As we move into the busy holiday season, it’s good to remember the important role that nutrition plays in supporting the health of our neurological system — helping us to better manage stress and to guard against anxiety and depression. View my Food and Mood Video HERE for more information.
Magnesium is important for healthy nerves, and stress (especially chronic stress) depletes the body of magnesium. Inadequate magnesium appears to reduce levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, increasing the risk of depression. Adequate serotonin is also important in the control of satiety (feeling full/satisfied after eating) and in sleep regulation.
In addition to supporting neurological functioning, magnesium is needed for our muscles to function normally, including keeping the heart rhythm steady. Magnesium also helps regulate blood pressure and blood sugar levels, reduces chronic inflammation, supports a healthy immune system, and keeps the bones strong.
Referred to as “the most powerful relaxation mineral available,” Mark Hyman, MD, says “anything that is tight, irritable, crampy, and stiff—whether it is a body part or even a mood – is a sign of magnesium deficiency”. Low levels of magnesium have been associated with pain syndromes, including fibromyalgia and migraine headaches.
The recommended intake (RDA) of magnesium for adult males is about 420 mg/day and for adult females it is about 320 mg/day. Children need 80-240 mg/day (with children 9-13 years needing the higher amount), and adolescents 14-18 years of age need about 360-410 mg/day.
Despite the important roles this essential mineral plays in supporting our mental and physical health, almost half of the US population consumes less than the required amount of magnesium from food. Those between the ages of 14-18 years, and over 70 years of age are at particular risk (see table below). Also, the majority (89%) of adults with type 2 diabetes aged 65+ reported magnesium intakes less than the RDI (Recommended Daily Intake), and 37% had low blood levels of magnesium.
Because the magnesium levels in blood are so tightly regulated, serum or plasma magnesium levels are not as reliable a measure of magnesium status as RBC (erthyrocyte) magnesium. This measure is a better indicator of the magnesium levels in your cells and tissues.
The most concentrated food sources of magnesium include legumes (beans, lentils), whole grains, nuts & seeds, and leafy green vegetables. In addition, fish, meat, poultry, and milk products provide magnesium. And as you can see from the table below, dark chocolate is also an excellent source of this important mineral. However, due to the reports of lead contamination of chocolate (and especially dark chocolate), it’s best to enjoy chocolate in moderation – even during this upcoming holiday season.
There’s more information on the magnesium content of foods, plus magnesium-rich recipes in our “Food for Thought—Healing Foods to Savor” Cookbook. Try our recipe for Spinach with Garbanzos, Raisins, & Pine Nuts, which features both legumes and leafy greens. This colorful and nourishing dish can be prepared quickly and supplies about 120 mg magnesium per serving!