Magnesium is essential to good health

Magnesium plays an important role in the structure and the function of the human body, from maintaining nerve and muscle function and other metabolic functions.

Research tells us that Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and is essential to good health. Approximately 50 percent of total body magnesium is found in bone. The other half is found predominantly inside cells of body tissues and organs. Only 1 percent of magnesium is found in blood, but the body works very hard to keep blood levels of magnesium constant.

Magnesium helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps heart rhythm steady, supports a healthy immune system, and keeps bones strong. Magnesium also helps regulate blood sugar levels, promotes normal blood pressure, and is known to be involved in energy metabolism and protein production. It may help in preventing and managing disorders such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

Green vegetables such as spinach and Swiss chard are good sources of magnesium because the center of the chlorophyll molecule (which gives green vegetables their color) contains magnesium. Some legumes (beans and peas), nuts and seeds, and whole, unrefined grains are also good sources of magnesium. Refined grains are generally low in magnesium. When white flour is refined and processed, the magnesium-rich germ and bran are removed. Bread made from whole grain wheat flour provides more magnesium than bread made from white refined flour.

The impact of cooking and processing on magnesium can vary greatly from food to food, since magnesium is found in different forms in different types of food. In some foods, where a greater percent of magnesium is found in water-soluble form, blanching (boiling or steaming for one to four minutes), steaming, or boiling of these foods can result in a substantial loss of magnesium. For example, about one third of the magnesium is lost in spinach after blanching. Similarly, when navy beans are cooked, they lose 65 percent of their magnesium.

In other foods that are rich in magnesium, like almonds or peanuts, there is very little loss of magnesium either from roasting or from processing into almond or peanut butter (as long as the whole almond or peanut is used).

Dietary surveys show that the diet of many Americans does not consistently provide the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for magnesium. Older people are especially prone to consuming a diet inadequate in magnesium. Older adults should therefore take care to eat magnesium-rich foods in addition to taking a multivitamin-mineral supplement daily. Remember, good sources of magnesium are leafy vegetables, nuts, whole grains and skim milk. The typical American convenience food diet of fast food, pizzas, pastries, cookies and fried foods consists almost exclusively of refined grains, oils and sugars. Over time, excess consumption of these foods can lead to both obesity and magnesium deficiency, a potentially fatal combination. An increased focus on fruits and vegetables reflects the latest research into the benefits these foods offer towards the prevention and control of chronic disease.