How much do you need daily?
The amount of magnesium you need per day is:
- 300 milligrams a day for men
- 270 milligrams a day for women
You should be able to get all the magnesium you need from your daily diet.
The government recommends the following intakes
|Age||Amount of magnesium recommended (milligrams per day)|
|During pregnancy||No increase required|
Are we getting enough?
The 2016 National Diet and Nutrition Survey found that over a quarter (27 per cent) of teenage boys and almost half (48 per cent) of teenage girls are falling short of the target for magnesium. Over 11 per cent of working-age adults and one in ten (11-12 per cent) of adults over 65 are also falling short.
Interestingly, a 2016 European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition-Oxford (EPIC) study found that vegans had the highest intake of magnesium compared to meat-eaters, fish-eaters and vegetarians.
Why do we need it??
Magnesium is essential for nerve and muscle function, healthy immune system, steady heartbeat and strong bone structure, with 50 to 60 per cent of it stored in your bones to support their strength. It helps regulate blood sugar levels and is vital for energy and protein metabolism. Magnesium is also essential for forming the so-called ‘happy hormones’, neurotransmitters in the brain. Magnesium is also needed for calcium absorption, the two minerals works together, for example in regulating your heartbeat. Calcium stimulates heart muscle cells to contract, and magnesium triggers it to relax. About one quarter of our magnesium is stored in our muscles.
It is the central atom in chlorophyll in the leaves of plants – so think ‘green leaves’, but it is also plentiful in pulses, nuts and seeds.
Magnesium is abundant in a healthy vegan diet and it’s easy to get enough from diet alone. On the other hand, a diet high in processed foods can be lacking in magnesium. It’s best to get your magnesium from diet as high intakes from supplements may reach excessive levels and affect your calcium absorption, cause heartbeat irregularities and confusion. Doses over 400 milligrams can also cause nausea and diarrhoea.
Do I need a supplement?
No, a healthy vegan diet containing the above foods on a daily basis will cover your needs.
The best plant sources
The best plant sources of magnesium include wholegrain foods (quinoa, wholemeal spaghetti, wholegrain rice, oatmeal or rolled oats and wheat germ), nuts (Brazil nuts, almonds, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, peanuts and peanut butter), seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and tahini – sesame seed paste) pulses (tofu, baked beans, soya beans, edamame and lentils), spinach, molasses – black treacle, soya milk and cocoa powder.
Signs of deficiency
Confusion, tiredness, depression, muscle twitching or spasms, irritability, heartbeat changes or rapid heartbeat and tingling and sleep disorders such as insomnia.
Foods to include
|Food||Milligrams of magnesium per portion||% of recommended daily amount for women (270 milligrams)||% of recommended daily amount for men (300 milligrams)|
|*Quinoa, cooked (medium portion, 180g)|
|Peanuts, plain (medium bag, 50g)|
|Wholemeal spaghetti (average portion, 220g)|
|Wholegrain rice, boiled (medium portion, 180g)|
|Brazil nuts (6 nuts, 20g)|
|Pumpkin seeds (average serving, 28g)|
|Tahini – sesame seed paste (1 heaped teaspoon, 19g)|
|Spinach (baby raw, average serving, 90g)|
|Sesame seeds (1 heaped teaspoon, 19g)|
|Almonds (12 whole nuts, 26g)|
|Tofu, steamed, fried (typical portion, 100g)|
|Baked beans in tomato sauce (half a can, 210g)|
|Sunflower seeds (1 tablespoon, 16g)|
|*Soya beans – boiled (medium portion, 70g)|
|*Edamame (cooked) medium portion (90g)|
|Cashew nuts (20 nuts, 20g)|
|Molasses – black treacle (1 tablespoon, 20g)|
|Oatmeal or rolled oats (40g portion)|
|Hazelnuts/filberts (1 handful, 28g)|
|Lentils, green and brown, cooked (120g)|
|Pecan nuts (5 nuts, 30g)|
|Pistachio nuts (1 handful, 28g)|
|Peanut butter, smooth (thickly spread on one slice, 20g)|
|Soya milk, 1 glass (200 g)|
|Wheat germ (2 tablespoons, 14g)|
|Walnuts (6 halves, 20g)|
|Lentils, red, cooked (120g)|
|Cocoa powder (1 heaped teaspoon, 6g)|
|Spinach (mature, boiled, average serving, 90g)|
Source: Public Health England: McCance and Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods Integrated Dataset, * USDA Food Composition Databases.
Research suggests that high levels of magnesium may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. This raises concerns that we are not getting enough magnesium in the diet.
However, vegans tend to have good magnesium intakes, providing they do not rely too heavily on refined grains.