By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
If you know your periodic table, you recognize that as the chemical symbol for magnesium.
Magnesium is truly an amazing mineral. It’s involved in more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, including the creation and use of energy in cellular mitochondria. Heart rhythm, blood pressure, and arterial and muscle function also depend on magnesium.
It’s no wonder why the mineral is one of my Awesome Foursome nutrients for cardiovascular health!
Most Americans Are Magnesium Deficient
Unfortunately, it’s becoming hard and harder to consume adequate amounts of magnesium. Current RDAs are 420 mg for men and 320 mg for women, but it’s estimated that at least than half of the United States population gets less than that.
Processed foods are one reason we’re falling short, but blame also can be laid at the feet of industrialized farming. Thanks to inorganic fertilizers that deplete magnesium levels in the soil, many magnesium-rich foods simply don’t contain as much of the mineral as they used to.
Add the fact that stress, environmental toxins, and many prescription drugs deplete the body of magnesium, and it’s easy to see why deficiency is a common problem.
High-Magnesium Foods List
To get your magnesium levels to an optimal place, I suggest doubling down on magnesium-rich foods; you can also take a magnesium supplement. Here are some of my favorite foods with magnesium:
- Seeds and nuts. Peanuts, almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds, walnuts, cashews, and pecans are all great sources of magnesium. To get the biggest bang for your buck, try roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas). Nuts and seeds are richest in magnesium when eaten whole, but butters and flours made from them also contain healthy amounts of the mineral.
- Fermented soy products. One hundred grams of raw soybeans contain about 280 mg of magnesium—which means soy-based foods such as tofu and soy milk also tend to be high in the mineral. Make sure your soy products are fermented, though. Fermented soy is less likely to influence the risk for hormone-related diseases, plus it’s high in vitamin K2.
- Whole grains. Their reputation may be based mostly on their fiber content, but whole grains are also rich in magnesium and other minerals. Brown rice, quinoa, millet, whole wheat bread, and shredded wheat are good choices. To avoid GMOs in whole grains, be sure to buy organic.
- Fish and seafood. Mackerel —my new favorite—is at the top of this category, along with halibut and salmon. In addition to being rich in magnesium, these fatty fish are also loaded with heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Look for wild-caught varieties. Smaller fish like mackerel generally have less mercury than larger fish.
- Beans. Whatever your preferred type—lima, black, navy, or kidney—beans help you meet your magnesium requirement. Lentils, chickpeas, and split peas also are magnesium-rich.
- Baked potatoes. This dinner classic has an added bonus of delivering a healthy dose of potassium (another mineral vital for healthy blood pressure and proper heart function) along with magnesium. The catch—you must eat the skin.
- Leafy green vegetables. Whether from land or sea, leafy greens are go-to sources of magnesium. Kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, and spinach are common choices, but don’t overlook kelp and other seaweeds.
- Avocados. The avocado is a mainstay on my super foods list because it contains a lot of healthy fat—but one cup of sliced avocado also contains 44 mg of magnesium. Add some to your next salad or sandwich.
- Bananas. Most people recognize bananas as a great source of potassium, but a medium-sized banana also packs 32 mg of magnesium.
- Figs. For a quick snack, try the dried and uncooked kind. A 100-gram serving packs 68 mg of magnesium.
- Apricots. Apricots are on the lower end of the amount of magnesium offered—17 mg in a medium-sized apricot—but it’s a healthy way to satisfy a sweet tooth and help boost your magnesium intake at the same time.
- Dark chocolate. If apricots don’t do the trick with your sweet tooth, try dark chocolate. Look for 70–85 percent cacao for maximum benefit.
You may notice that many of the choices on this list are also known for their fiber content. Drinking extra water will help your body manage the additional fiber that comes along with these magnesium-rich foods.
Magnesium Foods for Energy
I mentioned earlier that magnesium plays a key role in the production and use of cellular energy. This process is called the Krebs cycle, and simply put, it’s the complex series of biochemical reactions that the body goes through to convert food into ATP.
ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, is the energy molecule that gives our cells energy and life. The more of it you can create, the healthier and stronger you will be.
The Krebs cycle is relevant here because many of its reactions can’t happen without magnesium as a facilitator. So it’s not surprising that two symptoms of magnesium deficiency are fatigue and weakness—or that the heart, which is just a large muscle, often begins to beat erratically when magnesium levels are critically low.
Eating more magnesium foods helps ensure that your body always has enough of the mineral to maximize its ATP output—and by extension, your cardiac output and overall energy level.
- National Institutes of Health. Magnesium: Fact Sheet for Professionals. Accessed September 13, 2016.
- SELF Nutrition Data. Foods Highest in Magnesium. Accessed September 14, 2016.
- United States Department of Agriculture. Nutrient Intakes: Percent of population 2 years old and over with adequate intakes based on average. Last modified 13 Aug 2016. Accessed September 13, 2016.
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