In an ideal world, all of our nutrients would come from a well-balanced diet. However, the food that we eat has changed dramatically over the course of the last 50 – 80 years. Despite apparent ‘advances’ in food production and processing techniques, our intake of key nutrients such as magnesium has declined dramatically. Read on to find out why this has happened and what you can do about it.
Why we aren’t getting enough magnesium:
• Processing - Food processing techniques often remove the part of the plant that contains the highest nutrient levels. For example, safflower seeds contain 680 mg magnesium per 1000 calories, yet safflower oil contains no magnesium at all. Refined grains remove 80 – 97% of magnesium during processing. One tablespoon of molasses contains 25% of the magnesium RDA yet refined sugar contains none.
• Intensive Farming – Intensive efforts are aimed at breeding new varieties that have greater yield, better resistance to pests, or adaptability to different climates. Yet, evidence is mounting to suggest that when crops are artificially selected in this way, they may grow bigger and faster, but might not necessarily have the ability to make or uptake nutrients at the same, faster rate.
• Soil Content - It is now well accepted that crop quality is decreasing. A 2004 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition compared nutrient content with 1950 levels and found declines to be as much as 40%. Pesticide use is a known problem for soil quality, as they are known to destroy organisms that provide nutrients to plants. Vitamin-fixing bacteria in the soil, earthworms, natural soil aerators and fertilizers are being lost from farmland, which then produces crops with dramatically reduced nutrient content. Minerals are more vulnerable to negative effects from the decline in soil quality than vitamins - many vitamins can be produced by growing plants, but plants can only be rich in minerals if they are first present in the soil. Modern fertilizers add to the problem of worsening nutrient content of crops. For example, modern nitrogen-based fertilizers are known to produce crops, which are bigger but lower in nutrients. Potassium fertilizers are widely used and known to reduce magnesium and calcium uptake by plants.
• ‘Western’ Diet – Even if magnesium levels in crops were as buoyant as they naturally should be, the typical ‘Western diet’, low in fresh fruits, vegetables and wholegrains and high in refined, processed, sugary foods still wouldn’t supply optimal amounts. Magnesium is predominantly found in nuts, seeds, legumes, wholegrains and green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach – foods, which are sadly lacking from a typical Western diet.
• Absorption – Magnesium absorption rates can vary and can sometimes be as low as 20%, in addition there are a range of factors, which can interfere with absorption. Phytic acid and oxalic acid found in certain foods and some prescription drugs can affect magnesium absorption.
How to Get Enough Magnesium Into Your Diet
Poor quality of crops today make it very difficult to get enough magnesium through dietary sources alone. It’s still worth however, making your diet the best it can be by including plenty of magnesium-rich foods, and then supplementing to fill in the gaps.
If you’re struggling with signs of magnesium deficiency it’s definitely worth adding in a high strength supplement until your levels have returned to normal. For everyone else, the levels found in a high quality multivitamin & mineral supplement alongside a well balanced diet should be enough to maintain magnesium in an optimal range.