I don’t usually like to dwell too heavily on any one nutrient as it can make eating healthy seem much harder than it is, however, magnesium is a nutrient that is of vital importance to the human body, and most people are simply not getting enough.
Magnesium plays an active role in a wide number of functions in the body as it supports hundreds of reactions. These include getting energy from food, metabolising fatty acids, synthesising DNA and contracting heart and skeletal muscles.
Fortunately, a wide range of foods contain magnesium; namely wholegrains, legumes or beans, and nuts and seeds. Although spinach, custard apple, bananas and potatoes are also uniquely high in magnesium, Australians get the majority of their magnesium from cereals and cereal products.
The 2011-2012 Dietary Survey of Australians found that 1 in 3 Australians aged over 2 years were deficient in magnesium. In particular, individuals aged 9 years and over were most likely to be deficient in magnesium.
Although magnesium is widely dispersed in our food chain, it is easy to miss in the busy hubbub of normal life.
So how do you ensure your family is getting enough magnesium?
First, take a look at the cereals, pasta, breads and flours that your family consumes. Most of the magnesium is stored in the outer husk of grains, meaning that refining grains reduces magnesium content. For example, wholegrain pasta contains around 39mg magnesium, while pasta made from refined flour only contains around 9mg magnesium. That’s more than four times more magnesium in the wholegrain version! If your family mainly eats pasta, cereals or breads made from white flour, you may not be getting enough magnesium. Swapping from refined to wholegrain cereals where possible is a simple way of increasing your family’s magnesium intake.
Further on this point, research finds that those following a gluten free diet are at risk of magnesium deficiency. The reason for this is that many of the processed foods which are gluten free are often refined and therefore low in magnesium. It is certainly possible to choose high magnesium options while following a gluten free diet by simply choosing wholegrain gluten-free alternatives where possible.
Secondly, does your family eat legumes every day? If not, your family may be at risk of magnesium deficiency. Legumes are a great source of magnesium, as well as many other essential nutrients including protein and fibre. Although surveys find that most Australians do not get a lot of their magnesium from legumes, they’re a great food group to include in your diet and a great go-to for bulking up salads, soups and casseroles.
Thirdly, does your family eat many nuts and seeds? Nuts and seeds are a great source of magnesium. Although they can be quite expensive, cutting nuts and seeds out of your diet can put you at risk of a number of deficiencies; one of which being magnesium. Some of the most magnesium-rich nuts and seeds include hemp seeds, brazil nuts, tahini (from sesame seeds), pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, cashews and almonds. Almond meal is a great high-magnesium flour alternative for those on gluten free and low carbohydrate diets.
In conclusion, focus on swapping refined grains to wholegrains; make sure you are consuming legumes (daily if possible); ensure nuts and seeds have a place in your diet, and always maintain consumption of a broad variety of fruits and vegetables.
If you are still concerned that you might be deficient in magnesium, talk to your healthcare practitioner. They will be able to guide you to the help that you require.
If you have any questions, would like magnesium recipe ideas or extra guidance, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . I would be glad to hear from you.
Kohlmeier, M, ‘Nutrient Metabolism’, 2007, Academic Press, London.
Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL, ‘Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism’, 2009, 5th edn., Wadsworth, California.
AUSNUT 2011-2013, © Food Standards Australia New Zealand.
Taetzsch A, Das SK, Brown C, Krauss A, Silver RE, Roberts SB. Are Gluten-Free Diets More Nutritious? An Evaluation of Self-Selected and Recommended Gluten-Free and Gluten-Containing Dietary Patterns. Nutrients. 2018 Dec 3;10(12). pii: E1881. doi: 10.3390/nu10121881. PubMed PMID: 30513876.
Vici G, Belli L, Biondi M, Polzonetti V. Gluten free diet and nutrient deficiencies: A review. Clin Nutr. 2016 Dec;35(6):1236-1241. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2016.05.002. Epub 2016 May 7. Review. PubMed PMID: 27211234.