Magnesium is plentiful in many foods — including a variety of both plant-based and animal foods. But according to dietary surveys, many American adults still aren’t getting the magnesium they need. In fact, nearly half are consuming less than the estimated average requirement of this important mineral.
The good news is that with a little careful planning, you should be able to get the magnesium your body needs — 400 to 420 milligrams per day for adult men and 310 to 320 milligrams for women (more if pregnant or breastfeeding).
What does magnesium do in the body?
Magnesium is necessary for many of the body’s cellular functions. It plays a role in maintaining bone strength, muscle function, nervous system regulation and more. Getting enough magnesium in your daily diet may benefit you in many ways:
- Better bone health: Most of the magnesium in your body is stored in your bones. Getting enough of this mineral is key to keeping bones strong and healthy.
- Blood sugar regulation: Research has shown that people who don’t consume adequate amounts of magnesium are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Lower blood pressure: Magnesium helps regulate blood pressure. Not getting enough could raise your risk of high blood pressure.
- Improved mental health: Magnesium helps regulate neural pathways in the brain. There’s some evidence that magnesium may help reduce the risk of anxiety and depression.
- Reduced risk of migraines: Some studies suggest that supplemental magnesium can help reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches.
- Better sleep: Mineral imbalances (such as too little magnesium) can cause muscle cramping. So if twitchy, restless muscles are keeping you awake, it’s possible some extra magnesium can help.
- Bowel regularity: One of the side effects of taking a magnesium supplement can be diarrhea. But if you’re dealing with constipation, getting some extra magnesium can help.
Best sources of magnesium
Our bodies need to get magnesium every day to operate at their best. Luckily, magnesium is easy to come by. If you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, you should have no trouble getting your recommended daily amount through food alone.
Best plant-based sources of magnesium
Eating nuts, seeds and legumes is excellent way to increase your magnesium intake. A few standout sources include:
- Pumpkin seeds (156 milligrams in one ounce)
- Chia seeds (111 milligrams in one ounce)
- Almonds (80 milligrams in one ounce)
- Cashews (74 milligrams in one ounce)
- Black beans (60 milligrams in ½ cup, cooked)
- Peanut butter (49 milligrams in two tablespoons)
Best animal sources of magnesium
Meat, fish and dairy foods don’t contain as much magnesium as plant-based foods, but a few good sources include:
- Plain low-fat yogurt (42 milligrams in eight ounces)
- Salmon (26 milligrams in three ounces, cooked)
- Chicken breast (22 milligrams in three ounces, cooked)
- 90% lean ground beef (20 milligrams in three ounces, cooked)
Warning signs of a magnesium deficiency
If you are chronically low on magnesium, your body will let you know. Some of the warning signs of a deficiency include:
- Muscle weakness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle cramps
- Irregular heartbeat
- Loss of appetite
- Numbness or tingling
While severe magnesium deficiency is relatively uncommon, certain people may be at greater risk of not getting adequate amounts. Conditions like Crohn’s and celiac disease can make it difficult for your body to properly absorb and process magnesium. If you have type 2 diabetes, you might lose more magnesium in your urine than is typical. People with alcohol dependence and older adults are also often deficient in magnesium.
If you have risk factors for deficiency — or symptoms of inadequate magnesium — talk to your doctor. Magnesium supplements may be an option, but you should discuss the pros and cons with a health care provider before taking them.