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How to Increase Magnesium in Your Child's Diet


Modern Diets Inadequate

Studies show that magnesium deficiency may be a factor in many common childhood maladies. Magnesium is literally used for hundreds of different functions in the human body. If your growing child is short on this important mineral, any one of those hundreds of functions may be effected, like his ability to sit still, relax his facial muscles, stop twitches, process insulin, and deal with loud noises.



raw potato


Banana - 15% DV
Potato - 21% DV
bag of peanuts
One ounce peanuts (shells removed) - 12% DV

Table 1: Percent of daily values of magnesium for selected whole foods your kids might actually eat.


Nutrition surveys show that most Americans on a typical modern diet high in convenience and processed foods do not get the recommended amounts of magnesium each day. If your child has any of the health issues listed above and fills up on foods such as cereal, pop tarts, white bread, soda, cookies, hot dogs, pizza and potato chips, it would be logical to consider nutritional deficiencies as a probable cause for his health issues.

Recent research from the National Cancer Institute found that nearly 40 percent of calories consumed by children in the U.S., ages 2 to 18 were, empty calories, the unhealthiest kind of calories. [1] Six foods make up half of those empty calories. They are:

  1. Soda
  2. Fruit drinks
  3. Dairy desserts
  4. Grain desserts
  5. Pizza
  6. Whole Milk

The best way to help your child to get more magnesium and other important vitamins and minerals into his body is to keep him from filling up on nutrient depleted, processed junk food. Table 1 above shows some whole foods high in magnesium you kids may actually enjoy eating. Table 2 below shows some easy menu substitutions you can make to almost triple your child's magnesium intake.

Table 2 - Magnesium Rich Food Substitution Chart

Instead of:
  Switch to:
Single serving bag cheese crackers
10.1 mgs
  Banana - one medium
30.9 mgs
McDonald's hamburger
21.0 mgs
  Taco Bell Bean Burrito
61.4 mgs
Potato chips - one ounce
19.6 mgs
  Cashews - one ounce
81.8 mgs
Chicken Noodle Soup
(one cup, condensed, prepared with water)
24.2 mgs
  Black bean soup
(one cup, condensed, prepared with water)
42.0 mgs
Crackers, six, sandwich style with cheese filling

10.9 mgs


  Crackers, six, sandwich style with peanut butter filling

21.8 mgs


Magnesium Totals
85.80 mgs

237.9 mgs

Specific Tips for Kids and Parents

1. Personally, I think the ideal diet for most people is probably a quasi-cave man type diet made up of mostly lean meats, some variety meats, soups with bone broth, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, tubers, beans and small amounts of yogurt or other cultured foods with a little helpful bacteria to improve digestion. If everyone ate a diet like that I suspect it would be almost impossible for most people to be low on magnesium. However, it is a tough diet to follow living in today's world, where many parents work full time and the kids are at day care or school most of the day.

So factoring in what most kids like, are not allergic to, and will really actually eat, it is possible to make some minor substitutions and still easily double or triple most kids' average magnesium intakes for a day.

How Much Magnesium Does My Child Need Each Day?

This pdf has the recommended dietary intakes of Mg and other nutrients, based on gender and age, from the Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies. (The magnesium recommendations are on page 5.)

2. The first step in helping your child is to establish a baseline, i.e. figure out how much magnesium your child is consuming on an average day right now. You can accomplish this by writing down each food your child eats or drinks in a day and then add up the amount of magnesium he is currently consuming. If your child is eating an average American diet, a variety of recent surveys show that he most likely won't even be getting the basic minimum daily magnesium requirements, let alone enough to correct a deficiency.

The easiest, though most expensive way I've found to do add up food values is to use a software program called Nutribase. To use it you enter all of the food a person eats in a day and it calculates a wide variety of nutrient totals such as calories, protein, magnesium, calcium, zinc, etc. I thought my kids were eating pretty healthy compared to most of their friends, but I was surprised at how lacking their diets were in some important nutrients after using this program for a few days. One thing to keep in mind is that magnesium and most other nutrients have many cofactors as well as antagonists, so it is important to get a wide spectrum of many nutrients each day, without getting massive quantities of any single nutrient.

bowl of vegetable soup
Getting Your Child to Eat Healthy

If your child simply refuses to eat healthy food, then then I'd recommend the book Setting Limits by Robert J. MacKenzie. The basic idea is to reward positive behavior and set consequences for negative behavior. It works. I'd give it five stars.

A cheaper, though more labor intensive way, to track how much magnesium you child is getting is to simply write everything down in a notebook or enter into a spread sheet everything he eats for a few days and look up the magnesium values online or in a book with nutrition data.

Online the best web site I've found to use is www.nutritiondata.com. You can use their online search tool to find foods highest in any given nutrient, by category. For example, if you are planning dinner and want to know if you should serve corn or peas, you can use their database to find out which one is higher in magnesium. (The nutritiondata web site also has a feature to track nutrients, but it requires registering and the registration form requests a lot of personal information so I have not tried it.)

3. Many children like to fill up on fruits, which most parents view as healthy compared to known junk food snacks like potato chips and soda. However, it is important to note that few fruits have appreciable amounts of magnesium compared to other food groups like vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds.

4. Be aware when looking up magnesium values that some foods may have high levels but may have other ingredients, such as phytates or oxalates, that prevent mineral absorption. I know whole grains are a popular health foods these days, but studies show that high levels of phytates in unleavened whole grains can actually lower mineral levels after consumption.

5. A diet low in alkaline fruits and vegetables may produce an acidic load which can also lower magnesium levels.

6. For young children, you may want to have a chart on the fridge with pictures of magnesium rich foods they might like, such as baked beans, bananas, cashews, etc. Have them check off the food each time they eat it and when they have eaten a certain number of healthy foods each day or week, let them have a reward. This can be something like a small toy, a coupon to stay up late by 30 minutes or a "get out of picking up your toys one time" for free card. When my kids were little I used to go to garage sales, thrift shops and dollar stores to buy used books, used DVDs, small toys, etc. and keep them in a special box to use as rewards. Little kids really like surprises, so another trick is to wrap up the toys and books in the reward box for an added incentive and then let your child pick out the wrapped package of his choice as a special reward.

I get a lot of emails from parents telling me that their kids don't like to eat healthy foods. I understand that. I have kids. Kids don't like to do a lot things like homework, brushing their teeth, going to bed at a reasonable hour, not playing video games all day, etc. You just have to set limits and reinforce positive behavior. Tell your kids that if they eat their vegetables, they can watch a favorite video after dinner. Or if they eat their vegetables, they can have a cookie for dessert. If they don't eat a healthy dinner, then there is no TV after dinner and no dessert.

Think about it. Do you let your child stay home from school, not do her homework or stay up all night? If you are taking the time to read this article, then I'm sure you do not because you are a concerned and loving parent. Eating healthy is just as important as getting enough sleep and going to school.

In the Feakonomics video, Steven Levitt, a behavioral economist, talks about how he can get his kids to do anything with positive reinforcement. One of his children was having trouble staying potty trained, so each time she used the toilet he gave her some M&Ms as a reward. Pretty soon she was using the toilet every few minutes, a few drops at a time, just to get the M&Ms. She went from not being potty trained to having total bladder control in a couple of days with the right incentives. I wouldn't use M&Ms as a reward for eating healthy as that would send a mixed message, but you can use something else your child values as a reward in place of the M&Ms You can view the video here.

If your child simply refuses to eat healthy food, I recommend getting the book Setting Limits by Robert J. MacKenzie. I have tried it on my kids and it works.

7. Remember to be a good role model by eating a healthy diet with magnesium rich foods yourself!

kids using energy playing soccer
A mineral rich, whole foods diet can give your kids more energy and oxygen for their favorite sports.

8. If your child is into sports, explain to him how higher magnesium levels help to increase energy levels and give him an edge over the competition. A 2002 study by researchers at the U.S. Agricultural Service found that low levels of magnesium caused study subjects to need additional amounts of oxygen during exercise, use more energy and tire easier. [2]

9. You can increase the levels of nutrients by substituting vegetable broth instead of water when making dishes such as rice or condensed, canned soup. To make vegetable broth, just heat any vegetables along with stems, peels, etc. in a crock pot on high for a half hour or so, then strain. You can freeze the broth in ice cube trays for later use, if needed.

10. For pasta, I try to buy the kind colored with dried vegetable powders for some additional nutrition.

11. When our younger son would have problems with sensitive hearing as a young child when we were on vacation, the best way we found to fix him up was to go a Mexican restaurant and order a dish with refried beans. Beans are very high in magnesium. Canadian researchers found that bean consumers had higher levels of magnesium as well as other important nutrients.[3]

Ethnicity, Diet and Autism

Interestingly, Hispanic children have lower rates of autism than white children and children with autism have been found to have lower levels of magnesium than controls. [4], [5]

Could the high consumption of beans in the traditional Hispanic diet be protective against autism?

One of my web site readers put her autistic child on a whole foods diet for tics, and reported that the diet did in fact help not only the tics but appeared to help the autism symptoms, too.

12. Encourage your child to help with healthy, whole food (not whole wheat or oats!) baking and food preparation in the kitchen. Most kids love to help with recipes and baking projects, and are more inclined to eat foods they have helped to prepare.

13. Calcium is a magnesium antagonist. Too much calcium from milk, yogurt, cheese, and other dairy products may lower magnesium levels.

14. Many multivitamins contain magnesium antagonists but little, if any magnesium. Multivitamin intake has, not surprisingly, been linked to asthma and allergies in kids and breast cancer in adult women.

Magnesium takes up a lot of space, too much to fit the government recommended daily values in pill form, so the manufacturers usually just leave it out!

The Consumer Science for the Public Interest, in evaluating multivitamins, states on their web site that, "We didn't require 100 percent of the DV for magnesium for one good reason: it wouldn't fit into a single pill." [6] What they don't realize is that leaving it out may do more harm than good. Vitamins and minerals work in balance with each other, and too much of one nutrient can mean a shortage of another.





Related Pages in This Site:

How to Get More Magnesium in Your Diet

Magnesium and Acid - Base Balance

Supplements and Epsom Salts

Symptoms Associated with Low Magnesium Levels, Part II


1. Wein, Harrison, Ph. D. "Where Kids Get Their Empty Calories - NIH Research Matters - National Institutes of Health (NIH)." U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 10 Oct. 2010. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.

2. Marion Bliss, Rosalie. "Lack Energy? Maybe It's Your Magnesium Level." Lack Energy? Maybe It's Your Magnesium Level. USDA Agricultural Research Service, 11 Mar. 2013. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.

3. Papanikolaou Y, Fulgoni VL 3rd. Bean consumption is associated with greater nutrient intake, reduced systolic blood pressure, lower body weight, and a smaller waist circumference in adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2002. [PubMed Abstract]

4. Mental Health in the United States: Parental Report of Diagnosed Autism in Children Aged 4--17 Years --- United States, 2003--2004." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 May 2006. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.

5. Strambi M, Longini M, Hayek J, Berni S, Macucci F, Scalacci E, Vezzosi P.Magnesium profile in autism. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2006 Feb;109(2):97-104. [PubMed Abstract]

6. "Nutrition Action Healthletter - Pick A Multi." Nutrition Action Healthletter - Pick A Multi. Center for Science in the Public Interest, 1 Apr. 2000. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.


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