Here's Why You Need Magnesium-Rich Foods
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Chances are that you’ve never really pondered over whether you need magnesium or not, which is why chances are that you’re not pumping your body enough with this vital mineral.Chlorophyll is considered the ‘blood of life’ in plants, because it’s vital to a plant’s structure and function – just as blood is for animals. The difference between the two, however, is that in humans, iron forms the central mineral of the blood cell, while in plants, magnesium plays the same role. Hence, green leafy vegetables are the richest sources of magnesium, followed by nuts and seeds, legumes, soybeans, sesame seeds, quinoa, black beans, avocados, figs, dark chocolate, and sunflower seeds.
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But does the human body actually need magnesium? We’ve heard enough about calcium, potassium, and sodium – what’s the deal with magnesium?
Magnesium deficiency is one of the most under-diagnosed deficiencies, because it cannot be detected by a blood test. Only about 1 per cent of the total magnesium reserves in the body are in the blood; most of the reserves are stored in the bones, where magnesium plays a key role in bone metabolism. Here’s everything magnesium does in our body, known so far:
- Maintaining bone integrity – Scientists were able to induce early osteoporosis in animals through a magnesium-low diet – a diet most of us consume almost every day. It’s not possible to compare calcium or vitamin D with magnesium, in terms of the role they play in bone maintenance, but it’s safe to say that if anything, magnesium plays the role of a supporting actor in preventing bone density loss.
- Energy production – Magnesium is crucial for over 300 chemical reactions in the body, a lot of which culminate in energy release in our cells. Magnesium acts as a cofactor in enzymes that enable this energy production. It’s safe to assume that low levels of magnesium will cause fatigue.
- Keeps the nervous system in balance – Receptors are special molecules present along the membranes of all cells that work as conveyors of chemical information in and out of the cell. The best studied receptors so far are present in brain cells, called NMDA (N-methyl-d-aspartate) receptors, that are critical for the development of the central nervous system, the rhythmic nature of breathing and locomotion, and have various other learning, memory, and neuroplasticity related functions. Magnesium is known to play a key role in NMDA receptor activity. Research studies also show an increased risk of depression because of a magnesium-low diet, so much so that a study done as far back as 1921 showed how a deficiency of magnesium can cause depression.
- Keeps inflammation in check – Believe it or not, but some inflammation is necessary for the body to maintain a normal immune response, and for tissue repair. A deficiency of magnesium is seen to cause unwanted decline in inflammations, increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
- Controls glucose metabolism – There are about 100 enzymes, roughly, that control blood sugar levels in the body, where magnesium acts as a cofactor. Poor blood sugar control has been linked to low magnesium levels, which begins to get better when the mineral’s levels normalise.
So, what else happens when you don’t get your magnesium fix for too long? Some other challenges linked to magnesium deficiency include:
- Hormonal imbalance and tough PMS
- Heart attack
- Migraine headaches
We must also understand that magnesium isn’t present in food in its original form. For example, drinking water contains magnesium in the form of mineral salts such as magnesium chloride or magnesium sulphate. So, it’s safe to assume that magnesium undergoes chemical reactions while cooking, and may not have the same effect in the body anymore. Spinach or kale cooked for about 12 minutes was observed to have lost about 20 per cent of its total magnesium, while peas and broad beans lost only 2-10 per cent. Raw fruits and vegetables are always healthier than the cooked versions, but if you cannot handle raw vegetables, then try cooking them as little as possible, to get maximum benefits out of it.
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Please do note that ‘benefits’ here not only implies magnesium; this ‘cooking minimum’ rule applies to all nutrients known for great health.