Magnesium is a mineral that you’ll often see being touted for its health benefits – whether it’s to do with muscle relaxation, sports performance, sleep cycles or disease prevention, so we’ve put together this article to help clarify the science surrounding magnesium!


Why do you need magnesium?

Every cell in your body contains magnesium, and needs it to function. Some of its main functions include:

  • Muscle contraction and relaxation: This is one of its most well-known roles.
  • Energy production: It is also involved in energy creation by helping to convert the food we eat into energy and it helps to create new proteins.
  • Gene repair & maintenance: it helps create and repair your DNA
  • Protein production: it helps create new proteins from amino acids
  • Bone development: invovled in the regulation of calcium and vitamin D

While further research is still needed, there is some emerging evidence linking magnesium to improving conditions such as PMS symptoms in women, preventing migraines, improving mood in people suffering with depression and improving sleep quality.


How much do you need?

How much magnesium you need varies depending in your age and gender.

Age (years) Boys – mg/day Girls – mg/day
1-3 80 80
4-8 130 130
9-13 240 240
14-18 410 360
19-30 400 310
31+ 420 320


To put this in perspective:

  • ¼ cup almonds provides you with around 100mg magnesium.
  • A medium banana contains around 33mg magnesium.
  • 1/2 cup broccoli contains around 51mg magnesium.


Could you be deficient?

Many Australians could benefit from boosting magnesium in their diets, as around 33% of Aussies are not getting enough. It is relatively easy to become mildly deficient – too much stress, processed food, alcohol, diarrhea or certain medications can lower your levels. However, dietary changes or supplements can restore your levels quickly.

It is important to note that while many people aren’t getting enough magnesium through diet alone it is rare to have a true deficiency. This is because our kidney’s actually control how much magnesium is lost through your urine. So if you’re not getting much through your diet, it will reduce the amount expelled through your urine.

The earliest signs of magnesium deficiency include nausea, general fatigue and a loss of appetite. Remember that if you are simply low in magnesium, you probably wont experience any of these symptoms, however, it is still a good idea to up your intake of magnesium containing foods. Ub more advance cases, someone with a deficiency could experience heart proles, weakness, muscle cramping, trouble sleeping and seizures.

If you are worried you might be deficient, seek the support of your doctor or Accredited Practising Dietitian.


What foods contain magnesium?

Magnesium is found in a variety of foods. It might surprise you that plant-based food sources (e.g. grains, fruits and vegetables) typically have higher levels of magnesium compared to meats or dairy foods. Higher fibre foods also tend to contain higher levels. Some good sources include;

  • Seeds e.g. pumpkin, flax, sesame, sunflower
  • Nuts e.g. brazil, cashews, almonds, peanuts
  • Fatty fish e.g. mackerel, salmon, halibut
  • Dark leafy green vegetables e.g. spinach, collard greens, kale
  • Cooked potato
  • Avocado
  • Bananas
  • Tofu and soy products
  • Tahini
  • Wholegrains e.g. quinoa, buckwheat
  • Dark chocolate


Magnesium supplementation

When it comes to supplementation, we always have a food first approach. And like almost all nutrients, you can receive adequate levels through food alone, as long as you are eating a varied diet. Saying that, if you are deficient, then supplementation has proven effective in restoring levels. Keep in mind that taking magnesium supplementation provides no additional benefits to a person with already adequate levels.

There is a lot of research happening on magnesium and it’s role in various diseases, in sports performance and sleep cycle – but there is currently no strong evidence to suggest supplementing has a significant impact on sports performance. The other thing to remember is that it is possible to have too much magnesium. While it’s unlikely this would happen through diet alone, it can happen through supplementation (especially if you are taking multiple supplements that all contain magnesium). Excessive magnesium intake can result in diarrhoea, nausea, cramping and possible heart problems.


How to boost magnesium in your diet

  • Add some leafy greens to your smoothies
  • Sprinkle some pumpkin seeds or nuts over your salad
  • Opt for avocado or tahini instead of margarine or butter
  • Swap some of the red meat or chicken in your diet for legumes or fish
  • Choose dark chocolate instead of milk or white
  • Consume more wholegrain foods (e.g. brown rice, oats, quinoa, buckwheat)


To Summarise

Magnesium is an extremely important mineral for the body due to its involvement in hundreds of biochemical processes. An overall balanced diet rich in whole foods should mean that you are meeting your requirements. Although supplements are readily available, they are generally not required unless you are deficient, and if so, should be taken under the supervision of a health care professional.


What else?

  • To learn more about the government guidelines for magnesium, click here.
  • To learn about the science behind Iron and why it is so important, click here.


This article was co-authored by Anna & Alex and Sarah Young, who is an intern at The Biting Truth who is currently Studying her Masters In Nutrition & Dietetics.