Magnesium: Why We Need it, What it Does and Which Foods Provide it

Cramping up on that run? Eat more bananas; you’re probably short on potassium.

Feeling dizzy when you stand up too quickly? Sounds like orthostatic hypotension, also called postural hypotension, is a form of low blood pressure that happens when you stand up from sitting or lying down the technical term for low blood pressure and the surefire way to fix that is to salt your food more heavily.

Is that really all it takes?

Not exactly.

While potassium can absolutely contribute to muscle cramps[1] and there is a connection between eating too much salt and high blood pressure, thus the recommendation to cut down on it when one is diagnosed with hypertension, the answer isn’t simply to up the consumption of salted bananas.

Too much salt keeps the amount of fluid circulating in the body higher than it should be, which means increased pressure on the blood vessel walls. The walls thicken and narrow under the continued high pressure, and the heart must pump harder to move fluid around. This increased work makes the heart muscle larger and increases the force of each contraction; the higher pressure damages the blood vessels—and the filtration system—in the kidneys and raises blood pressure[2].

There are plenty of other reasons why the average person following a typical Standard American diet would be better off not dousing their food in order to begin to follow a real paleo diet (and yes, that includes fleur de sel, pink Himalayan salt and all the other salts…they’re still salt!), including a connection between excess salt consumption and autoimmune conditions as well as inflammation,

Too much salt is not good.

But the takeaway is not necessarily zero salt either; sodium and potassium are only two of the necessary salts that our bodies need to function on a cellular level.

Equally as important, however are calcium and magnesium.

Not consuming enough calcium and the connection to developing osteopenia or osteoporosis is something we’re all familiar with and the focus on getting sufficient amounts of readily available calcium on a real Paleo diet, due to the avoidance of dairy, leads many who are new to this style of eating to question whether or not it’s safe in this regard.

Building and keeping strong bones is not solely dependent on getting in tons of calcium; rather, bone health is substantially dependent on dietary acid/base balance. When the diet yields a net acid load (such as low-carb fad diets that restrict consumption of fruits and vegetables), the acid must be buffered by the alkaline stores of base in the body. Calcium salts in the bones represent the largest store of alkaline base in the body and are depleted and eliminated in the urine when the diet produces a net acid load[3].

In other words, the body pulls calcium out of the bones into the blood to bring the pH back to where it should be for optimal health.

The highest acid-producing foods are hard cheeses, cereal grains, salted foods, meats, and legumes, whereas the only alkaline, base-producing foods are fruits and vegetables. Because the average American diet is overloaded with grains, cheeses, salted processed foods, and fatty meats at the expense of fruits and vegetables, it produces a net acid load and promotes bone de-mineralization. By replacing hard cheeses, cereal grains, and processed foods with plenty of green vegetables and fruits, the body comes back into acid/base balance which brings us also back into calcium balance[4].

So while meat in and of itself is, in fact acid forming, when eaten in the proper ratio with abundant fresh leafy greens and pure fat sources, the net result is an alkaline diet.

The Paleo Diet promotes bone health…even without good old milk!

Aside from that, chances are you’re getting more than enough calcium, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.  

A recent study showed that found [5]that women who consumed 1,400 milligrams or more of calcium a day had more than double the risk of death from heart disease, compared with those with intakes between 600 and 1,000 milligrams. These women also had a 49 percent higher rate of death from cardiovascular disease, and a 40 percent higher risk of death from any cause.

Oddly, though, it’s far less common to read about not having enough magnesium in the diet than it is to see yet another new calcium product on the market.

It’s sometimes even referred to as the most overlooked mineral, and as a result, in most of the developed world, magnesium deficiency is probably the most common nutritional deficiency.

It is essential for over 300 different chemical reactions in the body, including:

  • Maintaining your energy level, helping you relax, and sustaining the health of your heart and blood vessels
  • Alleviating constipation
  • Lowering blood pressure and maintain healthy blood pressure.
  • Helping build strong bones; just as important as calcium
  • Prevention of diabetes: Scientists have proven that magnesium levels are low in people with diabetes; people with higher magnesium levels do not develop diabetes; and that supplementing with magnesium appears to help reverse pre-diabetes.

Because it has so many crucial functions, and because it appears to protect us from serious conditions that are most prevalent in the developed world, magnesium really is the “miracle mineral.”[6]

The best Paleo-friendly food sources include nuts like almonds and brazil nuts; and seeds, including flaxseed, sesame, and sunflower. Dark leafy greens, wild mackerel and avocados round out the mix as well as raw dark chocolate, is also a great (and incredibly tasty!)source. 

Just make sure you count a natural, raw brand, with no sugar added, such as my favorite 100% premium choice!

Check out my recipe for Almond Avocado Sauce for a tasty way to boost your magnesium stores!


[1] “Muscle Cramp.” The Mayo Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Aug. 2015

[2] Why Does Sodium Increase Blood Pressure?” LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 16 Oct. 2013. Web. 05 Aug. 2015

[3] “Acid/Base Balance as It Relates to Osteoporosis | Dr. Loren Cordain.” The Paleo Diet. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Aug. 2015

[4] “Frequently Asked Questions About The Paleo Diet | Dr. Loren Cordain.” The Paleo Diet. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Aug. 2015

[5] “Dangers of Too Much Calcium.” The New York Times. N.p., 18 Feb. 2013. Web. 05 Aug. 2015

[6] “Magnesium: Why You Need It.” Magnesium: Why You Need It. The Dr. Oz Show, n.d. Web. 05 Aug. 2015.