Magnesium is an essential mineral for heart, bone and brain health, but many of us are missing the mark.

Lauren Wicks
September 17, 2019

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As the wellness industry continues to grow and more and more Americans become interested in health and nutrition, magnesium has started to become a hot topic. This little-known mineral is responsible for hundreds of natural processes in our bodies, keeping our hearts, bones and brains strong, while giving us all the energy we need to get through the day. Not only that, but magnesium seems to help with sleep and stress management, too.

Adult women between the ages of 19-30 are recommended to consume 310 milligrams of magnesium per day, going up to 320 mg upon turning 31 (and a little more during pregnancy). Adult men between the ages of 19-30 need 400 mg per day, and 420 mg at age 31 and older. Unfortunately, most of us are only getting about half of that. And that's a problem, because magnesium deficiency can lead to a host of acute and chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, osteoporosis, migraine headaches and heart disease. Luckily, a true deficiency is uncommon in most adults, but if you're worried you're not getting enough, it's worth talking to your doctor. Plus, people with diabetes, those with gastrointestinal diseases and older adults are at greater risk of getting inadequate magnesium.

Here are 10 signs you could be missing the mark on magnesium, and tips on how to get more into your diet:

Related: Signs You're Not Getting Enough Potassium and What to Do About It

You're Regularly Struggling to Get Through a Workout

Muscle fatigue and exhaustion are common symptoms of not getting enough magnesium. Especially if you used to be able to crush your morning workout or used to have the energy for a nightly walk (regardless of if you felt like it), this may be a warning sign that you need to up the magnesium ante. Low magnesium levels seem to be interlinked with low potassium levels, and a magnesium-deficient diet can deplete our stores of potassium—which is a necessary electrolyte for proper exercise recovery.

Related: 8 Foods with More Potassium Than a Banana

Your Mental Health Is Suffering

Magnesium plays a major role in your central nervous system, regulating the neurotransmitters that send messages to your brain. This mineral has a major impact on your mood, and many studies have found links between low magnesium intake and an increased risk for depression.

This is especially the case in teens and young adults, but a study at the University of Vermont found that supplementing magnesium in the diets of adults with mild to moderate depression improved their moods as much as a prescription antidepressant. Additional studies have also found associations between magnesium and anxiety, but more research needs to be conducted in order to make a direct correlation.

Related: A Healthy Gut Could Alleviate Anxiety—Here's How

You're Experiencing Muscle Cramps, Tremors or Twitches

We all experience a weird muscle spasm or twitch from time to time, but if they become more frequent, it might be due to a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium does a lot of work for your muscles, helping them both contract and relax, and it also assists in synthesizing protein to help you grow stronger. If our magnesium levels are lower than they should be, our muscles feel out of control and can start to cramp or twitch. You may also need to drink more water.

You're Tired All the Time

There are a million little reasons why you could be chronically tired—a stressful job, mental health struggles, just being a parent in general—but your diet does make a major impact as well. Magnesium has a role in helping our body convert food into energy, so we need magnesium-rich foods to ensure our body is utilizing our meals and snacks to the best of its ability.

You're Frequently Constipated

Ugh, yes, being low in magnesium can also mean being low in bowel movements. Foods that are high in magnesium are also high in fiber for the most part, so if you don't get enough magnesium, you likely aren't getting enough fiber, and that means irregularity in that pesky digestive system. Just don't overdo it on the magnesium—too much can send your bowels in disarray, too.

Related: 8 Foods to Help You Poop

You Have High Blood Pressure

If you're not getting enough magnesium, your body won't be able to regulate your blood pressure properly. Magnesium is a heart-health all-star, helping us to manage our blood pressure, blood sugar and insulin levels and ultimately, to fight inflammation. Many foods found in an anti-inflammatory diet are also magnesium-rich.

You Eat a Lot of Meat and Processed Foods

As mentioned earlier, the majority of foods that are rich in magnesium are also rich in fiber. Fiber can only be found naturally in whole plant foods, so if your diet is pretty heavy in meat, dairy and processed foods, there's a good chance it's low in magnesium. While 1 cup of yogurt does pack 11% of your daily magnesium needs, you're going to get the most bang for your buck with nuts, leafy greens, soy, beans, whole grains and fish—foods most Americans don't eat enough of.

You Have Trouble Falling Asleep

While too little magnesium can leave you feeling fatigued, that doesn't mean you'll be getting a good night's sleep. There are many promising studies out there to show how magnesium can impact sleep for the better, thanks to a neurotransmitter called GABA. GABA slows your thinking down and helps you ease into sleep mode. Too little magnesium in your diet could be leaving you with racing thoughts and poor stress management at night when all you want is to catch a few zzz's.

Related: 7 Foods for Stress Relief

You Have Some Serious Chocolate Cravings

OK, we'd all love to eat chocolate every day, all the time, but we're talking about a more intense issue. If you feel like your body is in desperate need of chocolate more than just on occasion or the week before your period, this could be a sign to up your magnesium intake. Dark chocolate is high in magnesium—just 1 ounce packs in 10% of your daily needs. However, a chocolate craving could also be due to a lack of sleep or extra stress, among other things, so don't freak out so much over this one.

Your Heartbeat Is All Over the Place

Magnesium is a key player in regulating our heart and keeping it healthy, so not getting enough can really throw it out of whack. Heart arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, is one of the more serious consequences of being magnesium deficient and should be taken seriously. Similarly to muscle weakness and fatigue, this problem is thought to be due to a potassium imbalance caused by a magnesium deficiency. Arrhythmia can lead to symptoms such as lightheadedness, chest pain, shortness of breath or even fainting. It can also increase your risk for heart failure or stroke, so be sure to consult your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

How to Increase Your Magnesium Intake

The great thing about increasing your magnesium intake is that it will also help boost your intake of other essential nutrients like fiber, good carbs, healthy fats and calcium. We always advise getting the majority of your nutrition from a healthy diet, and you'll find some of the most magnesium-rich foods listed below:

  • Pumpkin seed kernels (1 oz.): 168 mg
  • Dry-roasted almonds (1 oz.): 80 mg
  • Cooked spinach (½ cup): 78 mg
  • Dry-roasted cashews (1 oz.): 74 mg
  • Soymilk (1 cup): 61 mg
  • Cooked black beans (½ cup): 60 mg
  • Cooked edamame (½ cup): 50 mg
  • Dark chocolate, 60-90% cacao (1 oz.): 50 mg
  • Peanut butter (2 Tbsp.): 49 mg
  • Whole-wheat bread (2 slices): 46 mg

The good news is there are so many delicious ways to up your magnesium intake, and it's pretty easy to sneak these foods into your daily diet. Try topping your salad with nuts or seeds, like in our Radish, Watercress & Arugula Salad with Feta Vinaigrette, or try out a Bean & Veggie Taco Bowl instead of using beef or chicken. Swapping your white bread for whole-wheat will make a big difference too!

Additionally, you can use supplements as a secondary source of magnesium. There are loads of options out there: one of the most popular is Natural Calm, which is a powder you can stir into a glass of water or toss in your smoothie. Talk to your health care provider before starting a supplement.

Related: How to Get More Magnesium (and Why You Should Care)

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