Medically Approved

Delicious ways to get more magnesium in your diet

4 minute read
Woman drinking a smoothie that contains magnesium

This superstar nutrient helps keep your body strong and healthy, and it’s not hard to get from the foods you eat. Boost your daily dose with these easy strategies.

Rosemary Black

By Rosemary Black

The word “magnesium” may make you think of that high school chemistry class you snoozed through. But this mighty mineral is anything but boring. Magnesium is a key dietary nutrient that supports your bones, muscles, heart and other systems in your body.

“Magnesium helps keep your blood pressure normal and your heart healthy,” says Gigi Rubin, a registered dietitian in New York City. It helps your body absorb calcium and vitamin D, which are vital to your health. Magnesium also converts food into energy and regulates your nervous system.

That’s why getting optimum levels of magnesium from your diet is an A+ health move.

Your magnesium needs

Magnesium occurs naturally in foods or is added to certain packaged foods during processing. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of magnesium is:

  • 310 to 320 milligrams for women (up to 360 milligrams for pregnant women)
  • 400 to 420 milligrams for men

Foods that are high in magnesium are also likely to be high in fiber, says Stephanie D. Giraulo, RD. She’s the director of food and nutritional services for St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, New York, and St. Catherine of Siena Hospital in Smithtown, New York. Good dietary sources include:

  • Green leafy vegetables (such as spinach)
  • Nuts and seeds (roasted pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews)
  • Legumes (black beans, kidney beans, edamame)
  • Whole grains (shredded wheat cereal, quinoa)
  • Low-fat dairy products (plain yogurt, milk)

Are you getting enough magnesium?

You may not be. In fact, nearly half of all Americans don’t meet their daily magnesium needs, according to the National Institutes of Health. That means that ramping up the amount of magnesium-rich foods in your diet makes sense for many of us.

However, a true magnesium deficiency that requires a doctor’s care is rare, says Rubin. It’s more common in people who have Crohn’s disease or another condition that affects how the digestive tract absorbs nutrients.

You also are at a higher risk of magnesium deficiency if:

  • You take proton pump inhibitors
  • You have an alcohol use disorder
  • You have Type 2 diabetes
  • You have had bariatric surgery to control obesity

Older adults may also be at particular risk of a magnesium deficiency, says Audra Wilson, RD. She’s a dietitian at the Northwestern Medicine Metabolic Health and Surgical Weight Loss Center at Delnor Hospital in Geneva, Illinois. “Older Americans tend to eat less foods rich in magnesium — such as green, leafy vegetables — since they can be hard to digest,” she says.

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How would you know if you have a magnesium deficiency?

The symptoms of a magnesium deficiency include weakness, gastrointestinal distress such as nausea or vomiting, decreased appetite or loss of appetite, and, if you are severely deficient, muscle cramping, Rubin says.

“If you’re really deficient, you might notice tingling and numbness,” Wilson says. “Or there could even be personality changes. But the signs of a deficiency can be similar to so many other conditions. Because of this, we often don’t think of a magnesium deficiency.”

Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing these symptoms.

Do you need to take magnesium supplements?

If you have a history of alcohol abuse, have had gastric surgery, or have a disorder that keeps you from sufficiently absorbing nutrients, your doctor might recommend that you take a magnesium supplement, Rubin says.

But for most people, it’s best to get your magnesium from the foods you eat.

Magnesium supplements can cause unpleasant side effects, such as diarrhea. They may also interact with certain medications. If you’re considering taking a supplement, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Tasty ways to work more magnesium into your diet

Here are some dietitian-approved (and delicious) ways to add magnesium to your meals:

  • Top slow-cooked oatmeal with chopped almonds and sliced bananas.
  • Blend up a breakfast smoothie using soy milk and your favorite berries.
  • Sprinkle a handful of pumpkin seeds over plain yogurt for a healthy snack.
  • Make a lunchtime salad with spinach, black beans and edamame. Add your choice of vegetables and top it with chicken for a protein boost.
  • Grill salmon for dinner and serve with cooked spinach and a side of lentils.
  • Bake up some potato wedges and dip them in plain yogurt.
  • Treat yourself to an ounce of dark chocolate (which — surprise — has a healthy dose of magnesium).

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Additional sources
Magnesium RDAs and food sources: National Institutes of Health (2021). “Magnesium fact sheet”
Magnesium supplements: Mayo Clinic (2021). “Nutrition and healthy eating: expert answers”