Foods That Contain Magnesium To Put On Your Shopping List

Cashews contain 292mg of magnesium per 100g. A handful of them make a great healthy snack or try adding them to stir-fries. (Image credit: Getty Images / Priscila Zambotto)

A variety of foods contain magnesium, which is excellent news because magnesium is an essential mineral we use to convert our food into energy. It is also a vital ingredient in many of our body’s biochemical reactions, from DNA synthesis to blood pressure regulation. 

NHS guidelines recommend women consume 270mg of magnesium a day and men 300mg, both up to the age of 69. The body cannot produce magnesium so we need to get it from our diet, although it can store it so going a day without the recommended amount isn’t something to fret about. Dietary magnesium is easy to come by – most foods contain at least a little. Read on to discover the foods that contain the most magnesium, and what to do if you think you may be deficient.

Why Do We Need Magnesium?

Cristy Dean, a dietitian for Fettle and Bloom, which she created to support those with irritable bowel syndrome and related gut-health conditions, stresses the importance of magnesium for bodily function. 

“Magnesium is important for many processes in the body, including regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and making bone, protein and DNA,” she says.

It works alongside other minerals, such as calcium and phosphorus, to support healthy bones. Another of magnesium’s jobs is to release energy from the food we eat, making it available for our bodies to use. 

Magnesium also interacts with the sleep hormone melatonin, which controls the body’s sleep cycles, and the neurotransmitter GABA, which has a calming effect. Having sufficient amounts of magnesium in the body helps to maintain a regular and refreshing sleep cycle. It is also involved in our stress response: a 2020 study in the journal Nutrients found that chronic stress and anxiety depletes the body’s stores of magnesium, which means the body is less equipped to deal with stress.

“Magnesium affects the hypothalamus, which regulates stress hormones,” says Dean. “If magnesium levels are optimal this can help to manage stress and anxiety.”

Which Foods Contain Magnesium?

 “The best way to meet requirements is by eating a variety of foods such as legumes, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, fortified cereals and milk products,” says Dean. “If you are worried about your magnesium levels or suspect you may be deficient, speak to a medical professional about supplementation.” The symptoms of deficiency are outlined below.

We’re delighted to see nuts top the list, as they also feature on our list of foods which contain iron, while seeds are one of the best foods that contain zinc

  • Nuts
    • Cashews – 292mg per 100g
    • Almond butter – 270mg per 100g
    • Pistachios – 121mg per 100g
  • Seeds
    • Sesame seeds – 351mg per 100g
    • Chia seeds – 335mg per 100g
    • Sunflower seeds – 129mg per 100g
  • Leafy greens
    • Spinach – 79mg per 100g
    • Beet leaves – 70mg per 100g
    • Lettuce – 13.7mg per 100g 
  • Legumes
    • Black beans – 180mg per 100g
    • Red kidney beans – 164mg per 100g
    • Edamame beans – 65mg per 100g
  • Grains
    • Wholegrain bread – 76.6mg per 100g
    • Rye bread – 40mg per 100g
    • Brown rice – 39mg per 100g

Symptoms Of Magnesium Deficiency

Magnesium deficiency is uncommon, but many people have low levels due to not eating enough magnesium-rich foods and consuming too many processed foods. Early signs of magnesium deficiency can include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, weakness and fatigue. If it worsens, it can lead to muscle twitches, seizures, personality changes, heart palpitations and even cardiac arrest in cases of severe deficiency. 

Magnesium deficiency can also reduce the amount of calcium and phosphorus available to the body because the three work closely together to maintain our health.

The US Department of Agriculture estimates that 48% of Americans are not consuming enough magnesium and may need to supplement their diet. You can buy bottled water that has been fortified with extra minerals, although levels of concentration vary between brands. 

“Some medical conditions and medications can interfere with the ability to absorb magnesium, or increase the amount the body excretes,” says Dean. “Those with Crohn’s or coeliac disease, type 2 diabetes or alcoholism, as well as elderly people, are more at risk of deficiency. Magnesium that is naturally present in food is not harmful and does not have to be limited as our body has a way of getting rid of any excess via the kidneys. However, supplementation can be harmful if taken in the wrong dose.”

It is advised that you do not exceed 400mg of magnesium a day, or you may experience symptoms such as diarrhoea, nausea and abdominal cramps.

Lou Mudge
Health writer

Lou Mudge is a health writer working across Coach and Fit&Well. She previously worked for Live Science, and regularly writes for Pet’s Radar. Based in Bath, UK, she has a passion for food, nutrition and health and is eager to demystify diet culture in order to make health and fitness accessible to everybody.

Multiple diagnoses in her early 20s sparked an interest in the gut-brain axis, and the impact that diet and exercise can have on both physical and mental health. She was put on the FODMAP elimination diet during this time and learned to adapt recipes to fit these parameters, while retaining core flavours and textures, and now enjoys cooking for gut health.