Top 12 Best Food Sources of Magnesium
Western society is plagued with magnesium deficiency affecting an estimated 80% of individuals in the United States today. The average standard diet consists of 175 mg/day of magnesium down from an average 500 mg/day representative of diets in the 1900’s. (18)
Dr. Norman Shealy, M.D., Ph.D. is an American neurosurgeon and a pioneer in pain medicine. He says, “Every known illness is associated with a magnesium deficiency,” and that, “magnesium is the most critical mineral required for electrical stability of every cell in the body. A magnesium deficiency may be responsible for more diseases than any other nutrient. (2)”
When the majority of people don’t meet the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for an essential nutrient, the health consequences are severe and extremely prevalent today. The top 12 best food sources of magnesium outlined in this article will allow you to replenish your magnesium levels and support your overall vitality and well-being.
Essential Role of Magnesium to Health
Magnesium plays a key role in intra-cellular health. It manages the electrical gradient within cells so that the nervous system is not easily excited. More than 300 enzymes alone require magnesium to perform their biological roles in tissue and organs (1).
The body relies on optimal magnesium absorption for:
- Memory function
- Regulating mood and stress
- Muscle relaxation and sleep
- Blood sugar control
- Healthy bone density
- Cardiovascular support
- Detoxification pathways in the liver
- Normal gut motility
The RDA for magnesium ranges accordingly: (15)
Children up to 13 years of age: 80-240 mg/day
Females over 14 years of age: 310-360 mg/day
Pregnant and nursing women: 310-400 mg/day
Males over 14 years of age: 400-420 mg/day
Most natural health experts agree that these levels are considerably lower than they should be and yet close to 80% of our population is not even getting this level. As a functional health practitioner, I will put many of my clients on 1-2 grams of magnesium each day…with no fear of an overdose and they respond amazingly well. Many will tell me that the magnesium dramatically improved their sleep quality, mood, memory and overall performance.
Calcium to Magnesium Ratio
Unlike our ancestors whose balance of calcium to magnesium levels were equal, our lifestyle habits today lead to an imbalance in this key electrical gradient. The result is a 10:1 calcium to magnesium ratio. This ratio disrupts the healthy balance of electrolytes within cells making nerves more susceptible to stress and pain perception.
Declining magnesium levels in Western societies is dictated by a wide range of variables. Most common are chronic stress and poor dietary habits such as high sugar intake, over consumption of processed goods and too little intake of plant based nutrients.
Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms
Deficiency leads to a variety of health disturbances and diseases. Do you have any of the following top symptoms of magnesium deficiency?
- Poor cognitive thought
- Headaches and chronic migraines
- Constipation and related disorders like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
- Fatigue (physical, mental and emotional)
- Muscle spasms
- Chronic Pain
- Heart arrhythmias
- Numbness and tingling
- Mood disorders such as ADHD, anxiety and depression
A staggering list of widespread diseases is associated with magnesium deficiency. Some of these include Alzheimer’s disease, type-2 diabetes, premenstrual syndrome, hypertension, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and chronic immune disorders. (2)
Top Food Sources
Consuming magnesium rich foods in your daily diet can help you reduce complications associated with metabolic and inflammatory issues. The biggest things that drain magnesium levels include blood sugar imbalances and chronic stress.
If you notice you are under an increased amount of stress or have enjoyed a higher carbohydrate meal or dessert than look to consume more of these magnesium rich foods and consider adding in a good magnesium supplement which I discuss at the bottom of this article. Look to make at least 10 of these 12 magnesium rich foods staple parts of your daily nutrition plan.
1. Swiss Chard
Dark leafy greens and are some of the richest sources of dietary magnesium. Green vegetables like Swiss chard offer nutrients like magnesium that buffer the pH of the body from the effects of acidic foods. Increasing dietary magnesium levels is critical to this homeostatic process because it prevents the minerals in bones from being depleted to perform this buffering effect. (11)
Women are uniquely susceptible to the effects of magnesium deficiency because of changes in estrogen levels. When estrogen concentrations are elevated, magnesium intake is required in higher amounts to improve the balance of calcium to magnesium in the blood. Increasing dietary magnesium in these women can lower the risk of cardiovascular events like thrombosis. (12)
Spinach is a fiber rich food loaded with nutrients like folate, potassium and vitamin B6 and is one of the best green vegetable sources for magnesium. Adding spinach to your diet is also easily accomplished. Use it in salads, add it to smoothies, prepare it in fresh juices and incorporate in almost any dish like omelets. The anti-inflammatory benefits of spinach will encourage muscle relaxation and reduce symptoms of constipation (4).
A study of men who ate spinach daily had higher levels of magnesium and a better calcium to magnesium ratio (25). Eating spinach regularly offers an effective and natural way to reduce the frequency of migraine headaches and limit their severity when they do occur. Adding up to another 100 mg/day of magnesium through dietary foods like spinach is associated with an 8% risk reduction in stroke because magnesium naturally lowers high blood pressure (26).
3. Grass-Fed Dairy
The acidity from conventional dairy products causes magnesium and other minerals to leach from bone, joints and muscle tissue. Raw grass-fed dairy, however, supplements the body’s nutritional need for magnesium. These sources also provide anti-inflammatory and sugar stabilizing nutrients like omega-3 fats and vitamin D.
If you experience lactose sensitivity or intolerance from consuming pasteurized grain-fed dairy milks and cheeses, switching to raw dairy may be a natural solution to overcoming this problem. Raw milks and cheeses contain higher concentrations of the enzymes need to digest lactose and absorb magnesium and other nutrients. If a lactose allergies persists, grass-fed ghee or clarified butter is also rich in magnesium and contains only traces of lactose.
Avocados are a rich source of magnesium, B-complex vitamins, vitamins A, C, E, K and healthy fatty acids. Consuming avocados regularly can help slow the progression of neurological decline and stimulate serotonin and dopamine pathways in the brain. (5, 6)
Half an avocado provides 20 mg of magnesium and is an excellent way to promote vascular strength and regulate insulin levels. Consume half an avocado in your post-workout smoothie to combat fatigue and elevate your mood. Magnesium inhibits fat absorption helping weight management and was shown to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease in a follow-up study of almost 40,000 men (16). (17)
5. Pumpkin Seeds
Total health is dependent on the optimal function of the gastrointestinal tract. Cleansing the intestines is essential for eliminating toxins and impurities that can lead to systemic complications. The magnesium in pumpkin seeds improves gut motility by decreasing the amount of time it takes for waste to leave the colon. (7)
Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant that stimulates stool movement in the bowels. Relieve symptoms of constipation and replenish your magnesium levels under times of high stress by snacking on pumpkin seeds (8). Consider adding sprouted pumpkin seeds to salads, omelets and combine into dessert recipes.
6. Sea Vegetables
Known for the deep chlorophyll rich color, sea vegetables are also excellent sources of magnesium. The combination of chlorophyll and magnesium prevent the toxic accumulation of carcinogens in the nervous system while boosting nerve and brain function. Sea vegetables up-regulate antioxidant pathways to combat oxidative stress and prevent the depletion of magnesium levels. (3)
Try incorporating seaweeds like dulse, nori and kelp into your diet to boost your magnesium concentration and support immune defenses. No other food source compares to the 780 mg of magnesium in kelp. Sprinkle Bragg’s Organic Sea Kelp Delight Seasoning or Herbamare to enrich the flavor and nutrient profile of any dish. You can also enjoy Sea Snax which are a very tasty way to enjoy sea vegetables.
7. Pink Salts
Compared to table salt which is toxic and can inhibit the proper absorption of magnesium into the body, pink salts provide vital trace minerals for health. Examples are Himalayan pink salt and Redmond’s Real Salt mined from volcanic sea deposits. The trace minerals they contain are reflected in their natural pink hues.
The purity of pink salts makes them a great dietary source of magnesium for improving electrolyte balance. They also contains nutrients like iodine, manganese, potassium and zinc. Consider adding a pinch of pink salt into your water following an intense workout or extended period of sweating to stabilize your electrolyte imbalance and prevent magnesium deficiency. Doing so will reduce symptoms of dehydration and prevent muscle spasms and fatigue.
Almonds, brazil nuts, pecans and macadamia nuts contain magnesium to help preserve bone density, support cardiovascular health and regulate blood sugar levels. The magnesium in nuts increases testosterone levels aiding in strength, muscle recovery and protein synthesis for metabolism. Nuts are an excellent snack for any athlete to offset the magnesium deficits that occur from increased sweat and urination. (18)
Consuming almonds in one study was associated with a reduction in blood sugar levels following a meal by 40 to 50% (9). Nut consumption has been found to reduce the occurrence of metabolic syndrome in 7% of patients following only one serving of nuts weekly (10). Brazil nuts are the highest source of magnesium and the trace mineral selenium.
9. Dark Chocolate
You might be surprised to know that unsweetened dark cocoa powder is one of the highest sources of magnesium. A single ounce of dark chocolate provides 95 mg or about 24% of the recommended daily value of magnesium (13). Just be sure to consume non-processed chocolate that is greater than 70% cacao for its full health benefits. The highest concentrations are in the raw cacao form but minimally processed dark chocolate is also good.
A greater need for magnesium can manifest as cravings for chocolate during a woman’s menstrual cycle. Seen again, greater compulsion to eat chocolate occurs when individuals are overwhelmed by emotional stress and seek a feel good trigger. The magnesium in chocolate provides the stimulus the brain was lacking to improve a person’s mood by balancing hormone levels and brain function. (14)
10. Wild-caught Fish
Wild-caught fish like Wild Alaskan salmon, sardines and halibut offer about 80mg of magnesium in a 2.5 ounce serving. This food source has a deep nutrient profile because it is also a fantastic source of healthy fats, vitamin D and trace minerals.
Consuming wild-caught fish low in toxicity improves neurological and cardiovascular function as well as protects against bone degeneration. With the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease expected to reach 104 million by the year 2050, it is critical not to overlook the superfood powers of wild-caught, omega 3 rich fish (19). Weekly consumption can reduce the occurrence of cognitive decline and alleviate symptoms of dementia.
Sprouts offer anti-carcinogenic properties and are packed with magnesium amongst a wide array of vitamins like A, B, C and micronutrients. Magnesium in sprouts provides health benefits for the skin, hair and slows the aging process (20).
Choosing organic broccoli, cauliflower and kale sprouts is the best way to ensure you are receiving the greatest concentration of nutrients. Researchers have found that eating 5 servings of sprouts weekly provides the maximum impact to support a healthy gut, reduce inflammation,and detoxify the body of pollutants (21). Toss sprouts over salads, stir fry and add to wraps and slaw.
Given our fast paced lifestyles, it is no surprise that coffee provides the number one source of antioxidants for Americans today. Drinking coffee in excess can deplete the body of its magnesium stores but when consumed in normal concentrations, coffee is a great source of magnesium. Limit your coffee intake to about 2 cups and stir in a healthy fat like coconut oil or grass-fed butter to prevent an adrenaline response.
The magnesium in coffee is associated with improved metabolic rate and a lower risk of insulin resistance. Researchers have found that coffee intake reduces the risk for type-2 diabetes in both men and women (22). Along with the health benefiting polyphenols also active in coffee, magnesium intake has been directly shown to lower fasting insulin levels. Drink organic coffee to avoid chemical residue from fertilizers and pesticides. (23, 24)
I recommend supplemental magnesium for the majority of my patients. Most people notice immediate results with better stress adaptation, energy, memory, improved bowel tone, mood, productivity and sleep quality. The key is to get the right form of magnesium.
Magnesium L-threonate has been shown in the latest research to be the most effective form of magnesium for energy, sleep, brain function and stress adaptation. This is because the L-threonate form is able to cross the blood brain barrier and absorb into the neuron cells of the brain (25, 26, 27).
Brain calm magnesium contains magnesium L-threonate along with other magnesium compounds designed to promote optimal magnesium support. Only magnesium L-threonate has the highest absorption rate of magnesium available for cells and may be the best form of a magnesium supplement that you could buy.