You know how important calcium and vitamin D are to bone health. But did you know that a host of other vitamins and minerals - including magnesium - play small but vital roles in keeping bones strong?
What’s your RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for calcium?
If you’re an older woman paying even minimal attention to your health, you’ll know that your RDA for calcium is 1,200mg to 1,500mg, with the higher amount recommended for women at risk for osteoporosis.
And what’s your RDA for magnesium?
Ah, that’s tougher, isn’t it? For men over 50, it’s 420mg; and for women over 50, 320mg.
Why is magnesium important? Your bones are about 1% magnesium; and that tiny bit of this important mineral keeps bone crystals from enlarging. The larger your bone crystals, the more brittle your bones, the more likely you are to suffer a fracture. So if you can maintain sufficient levels of magnesium in your bones, you’re helping prevent fractures. In addition, magnesium helps your body absorb calcium - and we know how important that is. (Hamel, 2010)
Next question: do you have any idea how much magnesium you’re getting via a supplement or, more important, in your diet?
Not a clue, right? A typical multivitamin includes 50mg magnesium, about 16% of a woman’s daily requirement. But, like most of the vitamins and minerals our body needs to do its job, it’s best, whenever possible, to get you required magnesium from food sources - as nature intended - rather than from a supplement.
So what’s the best way to ensure your daily diet includes sufficient magnesium?
Eat magnesium-rich foods. The following are your top sources, foods you should shop for and keep in your pantry or fridge on a regular basis.
**Almonds and cashews **
These two nuts are, by far, your most readily available good source of magnesium. Just 1 ounce of dry-roasted almonds provides 25% (80mg) of an older woman’s daily magnesium requirement; they’re also high in calcium, offering 72mg per ounce. And cashews aren’t far behind.
While nuts are high in fat, it’s "good" fat, the kind your body uses for energy. Their only negative? Nuts are high-calorie (about 190 calories per ounce), so enjoy them in moderation.
Soy milk and tofu
So many more of us seem to be drinking soy milk these days, and it’s not surprising: this healthy dairy alternative has come a long way, flavor-wise, from its days as a grassy-tasting, unpleasant liquid. One cup of soy milk (plain or vanilla) offers 15% (61mg) of your daily magnesium requirement.
Tofu is similarly beneficial. A 4-ounce block (about ½ cup) tofu also covers 15% of your daily magnesium needs. Try making a smoothie from soy milk, tofu, and fruit; if you make that fruit a banana, you’ll be covering nearly 40% of your daily magnesium requirement.
Whole grains is a rather amorphous term covering the full range of cereal grains in their whole state - i.e., complete with bran and germ. Think whole wheat flour or bulgur; brown rice; whole (not pearled) barley; quinoa; rolled or steel-cut oats, etc.
And what’s the easiest way to make whole grains a part of your daily diet? Breakfast. Whole wheat toast; cereals that are all or mostly whole grains (think shredded wheat, bran cereal, and oatmeal); and breakfast cereals fortified with magnesium (read the label) are all good sources of this key mineral.
In fact, a slice of whole wheat toast with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter yields 72mg magnesium: 18% of your daily need.
Dark leafy greens in general are a good source of vitamins and minerals, but spinach is far and away the common green with the most magnesium. About 1 ¾ cups fresh spinach leaves (or ½ cup steamed spinach) offers us nearly 25% of our RDA for magnesium: 79mg.
If you like cooked spinach, stir it into scrambled eggs at breakfast, or use it as a bed for broiled fish or chicken. More people prefer fresh spinach, which easily stands in for lettuce in your favorite salad.
Beans and peas
Legumes (including peanuts) tend to be higher in magnesium than other foods. But black beans stand out: just ½ cup of black beans, with 60mg magnesium, gives you 19% of your daily requirement.
Toss rinsed, canned black beans into a hearty salad; whirl them in the blender with a bit of salt, cumin, and chili powder, for a tasty dip or spread; or use them as the beans in your favorite chili. And don’t forget Mexican food: mashed black beans easily stand in for the beef or chicken in your favorite tacos or tortillas.
Yes, dark chocolate An ounce of dark chocolate (60% or higher cocoa) offers 44mg magnesium, which is 14% of your RDA - about the same as a cup of cubed avocado; one medium baked potato; ½ cup brown rice, or a cup of plain low-fat yogurt.
This is great news for chocoholics. But don’t get carried away: a typical 1-ounce serving of dark chocolate packs about 160 calories. So, like almonds, chocolate is something to enjoy in moderation.
Hamel, PJ. “Beyond Calcium and Vitamin D: Five Things to Track in Your Daily Diet.” - Osteoporosis. 8 Apr. 2010. Web. 1 Jan. 2015. http://www.healthcentral.com/osteoporosis/c/53591/108785/calcium-diet.
Strong, Debbie. “8 Foods High in Magnesium.” EverydayHealth.com. 17 Apr. 2014. Web. 1 Jan. 2015. http://www.everydayhealth.com/pictures/foods-high-in-magnesium/#01.
“Magnesium.” Health Professional Fact Sheet. 4 Nov. 2013. Web. 1 Jan. 2015. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/.
PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.