Magnesium rich foods are an absolutely critical part of our diet but loads of us unwittingly go short and suffer the consequences daily.
We have a general feeling of being under par but don’t recognise that our tiredness, headaches, poor sleep and anxiety that get horribly worse during our periods – or later in perimenopause – are actually clear signs of low magnesium.
But with simple changes we can easily eat plenty of magnesium rich food and raise our magnesium levels quickly.
And the benefits of doing it are brilliant especially if we’re struggling with heavy periods and PMS or general fatigue or if we have a teenager who is really going through a daily roller coaster of emotions as their body matures.
Keeping an eye on our magnesium has massively helped me and my family and hopefully this guide to magnesium rich food can help you and yours.
The guide will take you through common symptoms of low magnesium and explain some of the reasons why we don’t get enough – or as much we think we are getting – and how we can raise our levels quickly – without supplements – with a big list of magnesium rich food we can easily work into our diet.
I do hope you find the guide helpful. It is pretty comprehensive so do bookmark or save for quick reference later.
PLEASE NOTE: I am not a doctor and this post does not provide qualified medical advice. Magnesium deficiency can have serious medical consequences and can be a symptom of other medical conditions. You should always seek medical advice for persistent symptoms of ill health.
What Are Signs Of Low Magnesium?
Common signs of low magnesium intake include :
- Muscle spasms & cramp
- Restless legs
- Pins & needles
- Painful heavy periods
- Low energy levels
- Poor sleep
- Low mood
- Erratic emotions
- Oily skin with acne and blackheads
- Frizzy hair
- Palpitations – check these guidelines on when to see a doctor for palpitations.
Magnesium symptoms do overlap with iron deficiency symptoms so you should also make sure you are getting enough iron rich food but two tell tale symptoms of magnesium deficiency are cramp in muscles and restless legs.
Magnesium & Cramp
Magnesium helps our muscles to relax so magnesium deficiency can leave our muscles painfully contracted. Muscle cramps can commonly be a problem at night.
Magnesium & Restless Legs
Magnesium deficiency can also be a common trigger for restless legs. Magnesium balances out the effects of calcium in our body and if we are short on magnesium the calcium can over trigger the nerves in our legs.
Benefits Of Magnesium
The benefits of magnesium can be really dramatic and make a massive difference to our personal wellbeing. Raising our magnesium to healthy levels can :
- Balance hormones
- Help us sleep longer
- Relieve PMS symptoms, heavy periods & painful cramping
- Ease lower back pain
- Boost mood & ease depression & anxiety
- Smooth hair & tame frizz
- Reduce oily skin & prevent blackheads.
Is Magnesium Good For Hormonal Imbalance?
Magnesium plays a critical role in balancing the levels of all our key hormones including those supporting sleep, reproduction, stress and our metabolism.
Magnesium & Sleep
Magnesium can help us sleep longer because it helps to regulate neural transmission when we are sleeping so we don’t get disturbed by every little sound and movement from our body or environment. It basically protects our rest mode. But magnesium has extra benefits for sleep because it helps to stabilise melatonin the “sleep hormone”.
Magnesium, PMS & Menstruation
Getting enough magnesium has huge benefits during our menstrual cycle. By balancing oestrogen and progesterone it can relieve PMS symptoms and by helping our muscles relax effectively it can reduce painful cramping and heavy periods.
Magnesium & Back Pain
Magnesium is essential for healthy muscles. It ensures they relax properly without spasms. Magnesium deficiency can be a key factor in persistent lower back pain.
Magnesium & Skin Problems
Magnesium can help reduce oily skin and prevent blackheads by stabilising the hormones that trigger production of excess oil which then gets trapped in our skin cells as blackheads.
Can Magnesium Improve Your Mood?
Magnesium can improve and stabilise our moods and strengthen our resilience as it helps to keep thyroid hormones, cortisol and insulin at stable levels. Low thyroid hormones are associated with depression, whilst excess cortisol triggers stress and erratic insulin levels contribute to unstable moods and erratic emotions.
The benefits of getting enough magnesium can be transformative for our everyday wellbeing and luckily it is very easy to raise magnesium levels quickly and healthily without supplements.
How Can I Raise My Magnesium Levels Quickly?
Our first thought at the mention of any “deficiency” is to pop yet another pill.
But it is actually incredibly easy to raise our magnesium levels quickly with a simple balanced diet. And it is super important to eat our way to more magnesium because the food that is rich in magnesium is also rich in iron, vitamins A, B, C & E and the fatty acids critical for our well being.
If we are magnesium deficient we will be deficient in loads of other stuff as well.
So rather than popping a pill we need to make sure our daily diet includes :
- 2 cups of green leafy veg
- Handful of nuts & seeds
- Side dish of baked squash, sweet potato & potatoes
- Last minute peas or sweet corn
- 3 different portions of fruit :
- Tropical fruit
- A glass of milk – (soya, coconut & nut milks all magnesium rich but bioavailability of dairy much higher) – or a helping of natural yoghurt or real cheese
- Swapping to old fashioned grains like buckwheat, spelt, oats, sorghum and amaranth.
- PLUS every week :
- A couple of servings of fish or seafood
- 3 or 4 portions of beans & pulses
That doesn’t look too hard does it?
But if we are honest lots of us struggle with it so in the next sections I’ll explain how much magnesium we actually need and how we can make sure we get the most magnesium possible out of our food.
Magnesium Daily Intake
Our daily magnesium requirements are :
- 310-30 mg for adult women
- 360 mg for teenage girls
- 400-20 mg for teenage & adult men
One cup of spinach has around 150mg of magnesium in it so it really doesn’t look too hard to get enough magnesium does it?
But sadly it’s not all quite as simple as that and that’s because of something called bioavailability.
In plain language that means some of the magnesium in our food doesn’t make it into our body and how much does varies between different foods.
For example, the bioavailability of magnesium in spinach can be as low as 25% so actually that cup of spinach may only give us 35-40 mg of magnesium. Whilst a glass of milk with 65mg and 75% bioavailability could give us nearer 50 mg.
Now the last thing any of us want – or need – to be doing is going around memorising the mg and bioavailability of magnesium in everything we eat!! The point is we need to be cautious of food labels and lists of magnesium rich food because usually they just gives mg per helping and don’t tell us the % we will absorb.
There are also simple things we can do to increase absorption of dietary magnesium.
How To Increase Magnesium Absorption
We can increase our absorption of magnesium from food with these simple tips :
- Get enough sunlight for our skin tone so we are not vitamin D deficient
- Skip zinc supplements – get zinc from red meat, shell fish, nuts & seeds
- Skip calcium supplements – get from dairy, nuts, seeds & green veg
- Avoid a very high protein diet
- Each balanced meals containing protein & insoluble fibre
- Don’t drink too much tannin rich tea
- Quit smoking
If like me you love diving down into the details of stuff you will soon discover that magnesium absorption is impacted by calcium and by phytic acid found in seeds and oxalic acid found in – amongst other things – spinach. You will also find people giving complicated advice about not eating spinach with meals and avoiding calcium rich food 2 hours before or after. Don’t go there!! It’s a rabbit warren of detail that does not help us eat healthily.
The truth is our digestive system is clever.
Calcium in a supplement can block magnesium absorption but our ingenious bodies do actually absorb huge amounts of magnesium from foods incredibly rich in calcium i.e. milk.
The best advice I have found for increasing magnesium absorption – on top of the six tips above – is to enjoy a good range of different magnesium rich foods every day to help keep our digestive system in balance. So use the sections below to find lots of different magnesium rich food your family love.
Food High In Magnesium
Although many of us are magnesium deficient there are a wide range of magnesium rich foods we can easily build into our diet. Ideally we want to be enjoying food rich in magnesium from each of these food groups every day :
- Dark leafy greens
- Other vegetables
- Nuts & seeds
- Beans & pulses
- Traditional grains
- More food high in magnesium
As always it makes sense to mix things up in our diet. We will typically absorb more magnesium and enjoy more all round health benefits if we eat spinach AND chard AND kale AND collards etc every week than if we just each spinach.
So remember as you’re filling your meal plan or shopping basket with plenty of these magnesium rich goodies, variety really is the spice of life for us and our guts!!
Dark Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens are a brilliant source of magnesium.
As we have seen we don’t absorb most of the magnesium in green vegetables but two good helpings of leafy greens every day will give us over 30% of the daily magnesium we need. So try to ensure your family enjoy two helpings of these every day :
- Swiss chard
- Beet greens
- Collard greens
- Turnip greens
- Brussel sprouts
Levels of minerals like magnesium and iron drop fairly quickly in green leafy vegetables once harvested so growing your own in a little garden is a green idea. Just a few pots of cut-and-come-again spinach, cabbage & chard on a patio or balcony can keep you in fresh greens.
A good sized glass of full fat milk (16 oz) or a natural yoghurt (6oz / 170g ) can each give us 15-20% of our daily magnesium requirement. So children having milk on cereal, eating a daily gut healthy yoghurt and a cup of bedtime milk should be getting a good 40% of the magnesium they need daily.
Cheese isn’t as rich in magnesium but a portion of most cheeses can give us roughly 5% of our daily magnesium whilst the following can push that up to 8% or so :
- Romano cheese
Some fish and seafood are especially rich in magnesium. Mackerel is richest with a good 20-25% of our daily magnesium typically absorbed from a mackerel fillet.
Some shell fish are also very rich in mackerel including :
And other commonly available fish can give us 15% or our daily magnesium :
A number of other vegetables in addition to green leafy veg are rich in magnesium. A good sized helping of all of these vegetables can give us another 10% of so our daily magnesium :
- Acorn squash – 20%
- Globe artichokes
- Baked potatoes
- Green peas
- Sweet potatoes
- Sweet corn
Nuts & Seeds
A good sized handful – about 1oz / 30g – of seeds & nuts can give us 15 to 20% of our daily magnesium. All of these nuts and seeds are high in magnesium :
- Pumpkin & squash seeds
- Flax seeds
- Brazil nuts
- Sesame seeds
- Chia seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Cashew butter
- Pine nuts
- Peanut butter
Nuts and seeds are obviously especially valuable for vegetarians and vegans as they are rich in iron. They are also a really important source for all of us of fatty acids that play a key role in balancing hormones.
Beans & Pulses
A good sized helping of many different beans and pulses contains 15% of our daily magnesium needs :
- Black beans
- Liam beans
- Navy beans
- White beans
- Black beans
Beans and pulses – like nuts – are obviously critical for vegans and vegetarians as again they are rich in iron.
But they are important for all of us as along with nuts & seeds they play a key role in balancing hormones that isn’t easily met by other foods.
Most fruit aren’t massively high in magnesium but if we hit a daily target of 3 portions of different fruit, they can together add up to another 15% of our daily magnesium needs. It’s a good idea to try and get both some of the tropical fruits and some berries every day :
- Yellow plantain
- Passion fruit
- Grape juice
- Logan berries
Raspberries have all sorts of different health benefits – including quick constipation relief – and it is actually super easy to grow raspberries in a small space if you only have a tiny garden. Blackberries are another all round super food – again great to eat for constipation – and can be picked for free in the summer.
Lots of us struggle with a diet overloaded with highly processed wheat and rice but many traditional grains that have gone out of fashion in the last 50 years are much gentler on our digestion and are rich in magnesium :
- Sorghum flour
Buckwheat isn’t actually strictly speaking a grain. It’s a gluten free seed. But it’s rich in a range of minerals including magnesium. One portion can give us as much as 35% of our daily magnesium requirement. If you haven’t tried buckwheat before check out these recipe ideas:
More Foods High In Magnesium
If you are a vegan or vegetarian and still need some additional ways to raise your magnesium levels, these foods are all good sources with a good 10 to 20% of our daily requirement per helping :
- Dark chocolate
- Coconut milk
- Soya milk
I really do hope you find this guide useful and that it helps you raise magnesium levels quickly if you or your family are suffering any of those tell tale signs of magnesium deficiency. If you found it helpful do bookmark or save for quick reference later and please do share with friends.
For more simple, practical advice on improving your family’s overall health and well being do check out these other posts :
- Natural Sleep Remedies
- Natural Headache Relief
- Iron Rich Foods
- Natural Remedies For Menstrual Cycle
- Signs & Symptoms Of Perimenopause
- Gentle Blackhead Removal Treatments
Original images : Background from green leaves mangold with water drops by Marco Verch under Creative Commons 2.0
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