Nutrition Education and Racial Disparities in Health


Magnesium Blog Series: The Forgotten Nutrient | Part 4 – Getting Adequate Magnesium

August 6, 2018 • 3 min read

With declining nutrient content in foods and broad consumption of SAD-style diets, deficiencies in essential nutrients have become extremely common.

How Much Magnesium Is Enough: RDA and EAR

The proposed normal range for serum magnesium is approximately 1.7 to 2.2 mg/dL.49 The recommended daily allowance (RDA) and estimated average requirement (EAR) to maintain healthy levels of magnesium vary based on age, sex, and reproductive status (Table 2).50-52

Table 2. Estimated average requirements (EAR) and recommended daily allowances (RDA) for magnesium intake in adults.50-52

Age (years) EAR (mg/day) RDA (mg/day)
19-30 (males/females) 330/255 400/310
>30 (males/females) 350/265 420/320
Pregnancy (14-18/19-20/31-50) 335/290/300 400/350/360


The Problem: Insufficient Dietary Magnesium Intake

With declining nutrient content in foods and broad consumption of SAD-style diets, deficiencies in essential nutrients such as magnesium have become extremely common. An analysis of 2005-2006 NHANES data identified dietary magnesium intake below EAR in 48 percent of 8437 participants.6 In this study, about 60 percent of surveyed adults did not consume the established RDA for magnesium. A diet-modeling study based on 8944 participants in NHANES (2007-2010) revealed that the percentage of individuals consuming below the EAR for magnesium ranged from 51.7 percent to 88.5 percent for adult males and 34.5 percent to 75.8 percent for adult women.5 Accordingly, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans designate magnesium as an under-consumed nutrient relative to the EAR in the diets of both males and females two years of age and older.52

Improving Dietary Magnesium Intake: Whole Foods

Dietary sources of magnesium include many whole foods, such as nuts, seeds, legumes, whole-grain cereals, and many vegetables (Table 3).53-57 Conversely, consumption of processed foods, sugars, saturated fats, and refined grains – all of which are common in the SAD – is associated with reduced intake of magnesium and other essential nutrients.58

Table 3. Dietary sources of magnesium.53-57

Food group Examples Mg content (mg/100g)
Nuts and seeds Pumpkin seeds 592
Flaxseed 392
Sesame seeds 356
Almonds 270
Cashews 260
Walnuts 158
Pistachios 109
Legumes Peanuts 178
Soybeans 86
Chickpeas 48
Kidney beans 45
Lentils 36
Produce Sun-dried tomatoes 194
Spinach 87
Kale 57
Dates 54
Fresh parsley 50
Potatoes with skin 43
Whole grains Buckwheat flour 251
Amaranth grain 248
Quinoa grain 197
Oats 177
Spelt 136
Barley 133
Dairy Parmesan cheese 44
Feta cheese 19
Whole-fat milk 13
Whole-fat yogurt 12
Egg 12
Seafood Cod
Meat Chicken breast 34
Turkey 32


In a worrying trend, studies have described declining concentrations of micronutrients in food since the first half of the 20th century. For example, investigators have identified magnesium reductions of four percent to eight percent in beef, four percent in chicken, 38 percent in cheddar cheese, 70 percent in parmesan cheese, 21 percent in whole milk, and 24 percent in vegetables over decades.59 The magnesium content of wheat has dropped almost 20 percent since the 1960s, likely due to changes in the soil (e.g., acidification, mineral depletion) and modern cultivation practices (e.g., selective breeding, chemical fertilizers).60 The processing and refinement of food leads to further substantial losses of magnesium. In fact, most processed foods and highly refined grains (e.g., white flour, sugar) are essentially devoid of magnesium.

An analysis of NHANES data (2007-2010) suggested that even with adequate dairy intake (a common source of magnesium), magnesium deficiencies would remain highly prevalent in Americans (34 percent to 75 percent of males, 17 percent to 51 percent of females).5

Variety Matters

Magnesium levels vary by type of plant, cultivar, and plant anatomy. Magnesium is mobile in the phloem and can be found in high concentrations in rapidly growing structures with good access to phloem, such as roots, seeds, tubers, and fruit. Some species with higher concentrations of magnesium in the leaves include beets, chard, and spinach.61 Magnesium concentrations also vary by cultivar. One review identified magnesium levels ranging from 45.8 to 69.3 mg/100 g across varieties of kale and 8.7 to 12.3 mg/100 g among types of carrots.61

Given the wide range of magnesium levels within and between plants, consuming a variety of plants may be the best strategy to optimize dietary magnesium intake.

The Benefits of Magnesium Supplementation

With the declining levels of magnesium in available foods, many people may be challenged to maintain adequate magnesium levels through diet alone. Magnesium supplements are another option to support healthy magnesium status. Compared to food alone, the addition of dietary supplements significantly increases intake of nutrients, including magnesium, and reduces nutrient inadequacies in adults.62 The benefits of magnesium supplementation have been widely demonstrated. Several such studies are illustrated in Table 1. Additional studies have linked magnesium supplementation to reduced stress and depressive symptoms. For example, a study from France evaluated the effect of supplementation with magnesium, probiotics, and vitamins in 242 subjects with psychological stress.63 Following one month of supplementation, measures of subjects’ psychological stress decreased significantly (P<0.0001); fatigue scores also decreased significantly (P<0.0001). An open-label, randomized study evaluated the effect of magnesium supplementation in 126 adults with mild-to-moderate depression.64 After six weeks of magnesium chloride supplementation, depressive symptoms improved significantly over baseline (6.0 point improvement in Patient Health Questionnaire-9 scores, P<0.001). Anxiety scores also improved significantly. The supplement was well tolerated, and 61 percent of participants said they would use magnesium in the future.

Many people are in need of some level of magnesium supplementation. These deficits are illustrated in Table 4, which shows the mean daily intake of magnesium in the 2011-2012 NHANES survey compared to RDA.65 The addition of a supplement containing 100mg dietary magnesium would bring the mean magnesium intake to within the RDA values for both genders, for all age brackets.

Table 4. Magnesium intake from food and beverages compared to RDA and the impact of a 100 mg/day magnesium supplement. Data from the 2011-2012 NHANES survey.65

Gender Age (years) Daily intake (mg/day) RDA (mg/day) Mg deficit (mg) Difference with 100 mg/day supplement (mg)
Male 20-29 346 400 -54 +46
30-39 388 420 -32 +68
40-49 375 420 -45 +55
50-59 348 420 -72 +28
60-69 360 420 -60 +40
≥70 301 420 -119 -19
Female 20-29 266 310 -44 +66
30-39 299 320 -21 +79
40-49 275 320 -45 +55
50-59 278 320 -42 +58
60-69 272 320 -48 +52
≥70 249 320 -71 +29



Magnesium is an essential nutrient for human health. Deficiencies in magnesium increase risk for serious chronic diseases, whereas increased intake through improved diet and/or supplementation can improve health status and reduce disease risk. Unfortunately, current evidence indicates that half or more of Americans currently have some degree of subclinical magnesium deficiency. Increasing magnesium intake requires greater consumption of whole foods (unrefined grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts) and reduced intake of refined or processed foods. For many people, the addition of a magnesium supplement may be required to replete magnesium stores and maintain healthy magnesium levels over the long term.

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