Some of the MoFo posts are taking a little more reflection than others before I attack them with my keyboard. Some, I don’t even have time to think about before my fingers start tap-tap-tapping furiously away, the words forming too fast in my mind for them to keep up with.
Unsurprisingly, as a budding (or perhaps more appropriately, germinating) sports nutritionist, today’s topic plays right into my interests, not to say strengths. Although I believe eating is about more than nutrition, I just find the varied processes that the food we eat undergoes in order to be used for survival so fascinating – the thought that that chocolate chip cookie that I enjoyed absent-mindedly whilst watching True Detective is going to be methodically broken down into infinitesimally minute particles, each to be whisked around to various places and pushed across membranes and shuttled between cells, is simply mind-blowing to me.
Almost as soon as I saw today’s brief to “focus on a nutrient”, I knew I was going to write about magnesium. All the macronutrients (those that provide energy; carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) get plenty of airplay, and if you’re vegan you have probably at least considered your intake of vitamin B12, vitamin D (or maybe even D3), iron, and calcium. Thanks to the coconut water market, we are now well-versed in the benefits of potassium, and I’m not even going to touch the debate over whether sodium is good or bad for anyone. I know magnesium is an important mineral, but as I have never worried about my intake of it, I couldn’t really tell you much about what it does or where it lives.
But as soon as I started getting excited about dedicating a post to magnesium, my heart sank a little as I remembered I was hoping to write about my food memories… When I heard the voice of my grandmother singing out, in French, “…rich in MAG-NEE-ZEEYUM!”
The French aren’t a culture that I associate with caring much about nutrition. Food, yes – nutrition, no (not too shocking for a country that comes up with foie gras, really). So it really is a mystery to me how my French grandmother stumbled upon this knowledge, but the rare times she would pull a slab of chocolate out of the fridge door, she would remind my granddad and I that chocolate was good for us because it was rich in magnesium. That little ritual is one that still rings out in my mind whenever I think about magnesium and often when I think about chocolate.
It’s all the more strange because chocolate doesn’t, actually, appear to be a particularly rich source of magnesium. According to a mainstream French source, 100g of dark chocolate (that’s an entire bar of most brands, which even I will break into 4-5 servings) contains 110mg of magnesium. Let me elaborate.
U.S. reference nutrient intakes for magnesium are 400-420mg per day for adult males, and 310-320mg per day for adult females, with higher requirements for teenage girls and pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Unsurprisingly, leafy greens top the list of high-magnesium foods, with just half a cup of cooked spinach or chard offering up to a third of an adult woman’s daily requirements. All things soy (edamame, tofu, tempeh) score quite highly, and whole grains and whole wheat products are an easily accessible source of the mineral as is the humble baked jacket potato (eat your skins!). Most vegetables and some fruits offer a decent contribution to your daily intake, but as always the unsung heroes of this nutrient story are pulses and legumes. They don’t even feature at all on this list and aren’t mentioned on the NHS fact sheet, whereas Dieticians of Canada finds most pulses to dish up 60-90mg per 3/4 cup and over 120mg if you choose black-eyed peas!
As always, there is a fair bit of discrepancy between listings, as the nutrient content of foods can be evaluated by weight (e.g. per 100g), by standard serving (e.g. per 1/2 cup), or by calorie content (e.g. per 200kcal).
This means that while a food may be extremely rich in a nutrient per 100g, it may not be a realistic serving size – like our poor chocolate bar, which certainly can shout about its 110mg per 100g, but if you eat only a fifth or a quarter of that it’s a little less generous. But one food that wins no matter which way you slice it – not that I would recommend slicing it – is the pumpkin seed. With a majestic 535mg per 100g, even a modest scattering of 10g in your salad or trail mix would give you 10-15% of your daily requirements, for only 100kcal (which is about one decent-sized biscuit, so you could eat both with your cup of tea AND call it a healthy snack – that’s what I call win-win). If you’re not so into green things, you could opt for sunflower seeds or sunflower butter, sesame seeds or tahini, or go nuts with cashews or almonds.
So, examples of magnesium-rich meals or snacks could include:
- a tofu stir-fry with edamame beans, broccoli, cashews and sesame seeds – serve with brown rice or wholewheat noodles for an extra boost
- a jacket potato with beans – serve with wilted greens or veggies for a more complete meal
- whole-grain pesto pasta with traditional or non-traditional pesto – toss in some grilled asparagus to make it fancy and even more nutritious
- a handful of trail mix including almonds, mixed seeds, dried banana, and chocolate chips – combine with oats, a little oil, and liquid sweetener of choice, bake into granola and serve with soy yoghurt
- a quinoa salad with all the things that make salad delicious: roast beetroot, toasted seeds, edamame or green peas
- or my accidentally-magnesium-rich blue challenge tacos with black-eyed beans, tofu, and greens!
There is at least a little magnesium in virtually all the delicious vegan whole-foods, of all colours and textures and tastes, so go forth and eat!