Magnesium is a jack-of-all-trades nutrient. Your body needs it for muscle contraction, neurotransmitter release, energy production, nerve function, bone development… you get the idea, it’s a must-have for your health.
It’s common to get less than the recommended 310 to 420 milligrams (mg) of magnesium per day, but eating plenty of magnesium-rich foods (like vegetables and fruits) can help you get there.
Looking for the biggest bang for your bite? Here’s a rundown of some of the best sources of magnesium to add to your shopping cart.
- Spinach: 37% of the Daily Value (DV) per cooked cup
- Swiss chard: 36% of the DV per cooked cup
- Beet greens: 23% of the DV per cooked cup
2. Other veggies
- Broccoli raab: 28% of the DV per cooked bunch
- Acorn squash: 21% of the DV per cooked cup
- Baked potato: 11% of the DV per medium potato
3. Beans and lentils
- Black beans: 29% of the DV per cooked cup
- Navy beans: 23% of the DV per cooked cup
- Lentils: 17% of the DV per cooked cup
4. Cocoa products
- Cacao nibs: 11% of the DV per 14-gram serving
- Dark chocolate: 6% of the DV per 2.6-ounce bar
- Cocoa powder: 6% of the DV per 2 tablespoon serving
5. Nuts and seeds
- Cashews: 20% of the DV per 1-ounce serving
- Pumpkin seeds: 19% of the DV per 1-ounce serving
- Almonds: 18% of the DV per 1-ounce serving
- Avocados: 9% of the DV per avocado
- Bananas: 8% of the DV per banana
- Raspberries: 6% of the DV per cup
- Buckwheat: 94% of the DV per cooked cup
- Quinoa: 28% of the DV per cooked cup
- Brown rice: 14% of the DV per cooked cup
- Salmon: 19% of the DV per medium fillet
- Scallops: 19% of the DV per 3 ounces
- Halibut: 12% of the DV per half fillet
8. Dairy foods
Lots of peeps don’t get enough magnesium. Modern-day diets are full of processed foods and low in magnesium-rich foods like veggies, fruits, seeds, and beans.
About 45 percent of Americans are deficient in magnesium while 60 percent of U.S. adults don’t get the recommended amount of magnesium on a daily basis.
Having less than ideal magnesium levels could increase your risk of a variety of health conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and more.
Plus, researchers warn that while the current recommendations are enough to prevent true magnesium deficiency in most people, they aren’t enough to actually reduce the risk of conditions like heart disease and osteoporosis.
Risk factors for low magnesium
Here are some things that could put you at higher risk of developing low magnesium levels:
- alcohol dependence
- age-related changes in stomach acid
- certain medications (like antacids)
- supplementing with calcium or following a high calcium, low magnesium diet
- bariatric surgery
- medical conditions like celiac disease, kidney disease, heart failure, hyperthyroidism, cancer, diabetes, and IBD
- chronic stress
- prolonged diarrhea
- dialysis treatment
- low selenium and/or low salt intake
- pregnancy and prolonged breastfeeding
- chronic strenuous exercise
- vitamin B6 and/or vitamin D deficiency
Magnesium deficiency can be hard to diagnose because symptoms can look like a lot of other issues.
How can you tell what’s up? The most reliable ways to test magnesium levels in the body include muscle biopsy and a magnesium retention test. (That measures the amount of magnesium that’s in your urine after an oral or IV dose of magnesium.) Blood testing isn’t considered as reliable.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency
Even though most peeps with low magnesium levels don’t experience significant symptoms, some peeps may experience effects like:
- muscle cramps
- impaired coordination
- muscle weakness
- sensitivity to light
- ringing in the ears
If this progresses, you could experience more serious symptoms like irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, seizures, or hearing loss.
PSA: Never try to self-diagnose a magnesium deficiency. Always ask your doctor for a test to check your levels to understand whether you’re truly deficient and come up with an actionable plan.
Like most nutrients, it’s possible to overdo it with magnesium. But if you’re generally in good health, it’s almost impossible to get too much magnesium from dietary sources like vegetables and beans.
That’s because your kidneys get rid of any magnesium your bod doesn’t need.
However, for folks with kidney issues, it’s possible to get too much magnesium from foods. Why? Because if your kidneys aren’t able to excrete the extra magnesium out of your bod, too much of it hangs around.
This can also happen if you take too much magnesium from dietary supplements. The set Tolerable Upper Intake Level of supplemental magnesium is 350 mg per day for adults. But it’s important to understand that much higher doses have been shown to be safe and effective for treating a number of conditions including high blood pressure and headaches.
What happens if you develop magnesium toxicity?
It’s possible for magnesium to build up to toxic levels in the bod. That’s known as magnesium toxicity. It’s not common, but it’s been seen in people who’ve overconsumed antacids or laxatives. This can provide massive doses of more than 5,000 mg of magnesium per day.
Magnesium toxicity is extremely dangerous. You may notice symptoms like:
- low blood pressure
- urine retention
- muscle weakness
- irregular heartbeat
- difficulty breathing
- cardiac arrest
If you have impaired kidney function it can put you at a much greater risk for developing magnesium toxicity because your kidneys aren’t able to clear out excess magnesium.
So, how do you know if you’re currently getting enough magnesium?
TBH, it’s kind of tough to tell.
A healthy person who eats tons of veggies, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds may be low or deficient in magnesium due to factors unrelated to their diet (like chronic stress and drinking too much alcohol).
There are ways to test for low or deficient magnesium levels, but most methods (including hair analysis, urinary analysis, and most blood tests) aren’t that reliable.
Your best bet for properly assessing your magnesium status and figuring out whether or not you may need to supplement with magnesium is to talk with a trusted healthcare professional like a doctor, nurse, or registered dietitian.
They can suggest appropriate testing and go over your diet, medication use, medical history, lifestyle, stress level, and other factors that may contribute to suboptimal magnesium levels to help determine whether a magnesium supplement may be helpful.
What to keep in mind before taking a supplement
FYI: Magnesium supplements are considered super safe. But if you take super high doses of some types of magnesium (including magnesium carbonate, chloride, gluconate, and oxide) you might experience GI symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, and cramping.
Plus, magnesium supplements are known to interact with some medications like certain antibiotics and some osteoporosis medications, and may need to be taken hours apart from some meds. When in doubt, talk with your doc.
Who’s most likely to benefit from magnesium supps?
Studies show that certain people are likely to benefit from supplemental magnesium, including:
- people with diabetes
- people who have frequent headaches
- some people with high blood pressure
- people with depression and/or anxiety
- pregnant and breastfeeding women
- any person who has a condition that impacts magnesium absorption
- any person who takes medications that increase the risk of magnesium deficiency
- those under chronic stress
If you’re interested in taking a magnesium supplement, work with a healthcare professional to determine what form and dose may be most effective for your specific needs.
Magnesium does so much for your bod, but being low or deficient in this mineral is extremely common. Thankfully, many foods are packed with magnesium, including pumpkin seeds, salmon, avocados, spinach, cacao nibs, and yogurt.
If you’re worried you’re not getting enough magnesium, talk with your doctor. If they feel you may benefit from one, they may recommend a magnesium supplement and/or suggest you up your intake of magnesium-rich foods.