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You’re Probably Not Getting Enough Magnesium (Plus, 7 Foods to Help You Get More)

Sleep, anxiety, and depression—magnesium helps improve all of them, and most of us don’t get enough.

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You know you need magnesium for healthy bones. But this important mineral — the fourth most abundant in the human body — plays a key role in many other, equally crucial physiological processes. The majority of your body’s magnesium is stored in your bones; the rest is distributed in muscles, tissues, and bodily fluids, where it takes part in hundreds of enzymatic reactions. In addition to bone health, magnesium is essential for energy production, nerve function, muscle contraction and relaxation, heart rhythm, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and more.

And if you find yourself irritable, stressed, and downright depressed during the hyped-up holiday season, this critical mineral may help. Studies suggest that adequate magnesium intake can calm stress, improve mood, and enhance sleep. Some highlights:

  • Stress and anxiety. Magnesium plays a key role in regulating the body’s response to stress. Chronic physical or mental stress depletes your body of magnesium, and low magnesium levels intensify stress—creating a vicious cycle. Magnesium modulates activity of the body’s stress response system, and studies suggest increasing magnesium intake may reduce anxiety, ease stress, and minimize the response to fear.
  • Mood and depression. Magnesium is important for many of the pathways, enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation, and it’s also associated with inflammation, known to play a part in symptoms of depression. Studies link low magnesium intake with a higher risk for depression, and suggest increasing magnesium can significantly improve symptoms of depression and anxiety—in some cases, as effectively as an antidepressant drug.
  • Sleep. Magnesium interacts with GABA, a neurotransmitter that reduces the activity of neurons in the brain, quieting and calming the nervous system and encouraging sleep. It also impacts melatonin, the hormone that influences the body’s sleep-wake cycles, and relaxes muscles to induce deeper sleep. Studies suggest that magnesium improves total sleep time and quality, and shortens the time it takes to fall asleep.

As important as magnesium is, many of us don’t get enough—an estimated 56–68 percent of Americans fail to meet the recommended daily intakes of 310–320 mg for women and 400–420 mg for men. Make sure you’re getting what you need—especially during the stress-filled holidays. Pile your plate with these seven sources of magnesium for a more peaceful season.

1.  Chard is abundant in magnesium, as well as calcium, antioxidants, and other important nutrients. One cup of cooked chard has 150 mg of magnesium, about half the RDA for women. Spinach, kale, and other dark, leafy greens are also excellent sources.

Recipe Tips: Finely shred chard and toss with blueberries, goat cheese, slivered almonds, and raspberry vinaigrette; blanch whole chard leaves and use as a wrapper for cooked red lentils and quinoa; purée cooked chard with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic for a magnesium-rich dip.

2. Black beans are an excellent source of magnesium, as well as protein, fiber, and polyphenol antioxidants. One cup of cooked black beans has 120 mg of magnesium, and white beans are equally high. Chickpeas, kidney beans, and lentils are also good sources.

Recipe Tips: Toss black beans with minced scallions, red peppers, corn, and avocado cubes; purée black beans with salsa, heat until bubbly, then top with jalapeño peppers and cheese for a warm, spicy dip; sauté black beans, onions, and cooked cubed sweet potato in olive oil with garlic and cumin, then top with cilantro.

3. Almonds are one of the highest nut sources of magnesium, with about 97 mg in a quarter-cup serving. They’re also rich in healthy monounsaturated fats and vitamin E. Cashews, pine nuts, peanuts, and walnuts are also good sources of magnesium.
Recipe Tips: Combine almonds, pumpkin seeds, and flax seeds in a high-powered blender or food processor and grind into a magnesium-rich flour alternative; purée almond butter with frozen bananas, spinach, and milk or soy milk; sauté slivered almonds with edamame, shredded spinach, leeks, and garlic.

4. Pumpkin seeds are exceptionally high in magnesium, with 162 mg in a quarter-cup serving. They’re also good sources of iron, zinc, vitamin E, and B vitamins.

Recipe Tips: Toss pumpkin seeds, finely chopped kale, shredded carrots, and sliced radishes with an Asian vinaigrette; purée pumpkin seeds, spinach, and garlic into a paste, and toss with zucchini noodles or cooked pasta; combine pumpkin seeds, sliced almonds, chia seeds, coconut oil, coconut sugar, and cinnamon, then bake until golden for a grain-free granola.

5. Flaxseeds are rich in magnesium, with 120 mg in just three tablespoons. They’re also high in fiber, omega-3 fats, and antioxidants. Chia, hemp, and sesame seeds are also excellent sources of magnesium.

Recipe Tips: Mix ground flaxseeds with almond butter, almond milk, honey, cinnamon, and raisins, then form into cookies and bake; make vegan burgers with puréed black beans, flaxseeds, minced onions, garlic, and spices; combine whole flaxseeds, rolled oats, and vanilla yogurt, and refrigerate overnight for an instant next-day breakfast.

6. Avocados have a decent amount of magnesium, with about 67 mg per cup. And they’re rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, as well as fiber, potassium, folate, and vitamin K.

Recipe Tips: Combine mashed avocados with garlic and minced rosemary, and spread into endive leaves; make bruschetta with sliced avocado, chopped cherry tomatoes, shallots, basil, and toasted whole-grain baguette; toss diced avocado with cubed watermelon, feta cheese, and baby spinach.

7. Edamame are a great source of magnesium, with about 100 mg magnesium in 1 cup of cooked and shelled edamame. They’re also high in protein, fiber, iron, and vitamin C. Other forms of soy, such as tofu and tempeh, are also rich in magnesium.

Recipe Tips: Purée edamame, white beans, spinach, cashew butter, garlic, and lemon juice into a hummus-inspired dip; toss edamame with cumin, cayenne pepper, garlic salt, and olive oil and bake until golden; simmer edamame, leeks, white sweet potatoes, and celery in broth until tender, then purée into a creamy soup.

Click here for the Roasted Red Pepper & Black Bean Soup recipe.