So What Is Magnesium And Why Does It Matter for vegans?

vegan magnesium guide

Magnesium is the 8th most abundant mineral in the earth, the 4th most abundant mineral in our bodies and is linked to over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body especially the brain and neuromuscular function meaning without it we are walking zombies 

Many may not realize the importance of magnesium since it’s not usually at the forefront of media hype like protein is (show muscle-bound video), but just like protein magnesium plays a vital role in the healthy functioning of our muscles and myofascial tissue. 

Magnesium, concerning muscle tissue, mainly affects muscle contraction and release, so for those gym warriors who are focussed on developing the perfect body, it’s imperative not to slack with your magnesium intake.

Magnesium also plays a pivotal role in carbohydrate metabolism allowing you to break down the glucose stored in your favorite plant foods and use it as fuel 

but low levels of dietary magnesium will leave you unable to utilize energy properly 

Leaving you feeling more tired than a nightshift worker who only had 1 hours sleep and got woken up early by a slobbering dog.

Aside from muscle function and carbohydrate breakdown, magnesium is one of the most important minerals when it relates to bone health, with 60% of the magnesium in our bodies being found in our bones the other 20% is found in our muscles and soft tissues.

Magnesium works synergistically with calcium and vitamin D to create the perfect environment to sustain healthy bones, and a sufficient supply of magnesium has been shown to help prevent osteoporosis

* Vegan Agility Tip*

The kidneys are the main organs in control of healthy magnesium balance so maintaining healthy kidneys through regular exercise, and a balanced plant-based diet will go a long way to helping create magnesium homeostasis*

magnesium benefits

Some key benefits of magnesium

  • Studies show that magnesium plays a significant role in maintaining and sustaining healthy neurological and neuromuscular function. 1,2.  
  • Can help with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease due to magnesium’s neurological benefits. 3,4
  • Bone health  
  • Efficient absorption of calcium. 5,6,7
  • Conversion of carbohydrates into energy. 8.  
  • Protein synthesis. 9,10.
  • Magnesium is essential in the process of metabolizing Vitamin D. 11
  • Can help to improve cardiovascular health. 12
  • Hormone regulation. 13
    • Progesterone. 14.  
    • Estrogen. 15.  
    • Testosterone. 16
  • Central nervous system regulation. 17.  
    • Dopamine. 18.  
    • Serotonin. 19.  

What forms of magnesium are there and which are the most important? 

Magnesium is rarely found on its own and is usually bound to another element. All well-absorbed forms of magnesium will help to deal with a magnesium deficiency. Still, some forms have alternative uses outside of just dietary balance, so picking the right one for the job is essential. The solubility of magnesium is another critical aspect to determine which form of magnesium to use since this will influence how well it is absorbed and it’s laxative properties.

We have made a list of the most important ones for vegans to be aware of and their main uses 

  • Magnesium carbonate
    • A compound formed between magnesium and carbonic acid
    • Used to help treat heartburn and stomach issues
  • Magnesium citrate
    • A compound formed between magnesium and citric acid
    • Good for the kidneys
    • Can help to reduce muscle pain
    • Very well absorbed and easier on the stomach than most other forms
    • Sometimes used as a laxative
    • Works well with vitamins A, B, and E
  • Magnesium glycinate
    • A compound formed between magnesium and glycine
    • Can help to reduce nerve pain
    • Potential to cause diarrhea 
    • Works well with magnesium citrate
    • Shown to help improve migraines and support the nervous system
  • Magnesium gluconate
    • Due to its high bioavailability is an excellent choice for magnesium deficiency 
  • Magnesium orotate
    • A compound formed between magnesium and orotic acid.
    • Can be expensive in comparison to others 
    • Orotic acid has been shown to have benefits for heart health
  • Magnesium sulfate
    • A compound formed between magnesium and sulfuric acid
    • Found in Epsom salts
    • Magnesium absorbed through the skin for those who struggle with tablets
    • Has been shown to help with asthma
    • And has shown positive effects in the prevention of seizures with pregnant women 
  • Magnesium taurate
    • A compound formed between magnesium and the amino acid taurine
    • Useful for supporting cardiovascular health and liver issues 
  • Magnesium malate
  • Magnesium L-Threonate
    • A compound formed between magnesium and 
    • Great for brain function and activity, brain repair, and retaining memory 
    • Helps with mood, anxiety, and depression
    • But can cause tiredness so is sometimes used to help with sleep
  • Magnesium chloride
    • Very well absorbed
    • Can help to support detoxification of your blood
    • Extracted from ocean water
    • Doesn’t create bowel issues so good for those with sensitive stomachs
    • Has a lower amount of elemental magnesium in comparison to magnesium citrate and glycinate
    • May help with skin diseases like HHD (Hailey-Hailey disease) 
  • Magnesium oxide 
    • A compound formed between magnesium and 
    • Poorly absorbed due to low solubility in water
    • Big pills generally
    • Higher chance to cause diarrhea
magnesium foods

Best plant-based sources of magnesium for vegans

  • Hemp seeds (per 100g)
    • 700mg of magnesium 167% RDA
  • Brazil nuts (per 100g)
    • 376mg of magnesium 90% RDA
  • Soybeans (dry roasted) (per 100g)
    • 228mg of magnesium 54% RDA
  • Sun-dried tomatoes (per 100g)
    • 194mg of magnesium 46% RDA
  • Oats – uncooked (per 100g)
    • 177mg of magnesium 42% RDA
  • Prickly pears (per 100g)
    • 85mg of magnesium 20% RDA

Data was taken from www.myfooddata.com 

There are multitudes of plant-based foods that contain a significant amount of magnesium alongside other beneficial nutrients that provide overall balance to your diet. 

Check out the top 15 vegan foods high in magnesium backed with vitamin and mineral data, click here.

Fortified foods

Most magnesium should be obtained from whole, plant-based food sources since there are many available but for those looking to add a little extra magnesium into their diets to ensure all nutritional bases are covered then fortified foods are an excellent addition to a balanced diet

The main fortified foods available are

  • Fortified cereals (per 100g)
    • 228mg of magnesium 54% RDA
  • Fortified bread
    • 228mg of magnesium 54% RDA

Data taken from www.myfooddata.com 

Magnesium supplementation

magnesium supplementation

A healthy plant-based supplement can be a great addition to your diet to help balance out nutritional inefficiencies and to ensure you hit the recommended daily target for magnesium.

In most cases, vegans should be getting their necessary magnesium from a healthy plant-based diet. Magnesium is very rarely supplemented on its own. If choosing to supplement magnesium for optimal balance, it will usually be in the form of a vegan multivitamin or a vegan calcium supplement with added magnesium.

When analyzing magnesium in supplements, refer to the form of magnesium to figure out the main benefits you will gain from its use and how easily absorbed it will be for you.

So how much magnesium do vegans need?

  • The average recommended amount of magnesium for vegans and non-vegan adults is 400-450mg per day.

Other factors that can affect how much magnesium we need

Age 

  • Studies have shown that specific age groups and genders have a higher chance of developing a magnesium deficiency  
  • Uk adult females and younger adults in general of the age range of 11-17 around Europe had the highest rates of magnesium deficiency 
  • As we age our ability to absorb nutrients efficiently tends to decrease
  • Studies have shown that the elderly are at higher risk of magnesium deficiency which correlates with the increased RDA requirement as we get older

Pregnancy

  • During pregnancy, magnesium requirements for the mother increase. Studies have shown that getting a healthy supply of magnesium and making sure to avoid deficiency has been shown to help with many complications that can occur during pregnancy 
  • With some studies stating that it’s a very high priority out of all nutrients during pregnancy especially because many women around the world tend to be low in magnesium

Alcohol

Stress

Exercise

  • Due to the high level of importance magnesium plays on bone health, muscle contraction, oxygen regulation and energy conversion its role in exercise and athletic performance is crucial,  
  • Intensive training may increase magnesium requirements due to loss through sweating.
  • Since studies show many populations (up to 50% in most) are low in magnesium the excess magnesium lost through exercise could potentially push those already low into a deficient status.
  • Increasing magnesium intake has been shown to help with energy regulation, and muscle function which means having a sufficient supply may enhance the performance of those who are already lower than the RDA
  • In some cases, magnesium has been shown to help improve overall performance in many avenues as was noted in a study done on triathletes and volleyball players.
  • The overall research seems to indicate that low levels of magnesium can impair performance but doesn’t show conclusive evidence that taking more than the recommended amount will boost performance
magnesium deficiency

Magnesium deficiency vs excess

Research has shown that up to 50% of those in the US are low in magnesium. 1,2.

Europe and the UK show similar stats with 26%-59% of women aged 14-50 being under the estimated average requirement. 3.

And 15-36% of men aged 18-60 being under the estimated average requirement for magnesium with the highest percentage being in the UK. 4.

Since magnesium plays such an important part in so many of our bodily functions, it is important to be aware of some of the symptoms that could be linked to a possible deficiency. 

  • If you notice any of these signs, consult your doctor.
    • Obesity or excess weight.56.
    • Type 2 diabetes. 7,8
    • Neurological issues. 9
    • Muscular issues. 10
    • Fibromyalgia (an issue that causes soft tissue aches and pains). 11
    • Can lead to myopathy (a disease in which the muscles don’t function properly). 12,13
    • Muscle cramps. 14
    • High blood pressure. 15,16,17
    • Heart issues. 18.  
    • Since magnesium has a direct correlation to carbohydrate metabolism being low in magnesium can lead to fatigue and low energy levels. 19.  
    • Stress and depression. 20,21,22
    • Low levels of magnesium can lead to osteoporosis since magnesium is needed with calcium to maintain and sustain healthy bones. 23

Can you have too much magnesium in your diet?

Studies show that when consuming around 380mg per day of magnesium, absorption levels ranged between 40-60%, whereas when the dose was increased to between 550-850mg per day, the estimated absorption rate lowered to around 15-36%

These results show that the more magnesium you intake over a 24hour period, the less you end up being able to absorb in that same period

This makes falling into magnesium toxicity quite difficult unless overdosing on supplements

There is currently no upper intake limit set for magnesium from whole plant-based foods since no relevant studies were able to show that excess dietary magnesium causes toxicity but the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has set an upper intake limit for supplemental magnesium at an average of 350mg per day for anyone aged 8 years and above

Symptoms of excess magnesium are rare but some signs to look out for as stated by the office of dietary supplements are:

  • Tiredness
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach issues (vomiting, nausea)
  • Low energy
  • Weak muscles

*If you notice any symptoms consult your doctor for advice*

Nutrients that can affect magnesium absorption

magnesium absorption

The overall absorption of magnesium in a typical diet is around 50%  but research has shown that combining magnesium with other nutrients can increase how well magnesium in food is absorbed into the bloodstream.

Nutrients that can increase iodine absorption

Protein

Studies show that increasing dietary protein can enhance the levels of magnesium that is absorbed in the gut.

Plant-based foods high in protein (create a link here that directs to the protein skyscraper)

  • Edamame, black beans, nuts and seeds, brown rice, quinoa, tofu

Carbohydrates (fermentable)

Resistant starch and inulin are two complex carbohydrates that when fermented in your gut allow for higher levels of mineral absorption by your colon 

Plant foods that contain inulin and resistant starches

  • Beets, asparagus, leeks, garlic, onions
  • Plant foods that contain resistant starches
    • Oats, cooked rice, cooked legumes
  • Incorporating these foods into a healthy plant-based diet should allow for better levels of mineral absorption

Vitamin D

Another vitamin that works synergistically with magnesium and calcium for optimal bone health

Research has shown that increasing vitamin D intake has a high potential to improve overall magnesium absorption

Ways to boost vitamin D on a plant-based diet

  • Mushrooms
  • Vitamin D supplement
  • Bask in the rays of the sun

Nutrients that vegans should be aware of that can decrease magnesium absorption

Refined carbohydrates

High levels of refined sugars and processed foods have a direct correlation to lowered intake of essential nutrients

Focussing on more whole plant-based foods and eliminating junk foods is one of the first steps any vegan should take to get their magnesium and all other nutrients into better balance

Fiber

For vegans, it’s important to note that high levels of fiber from fruits, vegetables and grains can cause a decrease in overall magnesium absorption 

This doesn’t mean you should eliminate high fiber foods, but increasing the number of high magnesium foods is an excellent way to counter the lower absorption rate giving you the best of both worlds.

Foods such as hemp seeds, nuts, and beans as well as using dried herbs like chives and parsley should be incorporated into a vegan diet regularly to raise overall magnesium intake

Caffeine

High intakes of caffeine have been shown to have similar effects to alcohol in terms of causing excess urinary magnesium excretion

This is due to the caffeine preventing the kidneys from effectively absorbing the magnesium.

This, in turn, increases the body’s demand for magnesium due to higher depletion through urine.

Phytates

Many plant-based foods such as grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes contain phytic acid, which can bind to essential minerals and lower overall absorption rates.

The adverse effects of phytates are more prominent with minerals such as calcium iron and zinc but not as significant in regards to magnesium.

The levels of magnesium found in high phytic acid foods are generally still enough to hit the recommended daily amount and makes up for the lowered absorption rate if consumed in high amounts. 

Cooking and soaking foods high in phytic acid is another way to reduce the effects that phytates can have on absorption

Phytic acids also have many benefits from helping to prevent cancer to its high levels of antioxidants, knowing the best way to incorporate foods that contain phytic acid into your diet is much better than eliminating them completely

Oxalates

Oxalates like phytates can also hinder absorption, and just like phytates, you will find those opposed to plant-based diets using this as their way to “prove” a plant-based diet doesn’t work.  

The reality is most foods high in oxalates have a multitude of minerals and vitamins that outweigh the lowered absorption you may get from the oxalate levels in the first place

Another thing to consider is that in a healthy gut, the bacteria will breakdown the oxalate before it has a chance to bind to important minerals

And if that isn’t enough, a simple solution to oxalates is to cook your food. Cooking breaks down the majority of oxalates and phytates allowing you to get most of the magnesium from your favorite plant foods without a majority of the drawbacks.

Zinc

Extremely high levels of zinc have been shown in studies to reduce overall magnesium absorption significantly

High levels of zinc in the bloodstream rarely occur from solely eating plant foods but usually are linked to excess use of supplementation

It’s still important to know which foods are very high in zinc so that we can create consistent nutritional balance

Some plant-based foods very high in zinc are

  • Hemp seeds in large amounts
  • Toasted wheat germ
  • Fortified cereals

Most fruit and vegetables are generally balanced in zinc and magnesium ratios not to cause any issues.

For more information on the importance of zinc on a plant-based diet, check out our vegan zinc guide.

Calcium

Although calcium and magnesium work synergistically in many internal processes, excess calcium relative to magnesium has the potential to cause a magnesium deficiency since they compete for absorption

A 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium is an excellent way to maintain a balance between the two

Vegan magnesium conclusion

When looking at the data, the numbers point to a much lower risk of magnesium deficiency on a plant-based diet IF the focus is on whole plant-based foods and the avoidance of processed foods. Some key takeaways to remember are:

  • Magnesium is needed for over 300 functions in our body
  • It’s necessary for efficient carbohydrate breakdown, oxygen uptake, neurological function, muscle control
  • Inefficient magnesium intake equals sub-optimal energy levels
  • The recommended daily amount is 400-420mg a day
  • Over 50% of many populations around the world are magnesium deficient
  • Low levels of magnesium can result in suboptimal athletic performance due to inefficient energy usage and oxygen regulation
  • The research shows that for athletes the main aim is to ensure you have hit the recommended daily amount consistently
  • Plant-based foods as a magnesium source appear to outweigh all other sources based on nutrient composition with have minimal downsides unlike meat and dairy
  • fiber, phytates, and oxalates in plants can hinder magnesium absorption to a degree, but a diet high in the correct plant-based foods such as nuts and seeds, beans, oats, and fruits can negate the effects of lower absorption
  • Cooking foods can also lower the adverse effects that can come from high phytate and high oxalate foods
  • Alcohol and caffeine can have significant effects on how much magnesium your body can absorb

Overall

The key to optimal magnesium levels on a plant-based diet is knowledge and balance with healthy food choices using a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Some of the advantages of choosing plant-based sources of magnesium over meat and dairy sources are:

  • There are a larger number of vegan food sources with high magnesium content which makes it harder to become deficient. 
  • Consuming high magnesium foods tends to mean an overall increase in essential vitamins and minerals bringing your whole diet into better nutritional balance.

We hope with your new-found knowledge of what makes magnesium so essential and the best ways to use it to achieve optimal nutritional balance as a vegan, you can now feel confident in your food decisions and can feel empowered knowing that you are one step closer to becoming a master of the plant-based diet.

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