Focus On : Magnesium

Focus On: Magnesium

Magnesium (Mg) is an essential mineral and is necessary for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. Choosing leafy green vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and unrefined whole grains more often and refined convenience foods less often will help to ensure we have enough Mg in our diet to keep us healthy.


What does magnesium do?

  • It plays a key role in bone metabolism.
  • It plays a key role in energy production.
  • It plays a key role in regulating heart rhythm.
  • It is beneficial in reducing elevated blood pressure.
  • This study suggests that a deficiency may be related to the formation of inflammatory cytokines. On the other hand, a diet rich in magnesium may guard against systemic inflammation.
  • It impacts the metabolism of calcium, sodium and potassium.
  • It is a cofactor for numerous metabolic enzymes.



Who is at risk for magnesium deficiency?

Most of the body’s magnesium is stored in the bones which makes deficiency difficult to assess. Deficiency in otherwise healthy individuals who are consuming a balanced diet is rare because magnesium is plentiful in both plant and animal foods and because the kidneys are able to limit urinary excretion when the diet is lacking. But, some people with specific conditions are at greater risk of a deficiency:

  • Malabsorption can cause a deficiency in people with GI conditions like Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Celiac disease or people who have had bowel surgery.
  • Increased urinary magnesium excretion can cause a deficiency in people with type 2 diabetes.
  • Poor nutritional status can lead to a deficiency in people with chronic alcoholism.
  • Older adults are more likely to have a deficiency due to decreased intake, decreased absorption, chronic disease and/or medications that alter magnesium status.



Can I get too much magnesium?

It is unlikely that you can consume too much from food sources. However, high doses of Mg. from dietary supplements or medications often result in diarrhea that can be accompanied by nausea and abdominal cramping. Forms most commonly reported to cause diarrhea include magnesium carbonate, chloride, gluconate, and oxide. See Tolerable Upper Limit (TUL) recommendations for supplements below.


Food sources of magnesium:

A varied diet rich in leafy greens, legumes, nuts & unrefined whole grains will ensure that you meet your Mg needs. Good sources include:

  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Swiss Chard
  • Spinach
  • Beet Greens
  • Almonds
  • Tofu (Nigari)
  • Unrefined Whole Grains
  • Beans
  • Sesame seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Barley
  • Flaxseeds
  • Peas
  • Tuna
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Berries
  • Tempeh
  • and more…..
  • *Note that cooking may decrease the Mg content of some foods


One way to get 1 day’s worth of Magnesium from food:

Include at breakfast: ½ cup oats (56 mg) with ½ cup sliced banana (20 mg), 1 cup *low-fat milk ( 27 mg) = 103 mg

Include at lunch: ½ cup brown rice (42 mg), ½ cup black beans (60 mg), ½ cup cooked spinach (78 mg) = 180 mg

Include at dinner: ¾ cup quinoa (118 mg), 4 oz nigari tofu (66mg), 1 cup mixed berries (23 mg) = 207 mg

Snack: 1-ounce almonds (80 mg)

*Substitutes for low-fat dairy milk: 1 cup almond milk (16 mg) or 1 cup soy milk (39 mg).


Total dietary magnesium for the example day provided: 570 mg 

The examples provided here are just a suggestion. There is an endless tasty variety of ways to include magnesium-rich foods in your diet every day!


Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Adults:



Ages 19-30: 400 mg/day

Age 31+: 420 mg/day


Ages 19-30: 310 mg/day

Age 31+: 320 mg/day


Tolerable Upper Limits  (TUL) for Supplemental Magnesium:

Males & Females age 14+ : 350 mg per day


Special note for those taking Calcium supplements:

The use of calcium supplements can reduce the absorption of magnesium from the diet, so consider taking calcium supplements away from magnesium rich meals and or supplements.


People with kidney or heart disease should consult their doctor before taking magnesium supplements.

Nutrient Reference:

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2014. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 27. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page,  




I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist living in Greensboro, North Carolina. I help people overcome nutrition obstacles and help them meet their nutrition and wellness goals.

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Hi, I’m Mona. I have been living with Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS) for over ten years. As a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) I help others with MS to navigate the nutrition superhighway and make sustainable progress toward their unique wellness goals.

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