In this article we’ll discuss the significance of magnesium for regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and building protein. All while looking at the best vegan sources of magnesium.January 18, 2023 2:43 pm January 18, 2023 2:43 pm
What is magnesium
Magnesium is an abundant mineral in the human body that is essential for hundreds of metabolic processes and many other important bodily functions. This is because magnesium is a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems that regulate diverse biochemical reactions in the body. These include:(1)
- Helping to create and repair DNA and RNA
- Building new proteins from amino acids
- Regulating neurotransmitters, which send messages throughout our brains and nervous system
- Converting food into energy
- Assisting in muscle contraction and relaxation
An adult body contains roughly 25g of magnesium, 50-60% being present in the bones and the majority of the rest in soft tissues. Less than 1% of total magnesium is located in blood serum. In addition, magnesium homeostasis, i.e. a state of balance, is largely controlled by the kidney. To give an idea, in one day the kidneys typically excrete about 120mg of magnesium into the urine.(2)
Due to magnesium’s importance, adequate intake can even reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. So, what are the best vegan sources of magnesium? Before we get into that, let’s quickly cover magnesium deficiency.
Studies show that almost 50% of people in Europe don’t get enough of magnesium.(3)
Also known as hypomagnesemia, magnesium deficiency, is an often-overlooked health problem. Often, cases of deficiency are underdiagnosed because the signs don’t commonly appear until magnesium levels become severely low. However, here’s some to look out for:
- Muscle twitches and cramps; and in more serious cases, people can experience seizures and convulsions.(4) Research suggests that this occurs due to there being a greater flow of calcium into nerve cells, which over-stimulates the muscle nerves.(5) Although twitches are common and can arise from stress or excessive caffeine intake, you should see your doctor if symptoms persist.
- Mental health conditions are another sign of deficiency. Extreme cases of deficiency may even lead to delirium and coma. (6) Additionally, observational studies link low magnesium levels with an increased risk of depression.(7)
- Magnesium deficiency is also a risk factor for osteoporosis. Deficiency can weaken bones directly, but it can also lower the blood levels of calcium, which are the main building block of bones(8).
- In individuals with asthma, magnesium levels tend to be lower than in people who do not have this condition.(9) A lack of magnesium can cause the buildup of calcium in the muscles lining the airways of the lungs. As a result, the airways constrict, making breathing more difficult.(10) Often, an inhaler with magnesium sulfate is given to people with severe asthma to help relax and expand the airways.
- Irregular heartbeat, or heart arrhythmia is among the most serious possible effects of magnesium deficiency. Researchers believe that an imbalance of potassium levels inside and outside of heart muscle cells (a condition associated with magnesium deficiency) is to blame.(11) Symptoms to look out for include: lightheadedness, shortness of breath, chest pain, fainting, dizziness and fatigue.
Now, let’s take a look at the best vegan sources of magnesium, how much magnesium they contain and how that translates to our daily value (DV).
"Magnesium is central to a healthy heart rhythm because it's involved in transporting other electrolytes, such as calcium and potassium, into cells. Electrolytes are all-important for nerve signals and the muscle contractions of a normal heartbeat."
Nuts boast an impressive nutrient profile and generally speaking contain quite a lot of magnesium, especially cashews, almonds and walnuts. For instance, one serving (1oz or 28g) contains over 80mg magnesium (20% DV), 77mg magnesium (18% DV), and 45mg magnesium (11% DV) respectively. As you can see nuts are one of the best sources of magnesium!
As previously discussed, magnesium plays an important role in relaying signals between our brains and bodies. This is because it acts as the gatekeeper for the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors on our nerve cells. These aid brain development, memory, and learning.(12)
Furthermore, when magnesium levels are low in an individual, fewer NMDA receptors are blocked. As a result, the receptors are prone to being stimulated more often than necessary. Unfortunately, this kind of overstimulation can kill nerve cells and in extreme cases cause brain damage.(13) Let’s take a further look into this in relation to nuts.
Research undertaken on the beneficial effects of walnuts on cognition and overall brain health yielded promising results. Interestingly, the results from this study suggest the benefits of a walnut-rich diet for brain disorders. This could be as a result of magnesium and its ability to keep NMDA receptors unblocked, leading to protection against oxidative stress and inflammation in these types of brain diseases.(14)
Our organic walnut flour is a great way to increase your magnesium intake. We cold-press our walnuts to remove the natural oils, making a light-textured flour which is more concentrated in minerals than raw walnuts. Simply incorporate it into your go-to baking recipes or add to smoothies and sauces for rich and toasty notes of flavor!
Legumes come with a whole host of health benefits ranging from reducing blood pressure to supporting gut health. Lentils, beans, chickpeas and peas are particularly rich in many different nutrients, most notably magnesium. For example, half a cup (80g) of chickpeas contains nearly 50mg of magnesium (11% DV).
In addition, tofu is also one of the leading sources of magnesium. A 100g serving of tofu contains 35mg of magnesium (8% DV). If you didn’t know, tofu is made by pressing soybean milk into soft white curds, which is why it’s also known as bean curd.
Predominantly residing in East Asian cuisine, tofu has more recently become a staple food in vegetarian and vegan diets all over the world due to its high protein content. It’s also worth mentioning that the soybeans which make tofu are one of the few complete vegan proteins, i.e. they contain all 9 essential amino acids.
Much like nuts, seeds play an important role in a balanced diet. Many varieties, including chia, sunflower and linseeds contain a fantastic amount of magnesium! For example, a serving contains 95mg magnesium (23% DV), 90mg magnesium (22% DV), and 110mg magnesium (27% DV) respectively.
Interestingly almost 50% of people who suffer from type 2 diabetes have low blood levels of magnesium, which may impair the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels effectively.(15) In addition, research indicates that people who consume more magnesium have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.(16)
More specifically, scientists suggest top sources of magnesium, such as sunflower and linseeds, have a role in the reduction of glucose levels. Therefore, they may help treat type 2 diabetes. The bioactive components, alongside magnesium, in these seeds are involved in the treatment of insulin resistance or insulin production.(17)
We at Erbology love all things seeds. Especially our Organic Chia Powder, which is not simply made of ground chia seeds. First, we cold-press the seeds to extract the oil. As a result, our powder is more concentrated and rich in minerals and vitamins. Simply stir one teaspoon into porridge, smoothies or mix into baked goods like cookies and cakes if you enjoy mildly nutty notes of flavor, with an additional magnesium boost!