Everything you need to know about magnesium

After reading this you'll be an armchair expert on this important mineral

40w ago

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What is magnesium and what does it do?

Magnesium is an important mineral that your body needs in order to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Most of you probably associate magnesium with muscle and nerve functions. But it also plays a vital role in making bone, DNA and proteins.

What does it look like?

This.

Of course that's not the stuff you're supposed to be eating, but pure magnesium is a silvery white metal. Don't ever eat magnesium flakes. They can and will be hazardous to your health.

How much of it do I need?

Ladies need about 310mg (and an extra 40mg during pregnancy), gentlemen about 400mg. Children generally require a lot less than that.

What foods contain magnesium and how much of them do I need to eat per day?

If you like, you can go completely nuts on this one. Some of the best sources of magnesium are almonds, cashews and peanuts. To get enough magnesium for one day you'd have to eat about 150 grams of these nuts. To mix it up a little, have some spinach on the side and a serving of your favorite magnesium-fortified cereal with some soy milk for breakfast. Bananas are also a good snack when it comes to getting your dose of magnesium.

Just be careful. Bananas taped to museum walls tend to be quite expensive.

Just be careful. Bananas taped to museum walls tend to be quite expensive.

In general, though, you can't pin down one ideal source of magnesium since it would require you to eat loads of one thing and that's boring. Like 2 KILOGRAMS of plain yogurt: No, thanks!

What happens if I don't get enough magnesium?

When you're otherwise healthy, you will hardly experience any symptoms at first. Our kidneys are quite good at covering low magnesium intake levels by limiting the amount of magnesium in our urine. However, there's only so much they can handle. Certain conditions can also interfere with your body's ability to absorb magnesium. Both things can then lead to a magnesium deficiency. Symptoms go from (the usual) fatigue, weakness, appetite loss, nausea and vomiting all the way to muscle cramps, seizures and an abnormal heart rhythm in severe cases.

Older folks as well as people who suffer from gastrointestinal diseases, type 2 diabetes or alcoholism are more likely to develop a magnesium deficiency than others.

Can an overdose of magnesium also be harmful?

You are going to have a hard time overdosing on magnesium with food alone. Our kidneys will get rid of most excess magnesium. However, if you're into supplements, you have to be a bit more careful. The recommended dietary allowance of magnesium from supplements is 350mg. That does NOT include magnesium from food sources. The symptoms of a magnesium overdose (from supplements) are very similar to those of a magnesium deficiency.

Does it have any other effects?

Yes. Magnesium supplements may potentially interfere with medications such as antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors. Please consult your doctor before combining dietary supplements with medications.

I would like to quote the US federal government’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: "Nutritional needs should be met primarily from foods. [...] In some cases, fortified foods and dietary supplements may be useful in providing one or more nutrients that otherwise may be consumed in less-than-recommended amounts."

So before taking a pill, go (for the) nuts!

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