By Dr Venita Patel

Health benefits of magnesium: How to get this multi-tasking mineral into your diet

Magnesium is such an important, but often overlooked mineral found in the human body. It's a vital nutrient for over 300 enzyme reactions in the body, essential for a wide range of functions.

Why is magnesium important?

When you take in enough magnesium through your diet (or occasionally through supplementation), it can help in the following ways:

  • Muscle and nerve regulation
  • Energy production
  • Blood sugar balance
  • Blood pressure control
  • Cholesterol balance
  • Healthy bone formation
  • Stress management
  • Better sleep
  • Better digestion

What happens if you don't get enough magnesium?

When you're deficient in magnesium, it can manifest itself in a number of early symptoms, including any of the following:

If you're otherwise in good general health, your kidneys will compensate for your low magnesium intake by limiting the amount lost in urine. However, low magnesium intakes for a long period of time can lead to magnesium deficiency.

In addition, some medical conditions and medications interfere with your body's magnesium absorption, or increase the amount of magnesium excreted. This can also lead to deficiency.

Some groups of people are more likely to suffer from magnesium deficiency, including people with gastrointestinal disease, type 2 diabetics, older people and adolescents.

How can you get more magnesium in your diet?

Magnesium is found naturally in many foods and is added to some fortified foods too. You can get fairly high levels of magnesium by eating a variety of foods, including the following:

  • Green, leafy vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans and legumes
  • Whole grains (e.g. buckwheat, rye, oats)
  • Dairy foods (e.g. yoghurt)
  • Fortified foods

Some of the top magnesium-rich foods are:

  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Dark chocolate
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Almonds
  • Black beans
  • Avocado
  • Figs
  • Yoghurt
  • Kefir
  • Bananas

Should you take magnesium supplements?

Magnesium is available in dietary supplements, including many multivitamins and mineral supplements. It's also included in some laxatives and medicines for treating heartburn and indigestion.

Certain forms of magnesium in dietary supplements are more easily absorbed by the body, such as magnesium citrate, magnesium lactate and magnesium chloride.

The recommended daily allowance for magnesium supplementation is 350-400mg.

However, if you take too much magnesium in supplement form, it can have a laxative effect, so it's recommended that you build up your dose slowly.

Magnesium supplements can interact with interfere with some medicines, such as:

  • Bisphosphonates (used to treat osteoporosis)
  • Antibiotics
  • Diuretics
  • High-dose zinc tablets

Medication for acid reflux or peptic ulcers can also affect magnesium uptake.

It's best to seek professional advice before starting magnesium supplements if you're taking any medication.

Magnesium-rich recipe ideas

Breakfast Smoothie

Simply blend together a handful of soaked oats, one banana, one tablespoon of almond butter and one square of dark chocolate with milk, live yoghurt or kefir until you get the desired consistency.

Tofu Stir Fry

Cook a portion of buckwheat noodles in water according to the instructions on the packaging. Stir fry some tofu cubes, then add broccoli, mushrooms and pak choy in a little coconut oil. Add ginger, garlic, tamari sauce and toss everything together with the noodles. Top with lightly toasted pumpkin seeds and serve.

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