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How to Have a Diet Richer in Magnesium


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Magnesium is one of the forgotten minerals. Unlike calcium, which we hear advertisements about relentlessly, magnesium is not as often publicized. However, many common ailments including heart palpitations, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, anxiety, insomnia, tics and twitches, migraines, diabetes, and many more health conditions may be caused by magnesium deficiencies. A number of recent studies have shown that many people on modern diets do not get the minimum RDA for magnesium. As such, it would be logical to conclude that higher magnesium intakes across the population might result in improvements in many of the common health maladies associated with a deficiency of this vital mineral.

I get a lot of emails from parents on how to increase magnesium in their children's diets. Some foods with appreciable amounts kids often like include baked potatoes, smoothies that include bananas and coconut milk, banana baby food (serve for dessert instead of pudding), bean burritos, bean tostadas, baked beans, peas, peanut butter and honey cashews. (Of course, avoid any foods your child may be allergic to.) Visit this page for more info on your child's diet.

Below are some tips I've found over the years to get more magnesium into my family's diet.

General Tips for Increasing Magnesium Levels

1. The first step, of course, is to basically just eat more magnesium rich foods, especially beans, nuts and vegetables. Vegetables are especially good if you are watching your weight because you can ingest a lot of magnesium for a relatively small number of calories. Almost every morning I make a big batch of soup with lots of beans, meat and vegetables and then let it simmer in the crock pot all day. Then for lunch or whenever I'm hungry I have the soup all made up and ready to eat.

2. While too much fat in the diet can be unhealthy, eating at least some fat along with your meals may help improve nutrient absorption. In a 2004 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers reported that, "Essentially no absorption of carotenoids was observed when salads with fat-free salad dressing were consumed. A substantially greater absorption of carotenoids was observed when salads were consumed with full-fat than with reduced-fat salad dressing."1

If you are trying to lose weight but are low in magnesium, you may be better off cutting down on calories and especially high glycemic, empty calorie foods like white bread, cake and cookies rather than fat. I developed many of my major magnesium deficiency symptoms (twitches, fibromyalgia, muscle cramps, etc.) as an adult when I went on a low fat diet to lose weight. At the time I didn't realize that a lack of fat may have been a factor in all of my health issues.

3. Limit empty calorie foods such as chips, sodas, cookies and refined grains because they provide a lot of calories yet tend to be low in nutrients, especially magnesium. A big bowl of vegetable beef soup may have around the same amount of calories as a couple of slices of white bread, but the soup will most likely contain much higher levels of magnesium and other vital nutrients.

4. Calcium is a magnesium antagonist. As such, drinking too much milk or eating too many other calcium rich foods in relation to Mg containing foods may lower magnesium levels. A recent study found that older women who took calcium supplements had an increased risk of heart attack. Logically, it would make sense that a known magnesium antagonist like calcium, taken in too high of a dosage, may hurt the heart since numerous studies have shown that magnesium is vital for proper heart functioning.

Are Your Getting Too Much Calcium?

"Another risk factor for low magnesium status in older women is the use of calcium supplements without magnesium for bone health. High calcium intakes can make magnesium deficiency worse."

From Do you have trouble sleeping? More magnesium might help, By Forrest Nielsen, USDA's Agricultural Research Service

5. According to the NutritionData.com web site, one tablespoon of molasses has 48.4 mg of magnesium for only 58 calories. For a person on a 2,000 daily calorie diet, this is 12% of the FDA's recommended daily values for magnesium. So for 2.9% of your daily calories, you can get 12% of your recommended intake - a pretty good deal. Molasses is also a good source of iron, calcium, Vitamin B6 and manganese.

6. I think it is better to get magnesium from your diet than to take supplements. Magnesium is an alkaline mineral and a common ingredients in antacids. We've noticed in my family that taking magnesium supplements for more than a day or two can sometimes cause cramping and diarrhea. Taking magnesium supplements too often can be like overdosing on antacids, which can lower your stomach acid, which in turn may prevent you from absorbing nutrients properly. Plus magnesium needs other vitamins and minerals as cofactors for proper utilization, so taking magnesium supplements alone may not be enough to really correct a deficiency.

glass of mineral water
  An 8 ounce glass of Apollinaris Sparkling Mineral water has 6% of the DV of magnesium for zero calories.


7. Also consider that your body's pH may be too acid or too alkaline to maintain optimal magnesium levels. In my personal experience, I suspect that either condition may negatively impact magnesium levels. I believe an over acid body is one of the reasons that many people suffer from both heartburn and migraines.

8. Alcohol may cause a loss of of this important nutrient. Many of the symptoms of hangovers (headache, noise sensitivity, light sensitivity) are identical to the symptoms of a magnesium deficiency.

9. A variety of prescription drugs, including some commonly prescribed antibiotics, may cause deficiencies. One of my sons, who happens to not be a big vegetable fan, developed ringing in his ears while being on penicillin for an illness. He said the ringing lessened appreciably after eating a bean, rice and and cheese burrito for dinner one night. We think this may have been because of the high magnesium content and absorbability of the mashed beans in the burrito.

10. Caffeine can cause a magnesium loss. Foods with caffeine include include coffee, tea, some energy drinks and bars, and some types of soda.

11. Estrogen helps the body's uptake and utilization of magnesium. When my muscles are tight or I'm having trouble sleeping, conditions that are both possible signs of magnesium deficiency, often a little soy milk will help me to relax. Soy milk is high in phytoestrogens as well as magnesium. However, I don't think soy is a healthy food to eat in large quantities because it may raise estrogen levels too much, which isn't healthy. A high intake of soy foods may also cause thyroid problems, so for me soy is something I consume only in limited quantities.

My Personal Experiences

One of my children used to develop signs of sensitive hearing, a symptom associated with magnesium deficiency, when we would go on vacation and he was eating more restaurant and fast food meals than he normally would at home. When that would happen we would take him to a Mexican restaurant and order a dish with refried beans, such as a burrito. That would usually help to return his hearing to normal. I think this is because beans are high in magnesium and also because refried beans are rather well cooked and rather mushy, which may make them more easily digestible.

If you want to get more magnesium in your diet but circumstances require you to eat fast food now and then, trying having Mexican fast food with bean dishes, or look for places that serve baked potatoes as a side dish option.

Magnesium rich foods that are cooked, processed and diluted with liquid seem to be easier to absorb for my family than raw foods. Good liquid or semi-liquid sources of magnesium include mashed potatoes, banana smoothies, soy milk, and home made vegetable broth. One of my sons developed heart palpitations, a condition that may be caused by a lack of magnesium, one night when he was sick, dehydrated and had not been eating much food. I made him a broth of simmered and strained mixed vegetables of whatever I had in the house. I think it was some lettuce, frozen okra, squash, celery, green beans and carrots. A few minutes after drinking the broth he felt better and his heart beat returned to normal. On another occasion I had my husband make a similar broth for me when I developed vertigo. The veggie broth, a diet of more magnesium rich, alkaline foods for a few days and yoga helped the vertigo go away. Personally, I am a firm believer in the restorative powers of vegetable soups and broths for their easily absorbable, high nutrient content.

For feelings of "hyperness", anxiety from magnesium deficiency, and tight muscles, one member of my family has found eating peanuts to be helpful. Peanuts are high in both magnesium and fat, so I think the fat may help make the nutrients more absorbable. I have found that cashews and pistachios seem to make me feel calmer whenever I feel a bit edgy. (Of course if you are allergic to nuts this option won't work for you.)

Contrary to conventional medical dogma, I think it is best to follow more of a caveman diet and eat less grain foods, especially whole grains. In my household I do serve some refined grains due to popular demand, but never whole grains. Whole grains are high in both phytates and fiber which can reduce absorption of magnesium and other minerals. Every time some family members or I eat most types of whole grain foods, especially oats, bran and whole wheat, we develop magnesium deficiency symptoms, especially tight muscles and insomnia.






Related Pages in This Site:

Magnesium and Acid - Base Balance

Supplements and Epsom Salts

Getting More Magnesium in Your Child's Diet

Symptoms Associated with Low Magnesium Levels, Part II

Selected References

1.Brown, M. J., Ferruzzi, M. G., Nguyen, M. L., Cooper, D. A., Eldridge, A. L., Schwartz, S. J., White, W. S. "Carotenoid bioavailability is higher from salads ingested with full-fat than with fat-reduced salad dressings as measured with electrochemical detection." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 80, No. 2, 396-403, August 2004. [Full text]


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