And there’s an 80% chance you’re not getting enough
Periodically, I report on current findings regarding the role of key minerals for your diet and health.
Sadly, these findings almost always show how people are woefully deficient in these essential nutrients.
That’s certainly the case with magnesium. Various researchers estimate that a stunning 70 to 80% of Americans don’t get the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for magnesium—which is 310 to 320 mg per day for women, and 400 to 420 mg for men.
As you know, the U.S. government sets the RDAs to help people avoid outright nutritional deficiencies—rather than achieve optimal health. But in this case, the bureaucrats (surprisingly) got it right for half of the population—men. But based on the latest research, I recommend 400 mg of magnesium per day for both men and women.
The disturbing news that about three-quarters of Americans don’t hit that target is a real problem for public health. Why? Because magnesium is truly a magnificent mineral. In fact, it’s involved in more than 300 different functions in your body.
How magnesium can keep your heart, your brain—and the rest of your body—healthy
Reams of research show that magnesium helps lower your risk of diabetes, fight depression, and relieve migraines. And, along with calcium and vitamin D, magnesium is essential for bone health.
Magnesium is also an anti-inflammatory that supports heart health and may even cut the risk of a heart attack—perhaps by lowering blood pressure, according to a new study.
This study looked at data from 34 randomized, double-blind, controlled clinical trials, involving 2,028 people ages 18 to 84.1
Half of the participants took an average of 368 mg of magnesium a day for three months. Researchers found the subjects’ blood pressure decreased significantly compared to the people who didn’t take magnesium.
The magnesium group’s systolic (the top number) blood pressure fell by an average of 2 mmHg, and their diastolic pressure (the bottom number) dropped 1.78 mmHg. That doesn’t seem like much—until you realize it’s comparable to the results from the best of the blood pressure drugs.
A key consideration is how the daily doses of magnesium related to actual blood plasma levels of the mineral (which is what would be expected to affect blood pressure). The researchers found that taking 200 mg of magnesium per day (half of what I recommend) for one month significantly raised plasma magnesium levels.
Why doesn’t the mainstream want you to take magnesium supplements?
The researchers said magnesium is often labeled the “forgotten mineral.” But other than calcium and iron supplements (both of which should be forgotten—see the sidebar below) what minerals have mainstream researchers actually remembered?
Another interesting point is that the study clearly showed that magnesium supplements work similarly to blood pressure drugs. Yet, most experts still maintain it’s “preferable” to get magnesium from the diet. Even though dietary magnesium doesn’t offer the same precision and control as supplements when it comes to a clinical protocol for reducing blood pressure.
It seems that, once again, the mainstream “experts” don’t want anything to interfere with big pharma’s profitable drugs.
The simple—and tasty—ways to add magnesium to your diet
While I certainly don’t agree with the mainstream’s bias against magnesium supplements, it doesn’t hurt to incorporate more magnesium-rich foods into your diet as well (in addition to taking 400 mg in supplement form each day).
Of course, I’m going to start with my “go-to” foods for a wide spectrum of health benefits—dark leafy greens like collards, kale, spinach, and Swiss chard are rich sources of magnesium and many other nutrients.
Try combining them in a salad with avocado, which is loaded with magnesium and healthy fats, and pumpkin seeds. Half a cup of pumpkin seeds provides almost all (325 mg) of my daily requirement for magnesium—not to mention many other nutrients.
And don’t forget nuts, which, like seeds, are nutritional powerhouses. Nuts high in magnesium include almonds, Brazil nuts, and cashews. In fact, now is the perfect time of year to make your own healthy mix of nuts and seeds so they’re handy for the holidays.
Bananas are better known for other minerals like potassium, but they also contain a healthy dose of magnesium (32 mg in a medium fruit). Slice them over a whole-grain breakfast cereal like shredded wheat (65 mg of magnesium per cup), or oatmeal (61 mg per cup).
Beans are super sources of magnesium—not to mention protein and other vitamins and minerals. One cup of black beans contains a whopping 120 mg of magnesium. Other good choices include lentils and kidney beans.
Fish is also a perfect food for body and brain. In addition to omega-3s and vitamin D, fish and seafood will add more magnesium to your menu. For example, a serving of 100 grams of mackerel has nearly 100 mg of magnesium. Have fish for dinner or lunch at least twice a week.
Yogurt (without added sugar) is another good source of magnesium, with about 20 mg in one small container. Plus, yogurt and other dairy products also contain calcium. Getting enough magnesium may make it easier for the body to absorb more calcium from the diet.
I am also going to mention an exotic tropical fruit, although it is virtually impossible to find in the U.S. Baobab pulp has an average of 195 mg of magnesium per 100 grams. Only pumpkin seeds have more magnesium than this African fruit.
The good news is that baobab extract is available in supplement form, on its own or combined with other healthy ingredients.
And finally, I have saved the best for last. One ounce of dark chocolate (about a third to a half of a typical chocolate bar) has 41 mg of magnesium.
So at the end of the month, when little ghosts and goblins come calling, try dark chocolate instead of the more typical “milk” chocolate, which is full of sugar. Some say dark chocolate is an acquired taste, so why not start them young?
And remember to take a daily 400 mg magnesium supplement just to make sure your bases are covered for this magnificent mineral.
One more mineral you need more of—and two you should never take in supplement form
When it comes to mineral supplements, it seems like the “natural-know-it-alls” focus primarily on calcium pills. But calcium is one mineral that should never be taken in supplement form.
Calcium supplements are dangerous because they can elevate your calcium blood levels so much that they may actually harm blood vessels and other tissues. And this could potentially lead to heart disease.
If you follow the sensible diet I recommend, with organic dairy, fish, meat, and leafy greens, you’ll get plenty of calcium. In general, deficiencies of calcium only become a problem on artificially restricted diets, like vegan diets.
Iron is another mineral you should only get via dietary sources. For generations, doctors and public health experts have pushed iron supplements onto the American people. But this is a very dangerous practice.
Most women and virtually all men do not need iron supplements for optimal health. Excess iron in the body has been linked to higher risks of cancer, heart disease, and infections, as shown by many studies over the years—including my own published work with Nobel laureate Baruch Blumberg in the New England Journal of Medicine and the International Journal of Epidemiology.
And, as I reported in my Daily Dispatch e-letter in September, recent research shows that excess iron can also lead to diabetes.
So unless you’re one of the rare people who have been diagnosed by their doctor with iron deficiency, avoid supplementing with this mineral.
On the other hand, iodine deficiency is rampant in our population—especially among adolescent girls and young women (probably due to abysmal diets). This is a serious problem because iodine is critically important for thyroid function and metabolism.
Typically, iodine is present in fish, seafood, and sea salt. But when populations move away from the coasts and into mountain and inland regions, they lose dietary sources of iodine and may become deficient.
That’s why mid-20th century U.S. public health policy included the addition of iodine to table salt (sodium chloride, which, unlike sea salt, is not naturally high in iodine). But later 20th century policy was to advise everyone to restrict salt intake—although there was never any real scientific evidence that cutting back on salt would prevent high blood pressure and heart disease in the vast majority of people (what I call the “Great Salt Scam”).
So it’s hardly a surprise that today, there is widespread iodine deficiency among Americans. The solution is to eat at least two servings of fish or seafood a week. Milk, eggs, and non-sweetened yogurt are also good sources of iodine.
And don’t be afraid to add a little iodized salt, or sea salt, to taste when cooking organic vegetables and other foods, and in water for boiling pasta. (Processed, packaged, and canned foods are typically laden with salt, but you don’t want to be eating those anyway.)
1“Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Blood Pressure: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trials.” Hypertension. 2016 Aug;68(2):324-33.