Learn about the mineral magnesium and why it’s so important for us! This post also includes a list of delicious magnesium rich foods you can add to your diet.
What is Magnesium?
Magnesium is an extremely important mineral for the human body. It is required as a cofactor in over 300 enzyme systems that perform all kinds of biochemical reactions! Magnesium is needed for protein synthesis, blood pressure regulation, blood sugar control, and muscle and nerve function, just to name a few.
Because more than half of the magnesium in our bodies is found in bone (50%-60%), magnesium levels are difficult to measure. However, many Americans are not getting the recommended amount of magnesium in their diets. The current Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA’s) for magnesium for adults is between 310-420 mg per day, based on age and gender (1).
Magnesium Health Benefits
Magnesium plays a crucial role in hundreds of biochemical reactions in the human body. Because of this, it has significant health benefits.
- Cardiovascular Disease: Magnesium might help to lower blood pressure. High blood pressure/hypertension is a known risk factor for stroke and heart disease. There is limited evidence that magnesium supplementation is associated with lowering blood pressure. However, one study showed that increased dietary magnesium from the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet lead to a drop in blood pressure (2).
- Type 2 Diabetes: Diets high in magnesium are beneficial to prevent Type 2 Diabetes, likely because magnesium plays an important role in glucose metabolism. One meta-analysis showed that increasing magnesium intake by 100 mg per day significantly lowered the risk of Type 2 diabetes (3). Type 2 Diabetes causes higher urinary losses of magnesium, so it’s also important for those with the disease to get enough in their diets.
- Bone Health: More than half of the magnesium in our bodies exists in bones. It is a part of bone formation, and helps regulate concentrations of other factors needed for strong bones. Even though we stop accumulating bone mass by the age of 25, research shows some positive associations between magnesium intake and bone mineral density in adults (4). This is especially important for post-menopausal women, who are at higher risk of osteoporosis! Magnesium may be just as important as calcium and vitamin D to promote good bone health.
- Sleep: Magnesium supplementation may help with sleep and insomnia. One study showed that 8 weeks of daily magnesium supplementation lead to improved measures of insomnia, such as sleep time and serum melatonin levels (5).
Eight Magnesium Rich Foods
Now that we’ve gone over the importance of magnesium, and recognize what a powerful mineral it is, here are some delicious ways to add it to your diet!
Spinach and Leafy Greens
Half a cup of cooked spinach contains 20% of your daily magnesium needs. Enjoy it as a base for a salad, sautéed in an omelet, or blended into a green smoothie! Spinach and leafy greens are also good sources of fiber, and vitamins A, C and K. Try this Kale Caesar Salad with Spice Roasted Chickpeas or Spinach, Mushroom, and Caramelized Onion Goat Cheese Quesadilla recipe to get your daily dose of leafy greens!
Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes are an inexpensive source of plant based protein, plus tons of other nutrients. Half a cup of black beans contain 15% of your daily magnesium needs, and half a cup of kidney beans contain 9%. Beans are one of the foods that people in all five Blue Zones eat regularly, which are areas of the world where people live longer than average. Try out these Quinoa Enchilada Stuffed Peppers or Mushroom Tacos with Mango Avocado Salsa, both which include black beans.
We all know that avocado is full of healthy fats and potassium, but it also contains magnesium. One cup has 11% of our daily needs. Avocado is such a yummy and filling addition to salads, grain bowls, and even smoothies! Check out my Chickpea and Avocado Stuffed Sweet Potatoes and Vegan Avocado Quesadillas for some new avocado filled meal ideas.
Tofu is a versatile vegetarian diet staple. It is an inexpensive, easy to prepare source of plant-based protein, and it also contains minerals like magnesium, calcium, and iron. A 3.5 oz serving of tofu contains 13% of our daily magnesium needs. Some of my favorite tofu recipes include these Peanut Tofu Vermicelli Rice Noodle Bowls with Quick Pickled Vegetables, Tofu Summer Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce, and Crispy Baked Tofu.
Another soy product, edamame are immature soy beans. They are eaten steamed, and are delicious on their own with just a little salt! Edamame is a nutrition powerhouse, as it contains fiber, healthy fats, protein, and carbohydrates. It’s also a good source of Vitamin C, iron, and magnesium – one cup has 24% of our daily needs. Try steamed edamame as one of my favorite Healthy Snack Ideas or in this Broccoli Salad with Thai Peanut Dressing.
Nuts are one of my favorite foods to snack on. They’re a good source of healthy fats, plant-based protein, fiber, and other vitamins and minerals. Almonds and cashews are particularly good source of magnesium. One ounce of either will give us around 20% of our daily needs! I love making healthy sweets using nuts, nut butter, or almond flour. Check out these recipes that use nut based ingredients: Almond Butter Zucchini Brownies, Freezer Cookie Dough Fudge, and Chocolate Coconut Balls.
Like nuts, seeds are also a wonderful food to snack on. A tablespoon of flax, chia, or sesame seeds gives us around 10% of our daily magnesium needs. I love to sprinkle seeds on top of oatmeal bowls or salads, and include them in my baking. This Cauliflower Sweet Potato Salad with Tahini Citrus Vinaigrette recipe uses sesame, or try this Blended Chocolate Chia Pudding.
Saving the best for last, dark chocolate is probably everyone’s favorite magnesium rich food! A one ounce piece contains 16% of our daily magnesium needs. Dark chocolate is also rich in flavanol antioxidants, which are protective against cardiovascular disease. Dark chocolate is obviously delicious on it’s own, or in desserts! Try these Fudgy Tahini Brownies or Raw Cashew Coconut Snickerdoodle Truffles.
Magnesium is a super important mineral for a ton of biochemical processes in our bodies, and has many health benefits. Load up your plate with magnesium rich foods to get your daily doses! As you can see, including a variety of foods from different food groups will give you a healthy dose of magnesium, as well as other necessary vitamins and minerals.