Medically reviewed by
Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
7 min read
Magnesium is an abundant and vitally important mineral in the body. Naturally present in many foods and added to still other food products, it’s widely available as a dietary supplement and is included in some medicines (antacids and laxatives among them).
Magnesium is a major mineral in the body. It’s found in more than 300 enzyme systems – systems that regulate a whole range of important biochemical functions in the body, including blood pressure regulation, muscle and nerve function, and blood glucose control. It helps synthesize DNA, RNA, and the antioxidant glutathione. It acts as a gatekeeper for the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, which aid memory and learning. And it’s essential to bone health and heart health.
Maintaining healthy magnesium levels is essential to your overall health, both mental and physical. Magnesium is one of seven macrominerals in the body – minerals of which people need to maintain relatively large amounts. Still, many people don’t get enough magnesium in their diets, despite the availability of some magnesium-rich foods.
Having a healthy magnesium level supports hundreds of biochemical reactions in your body. It may boost exercise performance, support brain health, support healthy blood sugar levels, and promote heart health. Some studies also indicate that it can improve PMS symptoms.
The good news is that magnesium is available in a wide and diverse array of foods, including many fruits and vegetables. Incorporating some magnesium-rich foods into your diet can go a long way toward supporting your health goals.
The term “legumes” describes a family of nutrient-dense plants: peas, lentils, beans, soybeans, and chickpeas. They’re rich in magnesium, as well as several other nutrients. Consider this: A one-cup serving of cooked black beans includes 120 mg of magnesium, or 30% of the recommended daily intake (RDI).
Other health benefits of legumes abound. They’re high in iron and potassium – and, for vegetarians especially, they can be a key source of protein. They may also support healthy blood sugar levels and promote heart health.
The term “whole grains” can include wheat, oats, barley, and pseudocereals like buckwheat and quinoa. If you’re looking for some magnesium-rich foods, you can’t go wrong with incorporating some whole grains into your diet.
A one-ounce serving of dry buckwheat, for example, will afford you about 65 mg of magnesium, or 16% of the RDI. Buckwheat is also rich in B-group vitamins and contains some macroelements and microelements, including sodium, potassium, copper, zinc, magnesium, iron, calcium, and manganese. Its rich nutrients and minerals make buckwheat a great option to use for making biscuits, breads, cakes, casseroles, cookies, crepes, pancakes, pasta-noodles, soups, and confectionary products.
Oats also contain unique antioxidants, called avenanthramides, as well as the vitamin E-like compounds, tocotrienols, and tocopherols.
Quinoa, once known to the Incas as “the mother of all grains,” has been eaten as food and medicine for 5,000 years. It’s a pseudo-cereal that’s recognized as one of the world’s healthiest foods. In addition to being rich in magnesium, it’s an excellent source of protein, unsaturated fatty acids, minerals, vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants. It’s earned the title of superfood.
Whole grains in general are high in B vitamins, selenium, manganese, and fiber, and they’ve been shown to be good for your heart health.
You may have noticed that avocados are quite popular these days, and that’s for good reason. First of all, they’re tasty. Secondly, they’re a great source of nutrients: they’re high in potassium, B vitamins, and vitamin K, and they’re also high in monounsaturated fat that’s great for your heart health. And, of course, they’re an excellent source of magnesium. A medium avocado will afford you 58 mg of magnesium or 15% of the RDI. On top of all that, they’re also a great source of fiber.
Nuts and seeds are also a great source of magnesium. Some nuts that are especially high in magnesium include Brazil nuts, cashews, and almonds. A one-ounce serving of cashews offers you 82 mg of magnesium, which is 20% of the RDI. Nuts make for great snacks and are also great for heart health. Most nuts are good sources of fiber.
If you’re a vegetarian, odds are you know a thing or two about tofu – its high protein content makes it a favorite among people who don’t eat meat. Tofu is yet another good source of magnesium: A 3.5-ounce serving has 53 mg of magnesium, which amounts to 13% of the RDI. This same serving will also provide you 10 grams of protein, as well as 10% or more of the RDI for iron, manganese, selenium, and calcium. Health benefits of tofu are plentiful, with some studies showing that tofu can support stomach and heart health.
If you’re looking to get more magnesium in your diet, you can’t go wrong with eating more leafy greens – just pick the right ones. Some greens with a lot of magnesium include: spinach, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, and turnip greens. A one-cup serving of cooked spinach will afford you 157 mg of magnesium, which comes out to 39% of the RDI; a one-cup serving of cooked kale offers 23.4 mg of magnesium, or about 6% of the RDI. Greens are also a great source of other nutrients, such as manganese, iron, and vitamins A, C, and K. You may also benefit from their many beneficial plant compounds, which support the health of your cells.
Bananas are a highly nutritious fruit and have even been called a “superfood” by the American Medical Association. Famously a great source of potassium, bananas are also an excellent source of magnesium. The main variety of bananas sold in the United States and Europe – the ones you see whenever you go to the grocery store – are known as the Cavendish type. One serving of a medium-sized banana contains 32 mg of magnesium. That said, one study showed that a Cavendish banana’s magnesium and potassium contents increased as the banana ripened. So, even if you don’t like the looks of a very ripe banana, remember: It’s got even more of the nutritional value you’re looking for!
In addition to being delicious, dark chocolate is very rich in magnesium: a one-ounce serving will afford you 64 mg in magnesium, or 16% of the RDI. It’s also got high concentrations of iron, copper, and manganese – as well as prebiotic fiber that feeds your healthy gut bacteria. You can also benefit from dark chocolate’s many antioxidants, or nutrients that can neutralize molecules that can harm your cells.
Moreover, dark chocolate supports heart health: It possesses antioxidant compounds known as flavanols that may enhance normal blood flow which also promotes cognitive health. The key to really benefiting from dark chocolate is to choose a product with at least 70% cocoa solids. If you can go higher, that’s even better for you!
While true magnesium deficiencies don’t occur all that often, you should still be on the lookout for the signs of one. Symptoms of a magnesium deficiency can include: nausea, vomiting, fatigue, osteoporosis, muscle cramps, irregular heartbeat, and select mental health conditions.
The good news is that you typically can’t get too much magnesium from your diet, or from consuming the foods listed above; your kidneys will get rid of excess magnesium in your urine. Your only real risk of getting too much magnesium is if you’re taking high doses of magnesium in antacids or cathartic forms. . According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition the upper limit for supplemental magnesium is 400 mg per day for healthy adults. Individuals consuming supplements should be aware that some antacids and laxatives also contain magnesium. Symptoms of magnesium toxicity are rarely seen. According to the IOM (Institute of Medicine) the most common primary initial presentation of excess magnesium is diarrhea. All other symptoms may be associated with those who have pre-existing kidney issues. You should always consult with a medical professional before taking a supplement.
If you’re concerned about not getting enough magnesium, you should incorporate some of the excellent foods listed above – as part of a balanced diet, of course. Eating well can help you get the nutrients you need, keeping your body in good shape.