When I was pregnant and in my third trimester I started getting the absolute worst leg cramps at night. My doctor told me to take a magnesium supplement and much to my surprise it worked after one day. Literally… one tablet and my cramps were gone! Needless to say I took the supplement pills religiously until I gave birth. While leg cramps are common during pregnancy and very often associated with a magnesium deficiency, not getting enough magnesium is very common in the general population. And this is a real problem.
“Magnesium is involved in energy metabolism and muscle contraction, and not getting enough of it can cause muscle cramps and twitches; it also plays an important role in bone structure and DNA synthesis,” says registered dietician Natalie Rizzo.
But that’s not all.
Energy production, nerve function, heart health and even anxiety and sleep can be affected by magnesium (or lack thereof).
So, what is the recommended intake of magnesium?
Current guidelines recommend 400–420 mg/day for men and 310–320 mg/day for women, but those numbers increase in certain conditions, like pregnancy.
Let’s visualize these numbers.
Rizzo breaks down some of the best sources of magnesium and how much one serving provides.
- Almonds: “Almonds are rich in magnesium, which aids in the production of energy in the body and helps support a healthy immune system. One healthy handful of almonds (about 23 almonds or one ounce) provides 20% of your recommended magnesium needs (77 milligrams).”
- Prunes: “One cup of pitted prunes provides 71 milligrams of magnesium, or 23% of the daily needs for women.”
- Leafy Greens: “There are a ton of magnesium-rich leafy greens to choose from, like kale, spinach, Swiss chard or collard greens. Two cups of raw spinach has about 48 milligrams of magnesium (or about 15% the daily value for women).”
- White beans: “A 1/2 cup of canned white beans has 67 milligrams of magnesium (or more than 20% the daily value), making them an excellent source of this mineral.”
What are signs of deficiency?
“Magnesium deficiency is hard to pinpoint because the signs are somewhat vague,” says Rizzo. “For example, you may experience loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, muscle cramps or tingling in the extremities. All of these symptoms can also come from other things, but more severe magnesium deficiency may cause abnormal heart rhythms and may even throw off other mineral balance in the body, such as potassium or calcium. The only way to know if you’re deficient is through a blood draw, so speak to your doctor about this if you think you may not be getting enough.”
While I had to take a supplement to get rid of my leg cramps because they were intense and with my nausea the last thing I could think about was being strategic about what I was eating, we absolutely do not need to take supplements to get enough magnesium.
In fact, even though an estimated 50% of people in the U.S. consume less than the recommended daily amount, Rizzo underlines that it’s relatively easy to eat enough magnesium-rich foods. “For instance, snack on one ounce of almonds per day to get 20% of your daily magnesium needs and if you eat leafy greens and beans everyday, chances are you’ll get plenty of magnesium in your diet.”