporating this mineral into your daily nutrition plan.
How magnesium benefits your mood
“A powerhouse mineral, magnesium is a cofactor for more than 300 enzymes in the human body,” begins Erin Stokes, ND, a naturopathic doctor and the medical director for MegaFood. “If we don’t have enough of this mineral, then these enzymes can’t do their jobs.” Such duties include but aren’t limited to assisting muscle and nerve function, energy production, and mood regulation.
On that last point of mood regulation, the National Library of Medicine notes that low magnesium levels are associated with fatigue, headache, and physical stress. Moreover, per a 2020 review published in the journal Nutrients, inadequate magnesium levels in the body have been linked to anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. On the flip side, Stokes says adequate magnesium promotes a sense of calm and relaxation. That's due in part to sufficient amounts of the mineral allowing the central nervous system to function as it should (thus supporting mental health and mood stability).
“Magnesium plays an important role in regulating neurotransmitters that send messages throughout the brain and body, helping to improve brain functions that manage stress and anxiety.”—Amy Shapiro, MS, RD
“Magnesium plays an important role in regulating neurotransmitters that send messages throughout the brain and body, helping to improve brain functions that manage stress and anxiety,” shares NYC–based dietitian Amy Shapiro, MS, RD. “Additionally, magnesium acts on the hypothalamus: the part of the brain that controls the pituitary and adrenal glands, [aka] the glands that respond to stress.”
In short, when you have enough magnesium, you’re in a better position to enable healthy transmissions between your brain and body. The results may include greater resilience to stress, a better mood, and fewer symptoms of mental health imbalances.
The best mood-boosting, magnesium-rich foods
While magnesium is crucial to maintain in the body for your mood and other aspects of well-being to few of us are getting enough of it. (As leading functional medicine specialist Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, previously told Well+Good, it’s one of the most common nutrient deficiencies he sees.) The good new is that it’s actually pretty simple to boost your magnesium intake—and thus your mood—by adding a few key foods and food groups into your diet.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), adult women require about 310 to 360 milligrams of magnesium daily, varying based on factors such as your age and pregnancy/lactation status. Meanwhile, adult men need 400 to 420 milligrams.
To reach these amounts through whole foods, pumpkin seeds will help you make sizable progress. Per the FDA, an ounce (28 grams) offers a hefty 156 milligrams of the mineral. Throw them onto a salad or into a smoothie, add them as a garnish for side dishes and meals, or simply enjoy them by the handful. However, there are many other ways to eat your way to higher magnesium levels: “Keeping it simple helps people succeed in meeting their nutritional needs,” Stokes recognizes. “Some of the best dietary sources fall into three categories: nuts and seeds, beans, and greens.” Another helping point of guidance: According to the NIH, foods containing dietary fiber tend to pack magnesium.
“While almonds lead the [nut] pack with just two ounces containing 180 milligrams of magnesium, you can consider cashews and peanuts as well,” Stokes continues. If you’re not a fan of whole nuts, almond butter and classic PB can also help you get your fix. Shapiro adds spinach, eggs, almonds, yogurt, milk, and bananas are also great sources of magnesium.
To make your new magnesium-rich, mood-boosting diet even easier to reach on the daily, Stokes offers a sample menu you can keep in mind. “A woman could eat an ounce of pumpkin seeds, a half-cup of cooked spinach (little known fact: cooked spinach is higher in magnesium than raw), and a half-cup serving of black beans to fall just short of her recommended dietary allowance [RDA],” she shares. Now, for the kicker: “An ounce of dark chocolate would bump the number over the top,” as this serving size will pack around 64 milligrams.
No matter the route you take to get there, rest assured that upping your intake of magnesium-rich foods will benefit your mood and greater health to boot. “Enjoying magnesium as part of your daily diet is important. Many of us are deficient, so being mindful of incorporating these foods regularly will be helpful,” Shapiro concludes.
- Botturi, Andrea et al. “The Role and the Effect of Magnesium in Mental Disorders: A Systematic Review.” Nutrients vol. 12,6 1661. 3 Jun. 2020, doi:10.3390/nu12061661
- Cuciureanu MD, Vink R. Magnesium and stress. In: Vink R, Nechifor M, editors. Magnesium in the Central Nervous System [Internet]. Adelaide (AU): University of Adelaide Press; 2011.
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