Magnesium: Benefits, Sources, Deficiencies | BBC Good Food

Why do we need magnesium?

Approximately 60 per cent of magnesium is locked inside the skeletal system, making it significantly responsible for bone strength and health. The remainder is utilised in soft tissue cells including the liver, muscles, heart and kidneys and the fluid inside these, known as intracellular fluid.

It is inside this fluid where magnesium’s role flourishes – it participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions with significant roles in protein synthesis, calcium homeostasis, vitamin D formation and muscle contraction. Magnesium is also essential for regulating heart rhythm and blood glucose levels and it also supports immunity.

Brown rice in a pile

The benefits of taking magnesium include:

  • Maintains cardiovascular health, especially heart rhythm and the transportation of electrolytes like calcium and potassium into cells
  • Boosts metabolism and regulates blood sugar as well as lowering inflammation
  • Needed for bone strength and health
  • May boost exercise ability via boost in blood sugar
  • May prevent migraines and serious headaches
  • Studies show that it can improve peoples sleeping patterns

How much magnesium do we need?

Daily UK recommendations of magnesium for men and women are 300mg and 270mg respectively. According to recent figures, 11 per cent of women and 16 per cent of men are magnesium-deficient. The reason for this is thought to be due to the increased intake of processed foods.

Can we have too much?

Too much magnesium from food does not pose any problem for healthy people as any excess would be excreted by the kidneys in urine. However, taking high dose magnesium supplements or medications may often cause gut problems such as diarrhoea, nausea or stomach cramping. It is recommended not to exceed a daily intake of 400mg.

Which foods are good sources of magnesium?

Magnesium is found in the following foods:

  • Green leafy vegetables such as spinach
  • Wholegrain bread
  • Brown rice
  • Dairy products
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Peanuts
  • Brazil nuts
  • Tofu
  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Sesame and sunflower seeds
  • Meat, such as beef and chicken
  • Seafood and fish

Recipes high in magnesium

Cashew chicken
Thai pork & peanut curry
Spinach rice
Japanese-style brown rice
Smoked paprika paella with cod & peas
Pomegranate chicken with almond couscous
Chickpea, spinach & almond butter bowl
Creamy salmon, prawn & almond curry

More on vitamins and minerals…

Five nutrients every woman needs
Vital vitamins
What is vitamin B12?
The best sources of vitamin C
Am I getting enough vitamin D?

This content was updated on 18 October 2023.

Emer Delaney BSc (Hons), RD has an honours degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Ulster. She has worked as a dietitian in some of London’s top teaching hospitals and is currently based in Chelsea.

All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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