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Mind your magnesium for good health

Magnesium is important for our health, yet more than half of Americans don’t get enough in their diets.

The mineral is involved in more than 300 functions in our bodies. Not getting enough magnesium can result in abnormal heart rhythm, poor blood sugar control, fragile bones, muscle spasms or cramps, seizures, weakness and nausea.  

Magnesium helps regulate blood pressure, produce energy and build strong bones. It also plays a very important role in transporting calcium and potassium across cell membranes, which is crucial for muscle function and normal heart rhythm.

Assessing magnesium is difficult because only 1 percent is in our blood and 50 to 60 percent is stored in our bones. Our kidneys work hard to maintain the mineral in our blood and signal our bones and other tissues when it’s needed. If you don’t consume enough magnesium, your nerves, muscles and bones will be affected and you may not even know it.

Making sure you consume enough magnesium is a good insurance policy.  According to the National Institutes of Health, having enough of the mineral can help decrease our risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 23 percent, decrease our risk of stroke, make our bones stronger, reduce the number of headaches, and decrease risk of kidney stones.

It can be hard to identify foods high in magnesium because the mineral is not listed in the nutrition facts on food labels. Foods rich in magnesium include nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains.

Some people have an increased risk of losing too much magnesium each day so they need to eat even more. This includes people taking certain medications, such diuretics like furosemide (Lasix), and proton pump inhibitors, such as lansoprazole (Prevacid).  High blood sugars cause a loss of magnesium and people with chronic gastrointestinal disorders may not absorb magnesium as well. Drinking too much alcohol or eating a high-protein diet can also increase the need for more magnesium.

Too much magnesium from food does not pose a health risk in healthy people because our kidneys eliminate excess amounts in our urine. However, high doses of magnesium from dietary supplements, medications or laxatives can cause diarrhea. The upper level for magnesium supplements for men and women is 350 milligrams. Most multivitamins average 100 milligrams of magnesium.

The recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for magnesium vary by age and gender. Women need higher amounts during pregnancy. For adults, men need 400 to 420 milligrams each day while women need 310 to 320 milligrams. Pregnant women need higher levels.

Most of us need to get a lot more magnesium in our diet. A blood test cannot adequately tell us if our magnesium stores are at a good level. So it’s necessary to refuel each day with foods high in magnesium to keep our bodies running like a well-tuned machine.

Here are some easy ways to add more magnesium to your diet.

  • Eat more nuts, seeds and nut butters. Snack on nuts and add them to your salads and oatmeal.

  • Use peanut butter rather than butter on your bread.

  • Top a fruit cup with wheat germ or sunflower seeds.

  • Pick oatmeal, shredded wheat or bran flakes for breakfast.

  • Drink low-fat or soy milk each day.

  • Choose brown rice instead of white rice and whole-wheat pasta instead of regular pasta.

  • Eat more beans. Make low-sodium soups with beans, or try a calico bean recipe or a recipe with edamame or quinoa.

Here are some foods that are high in magnesium. The actual amount may vary depending on the product or its processing. You can find more information in the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Database at www.ndb.nal.usda.gov.

FoodServing SizeEstimated Amount of MagnesiumNotes

Almonds, roasted1 ounce or ¼ cup (22 nuts)80-90 mgChoose almost with very little sodium

Brown rice, cooked1 cup85 mgWhite rice has only 15 mg

Cashews, roasted 1 ounce or ¼ cup75-80 mgChoose cashews with very little sodium

Spinach, frozen, cooked½ cup74 mg1 cup raw spinach has only 24 mg

Raisin Bran (Post or Kellogg’s)1 cup70-99 mg

Bran flakes¾ cup70 mg

Navy beans, canned½ cup65 mg

Shredded Wheat, spoon-size squares1 cup65 mg

Shredded Wheat, large biscuits2 biscuits61 mg

Quinoa, cooked½ cup60 mg

Sweet potato, cooked1 cup59 mg

Peanut butter, smooth or crunchy2 tablespoons54 mg

Peanuts, roasted 1 ounce or ¼ cup50-60 mg

Oatmeal, cooked 1 cup50 mg

Edamame (baby soybeans), shelled½ cup50 mg

Walnuts, chopped¼ cup45 mg

Whole-wheat pasta, cooked1 cup42 mgWhite enriched pasta has only 25 mg

Black beans, canned½ cup42 mg

Sunflower seeds, roasted ¼ cup 40 mg

Pecans, roasted¼ cup40 mg

Avocado½ medium36-40 mg

Milk 2%1 cup37 mg

Soy milk1 cup36 mg

Banana1 medium32 mg

Potato, baked1 medium = 1 cup30 mg

Milk, skim1 cup28 mg

Wild rice, cooked½ cup26 mg

Hummus2 tablespoons22 mg

Wheat germ1 tablespoon22 mg

Pineapple, canned in juice½ cup22 mg

Kidney beans, canned½ cup22 mg

Beets, sliced½ cup20 mg

Pineapple juice½ cup18 mg

Peas, cooked½ cup17 mg

Corn, cooked½ cup17 mg

Potatoes, mashed½ cup17 mg

Broccoli, cooked½ cup16 mg

Orange, fresh1 medium15 mg

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Bonnie Brost is a licensed and registered dietitian in the Wellness Program at the Essentia Health St. Mary’s-Heart & Vascular Center in Duluth. Contact her at bonnie.brost@essentiahealth.org.

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