Magnesium is certainly a hard-working mineral and it is involved in many aspects of our wellness.
You might be interested to know that magnesium has a role in more than 300 biochemical reactions around your body.1
So keeping adequate levels is vital to the well-being of your body and mind.
Although it is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body, you can’t make magnesium, so you must get it through the foods you eat.
Yet despite its importance, we’re not getting enough in our diets.2
So what are the best forms of magnesium? And why might you need more of it?
Abundantly available in everything from oils, to bath salts and sprays, find out all the different types, forms and benefits of magnesium, below.
In this article, you’ll find out
- What magnesium is
- The importance of magnesium
- What magnesium does in the body
- 5 best forms of magnesium
- Common types of magnesium
- X magnesium benefits
- All about magnesium glycinate
- How much magnesium we need
- Food sources of magnesium
- Smoking and magnesium
- All about magnesium deficiency
- All about magnesium supplements
Overview of magnesium
Read on for an overview of magnesium...
Magnesium is an important nutrient that the body needs to function healthily.
It’s also one of the most abundant minerals in your body. It’s needed for hundreds of processes, including:
- Supporting the nervous system3
- Breaking down food into nutrients
- Muscle function, including heart muscle
- Maintaining electrolyte balance
- Healthy bones and teeth
- Normal cell division 4
Magnesium-rich foods include green leafy veg and wholemeal bread, so most people get all they need from their diet.5
It’s also available as tablets, capsules or a spray, or as part of a multi-vitamin.
So, why do you need a magnesium oil spray or a long soak in a tub filled with magnesium bath salts? What exactly does it do?
Nerves use magnesium to send and receive messages. Your muscles need it to function normally and it contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.
Magnesium has a role in everything from hormone balance to bone health.6
Given the wide range of bodily processes that magnesium supports, it’s no surprise that it’s needed in the body in large amounts.
Is magnesium a metal?
Yes, magnesium is a metal! Weird, right?
The same metal that’s used to make heat-resistant bricks for fireplaces and furnaces helps our bodies to run normally.
Magnesium is a trace metal, which means that although it is important for overall health, we don’t need large amounts of it.
Functions of magnesium
Read on for the functions of magnesium...
Magnesium benefits many enzymes in the body, some of which are responsible for converting the food you eat into energy.7
How to get more magnesium?
There are two main ways that you can experience the benefits of magnesium.
Ingest it as a food or a supplement
The mineral is then absorbed through your digestive system.
Apply it directly to your skin
Magnesium bypasses the digestive system (where some types can be hard to absorb) and instead it reaches your blood and muscles via your epidermis.
The best forms of magnesium for you will depend on what benefits you’re looking for.
Discover five of the key forms of the mineral below.
Read on for 5 of the best forms of magnesium
Magnesium in food
Your diet can be a great source of magnesium. Foods that are rich in magnesium include:
- Legumes (e.g. edamame and black beans)
- Nuts (e.g. almonds, cashews and peanuts)
- Whole grains (e.g. wholemeal bread, brown rice and quinoa)
- Green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach)
- Fortified breakfast cereals (and other fortified foods)
- Milk, yoghurt, and other milk products8
Key benefit: It’s possible to get all the recommended magnesium you need by eating a balanced diet.
Magnesium is available in multivitamin supplements or on its own.
Key benefit: Some people are at increased risk of magnesium deficiency, even if they eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. If this is the case for you, supplements may help.
Magnesium flakes and soaks
Add magnesium flakes or salts to a foot or body bath. As well as replenishing mineral levels, soaking in magnesium can be particularly helpful.
Key benefit: Due to delivering a relatively low concentration of magnesium, flakes and soaks are suitable for most people and offer a more relaxing way to top up on minerals.
Magnesium gels and lotions
When combined with moisturising ingredients, magnesium lotions and gels are a great option for the skin.
Key benefit: A gel or lotion can be applied directly to the area of your choosing.
Magnesium oil spray
A spray can deliver a high dose of magnesium directly through the skin that may provide a host of benefits.
Key benefit: A spray delivers magnesium directly into the skin tissue, so magnesium can get to work faster.
The type of magnesium used in a product is important when you’re considering the best forms of magnesium for you.
This is because magnesium doesn’t exist by itself – it’s always attached to another substance.
For example, when it combines with oxygen, magnesium oxide forms. And magnesium citrate is the result of magnesium binding with citric acid.
All of these different combinations affect how well your body absorbs magnesium and how it works.
Here are a few examples:
- Magnesium citrate
- Magnesium oxide
- Magnesium glycinate
- Magnesium malate
- Magnesium sulphate
- Magnesium chloride9
With so many options available to replenish your magnesium levels, it’s an incredibly flexible mineral.
Some are absorbed in the gut easily making them better for replenishing your mineral levels, whilst other compounds work best in topical treatments.
To identify the best forms of magnesium for you, consider what you’re using it for.
Read on for the benefits of magnesium...
Helps turns the food we eat into energy
Magnesium plays an important role in energy metabolism. This is the process where the nutrients from your food are converted into energy to be used by the body.
Magnesium is a key component in the creation of a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in your cells, which is responsible for delivering energy to every cell in your body.10
Without magnesium, this molecule can’t do its job effectively, which is why fatigue and low energy are common side effects of low magnesium levels.
It’s also especially important for breaking protein down into amino acids.11
Because it’s vital for energy release, magnesium is critical for many other processes in the body – for example, the nervous system and release of neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers.
Supports muscle function
Magnesium also helps muscle function too as it’s needed for muscle contraction and relaxation, including those in your heart.12
To work properly, your muscles are constantly contracting and relaxing, and magnesium is what enables the relaxing of the muscles.
This is because it works as a natural blocker to calcium – which triggers muscle contractions – therefore helping the cells relax.13
So now we know why muscle aches, cramps and twitches (such as those irritating eye twitches some of us experience) are common symptoms of a magnesium deficiency.
Another key sign of magnesium deficiency is muscle weakness.14
It’s also believed that muscle weakness is caused by a loss of potassium in muscle cells, which is closely linked with magnesium deficiency.15
Magnesium has also been shown to increase oxygenation in competitive athletes to help performance and lower cortisol levels after intense exercise to keep their blood pressure down.16
Following on from this, it’s not difficult to see why magnesium helps prevent constipation, as it helps your digestive muscles and gastrointestinal tract to relax, helping you pass stools more easily.
A study from Japan showed that those with low magnesium intake in their diets tended to suffer from increased levels of constipation.17
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Helps keep our bones healthy
Since magnesium is found mostly in your bones, but also in other tissues such as your muscles and joints, it plays an equally key role in the structural development of our bones.
Magnesium is essential for the absorption of calcium, and these two minerals work closely together.
For example, magnesium helps the bones retain their calcium by taking calcium from the bloodstream back into the bones.
A 2014 study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Scientists reported that a magnesium deficiency is associated with low bone density.18
This can put you at risk of bone-thinning conditions such as osteoporosis.
Can help reduce blood pressure
Having high blood pressure can put unnecessary stress on your heart and blood pressure, which in turn raises the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Magnesium has been shown to help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow.19
It’s thought that this could be because magnesium helps the body to release a hormone-like compound called prostacyclin. Prostacyclin is known to reduce tension in blood vessel walls.
If you eat a diet with lots of salt – found in processed and junk foods – this not only directly pushes up your blood pressure, it can mean you’re not getting enough magnesium, calcium or potassium too.
Potassium helps the walls of the blood vessels relax, while calcium helps them tighten and relax properly.
These minerals work alongside magnesium to maintain a healthy blood pressure, so eating a balanced, colourful diet is a must.
Why high blood pressure matters
Blood pressure is the force of blood moving around your body, pushing against the walls of your blood vessels.
High blood pressure means your blood pressure is higher than recommended levels, putting extra strain on your heart and blood vessels, and increasing your risk of heart attack or stroke.
You may not realise you have high blood pressure, as it has no clear symptoms, so you should get your blood pressure checked regularly by your GP, especially if you’re over the age of 40.
May help to control blood sugar
We already know magnesium is needed to convert the food we eat into energy, which also gives it an important role in controlling our blood sugar levels.
When we eat carbohydrates like bread, grains and sugar, our pancreas needs to release insulin so our cells can absorb glucose for energy.
If we haven’t consumed enough magnesium, our cells can become less effective at using insulin, causing our blood sugar levels to dip.20
This can make us feel hungry, tired, shaky, dizzy, weak and nauseous, and can even lead to diabetes if our bodies stop producing insulin.
Can support hormonal function
As magnesium is needed for over 300 essential functions in our body, it should come as no surprise that it may have an impact on our hormones.
Specifically, magnesium may be helpful in combatting pre-menstrual syndrome symptoms (PMS). Temporary low mood, anxiety and water retention are some of the most common symptoms of PMS.21
A study published in the Journal of Caring Sciences in 2012 asked women with PMS to complete a menstrual diary while taking either magnesium, vitamin B6 or a placebo.
The scientists found that both vitamin B6 and magnesium significantly improved symptoms like depression, anxiety and water retention.22
If you have to deal with pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) every month, a magnesium supplement could be the answer.
Magnesium deficiency has been linked to depression.23 It’s thought magnesium helps maintain the neurotransmitters in our brain related to moods.24
In 2011, American researchers discovered that when people were given 125-300 mg of magnesium with each meal and at bedtime, they recovered from major depression in less than seven days.25
In addition to this, keeping your magnesium levels topped up can help calm your nervous system down, reduce feelings of anxiety, beat insomnia and promote better sleep.
It does this by regulating the activity of the body’s ‘stress response system.26
Magnesium has also been shown to reduce cortisol, which is a hormone released by the body when under stress.27
According to a 2006 study on university students, stress actually depletes the magnesium levels in your body so it’s important to pay attention to your levels if you feel you’re prone to stress.28
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Regulates our body clock
Keeping a healthy circadian rhythm (physical, mental and behavioural changes in a daily cycle) is important. Magnesium has been found to control how cells ‘keep time’ and cope with the natural day and night cycle of life.
Researchers have found that concentrations of magnesium in all types of cells rose and fell in a 24-hour cycle – impacting the cell's internal clocks.29
Magnesium to help sleep quality in older adults
A lot of elderly people suffer from insomnia (not being able to sleep). Sleep – and lack of it - is very connected to our hormones.
A study on supplementation of magnesium and how it affected insomnia in older adults found that magnesium appeared to improve symptoms.30
May support heart health
As your heart is the most important muscle in the body, it’s no surprise that magnesium is so important to cardiovascular health.
Your heart relies on magnesium to keep its beat strong and regular and relaxes your arteries allowing your blood to flow easily, which also lowers blood pressure.
Magnesium may also help regulate heart palpitations and that ‘fluttery’ feeling in your chest.31
A prominent ongoing heart study from the US reported in 2013 that low magnesium is associated with the development of irregular heartbeat.32
May help with hyperactivity
Hyperactivity, commonly associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), can impact the way you work and live your life.
Whether that’s making impulsive decisions or struggling to concentrate and acting out as a result, hyperactivity can make life very challenging.
While the cause of ADHD, in particular, is unknown, the condition has been shown to run in families.33
However, an oral loading test carried out on 50 hyperactive children, aged 7-12 years, found that magnesium had a positive response on controlling it.34
Further research published in The British Journal of Psychiatry, also revealed that adults with ADHD who took a range of supplements, including magnesium, reported a greater improvement in both their inattention and hyperactivity after eight weeks.35
May reduce migraines
Migraines can stop you from working and in some cases leave you bed-bound. Research has shown that those who suffer from migraines may be lacking in magnesium.36
But it doesn’t stop there.
A study from 2021 also concluded that magnesium oxide supplementation was as effective as valproate sodium at preventing the onset of migraines – but without any nasty side effects.37
We’ve talked about magnesium generally, but it’s time to delve a little deeper into one of its most common types, magnesium glycinate. So what is it exactly?
Magnesium glycinate (also known as magnesium bisglycinate or magnesium diglycinate) is a type of organic magnesium salt, or amino acid chelate, that’s created by combining inorganic magnesium with an amino acid called glycine.
Glycine is the smallest amino acid. It happens to be so small it can squeeze through the tiniest spaces.
It plays a major role in collagen and elastin formation, as well as bile acid function, and acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system.38
Being deficient in glycine can result in growth impairment and immune and nervous system problems.
Magnesium glycine is one of several magnesium ‘salts’ that are made up of inorganic magnesium and an amino acid called glycine.
What does magnesium glycinate do?
It’s a magnesium supplement that can help people who are deficient, up their levels.
Around 60% of the magnesium that’s found in the human body is within your bones, the rest is in your body tissues, and around 1% is in your blood.39
What are the benefits of taking magnesium glycinate?
So, we know by now there are various different forms of magnesium out there, all with their own set of properties. But why do people take magnesium glycinate in particular?40
It may boost memory
Studies have found that magnesium glycinate can help lessen daytime sleepiness and enhance memory. One piece of research in particular found that taking 125 to 300mg of magnesium glycinate daily helped with short-term memory and IQ.41
It may help with PMS
Research like the study mentioned immediately above has shown that taking magnesium glycinate (250mg a day) helps manage PMS symptoms.
Magnesium is believed to be effective at helping lower prostaglandins and easing menstrual cramps. It is also necessary for oestrogen detoxification, which is why it can help ease PMS.42
Women need 270mg a day, while breast-feeding women need an extra 50mg a day. Men need 300mg a day.43
That’s about the amount found in 30g of pumpkin seeds, an avocado, a banana or an 80g portion of spinach.
How much magnesium do children need?
We’ve gone through how much magnesium adults need, but what about children? From 1-18, find out the daily recommendation of magnesium for kids, below:
- 1-3 years – 85mg a day
- 4-6 years – 120mg a day
- 7-10 years – 200mg a day
- 11-14 years – 280mg a day44
- 15-18 years – 300mg a day 45
Plants are the best food sources of magnesium.46
We’ve listed some common foods rich in magnesium below:
Vegan sources of magnesium
Seeds and nuts
- Brazil nuts – approx. 376 mg per 100g
- Pumpkin seeds – approx. 262 mg per 100g
- Almonds – approx. 76.5 mg per 23 nuts
- Cashews, dry roasted – approx. 73.7 mg per 18 nuts
- Peanuts – approx. 50mg per 28 nuts
- Sunflower seeds – approx. 128mg in ¼ cup
- Flaxseeds - 40mg in 1 tablespoon
- Spinach, cooked – approx. 87mg per 100g
- Avocado – approx. 58mg per 1 medium
- Plantain, raw – approx. 109g per 1 medium
- Baked potato – approx. 39mg per 1 medium
- Kale – approx. 33mg per 100g
- Okra, raw – approx. 57mg per 100g
- Broccoli, raw – approx. 21mg per 100g
- Dried figs – approx. 68mg per 100g
- Dried prunes – approx. 44mg per 100g
- Magnesium in a banana - 32mg per 100g
- Edamame beans, cooked – approx. 64mg per 100g
- Black beans – approx. 171mg per 100g
- Lentils – approx. 36mg per 100g
- Bulgur wheat – approx. 32mg per 100g
- Brown / wild rice – approx. 37mg per 100g
- Quinoa, cooked – approx. 64mg per 100g
- Soya milk – approx. 36mg per 250ml
- Soya mock meats
- Tofu – approx. 60mg per 100g
Non-vegan sources of magnesium
- Mackerel, cooked – approx. 97mg per 100g
- Tuna, cooked – approx. 64mg per 100g
- Scallops, cooked – approx. 44mg per 100g
- Salmon, cooked – approx. 37mg per 100g
- Oysters, steamed – approx. 36mg per 100g
- Skimmed milk – approx. 27.8mg in 1 cup
Surprising sources of magnesium
- Dark chocolate (70-85% cacao) – approx. 228mg in 100g bar
Ideally, you should be able to get all the magnesium you need by eating a varied and balanced diet that includes some of the magnesium-rich food examples from the list above.
But if you aren’t, then taking magnesium supplements is an option. The Department of Health says taking up to 400mg a day is a safe dosage.47
Low magnesium levels can also make Vitamin D inefficient in our bodies. This is due to the fact that Vitamin D cannot be metabolised without sufficient magnesium levels.
One particular study found that patients with optimum magnesium levels required less Vitamin D supplementation to achieve sufficient levels.
Deficiency in either magnesium or Vitamin D is associated with disorders, including skeletal deformities, cardiovascular diseases and metabolic syndrome.48
Magnesium glycinate helps our bodies to function properly, particularly when it comes to making sure we have enough energy and our bones are healthy.
One of the ways we can boost our magnesium is through our diet, with good food sources, including flaxseed, tofu and almonds.
Smoking can also leave you lacking in crucial vitamins and minerals, including magnesium.
Why smokers lack magnesium
Experts have long argued that part of the health risk of smoking is that smokers tend to eat a less healthy diet, so they lack key nutrients.
In 2017, US researchers decided to put that theory to the test.49
They looked at the diets of men and women, both smokers and non-smokers, who completed a three-day food diary.
Results showed that smokers had low intakes of healthy fats, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, various B vitamins, vitamin A, and vitamin E.
Although the study found non-smokers also failed to eat enough key nutrients, the smokers’ intake was substantially lower.
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Other reasons why smokers lack magnesium is due to the following:
More cigarettes ups deficiency
Another study examined whether the amount you smoke also affected nutrient levels.
Research published in the IOSR Journal Of Pharmacy in 2013 looked at both iron and magnesium levels in the blood of smokers, and found that not only were magnesium levels much lower in smokers, but magnesium was also significantly decreased when people got through more than 15 cigarettes a day.50
Appetite or absorption
Smoking can dent your appetite – if you’re eating less food, you’re getting fewer nutrients – but it can also reduce the absorption of magnesium thanks to the impact it has on your digestion.51
Smoking weakens the muscle between the oesophagus and stomach, and can also affect factors that protect or heal the stomach lining, such as blood flow or the mucus that protects the stomach lining.
All this damage makes it harder to absorb nutrients such as magnesium.52
Damaging the kidneys
Scientists have also found that nicotine damages the kidneys. This is important because kidneys are responsible for regulating the body’s excretion and reabsorption of electrolytes, including magnesium.
If the kidneys are less able to excrete these substances, you can be left with a build-up of waste products in the blood.53
This disruption to kidney function can lead to high blood pressure and further kidney damage, or even kidney failure.
That’s why smokers with conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure tend to develop kidney disease much faster than non-smokers.
Yet another reason to stub out the cigs and munch on magnesium-rich leafy greens.
While a true deficiency is rare, many people in the UK have low levels of magnesium, particularly young women.54
Diet is mostly to blame, with people not eating enough magnesium-rich foods, and consuming too many processed foods such as white flour which have often had their mineral levels depleted.
Also, fizzy drinks have been strongly linked to lowering magnesium levels thanks to the phosphoric acid they contain.
Fizzy drinks, especially colas, have been shown to lower bone mineral density which can eventually lead to osteoporosis.55
Don’t panic, as the harmful effects of low magnesium levels won’t happen overnight.
However, over the years, you might notice a lack of energy, slower muscle repair and weaker bones in later years.
This should give you enough reason to start including a wide variety of magnesium-rich foods in your diet today.
You can find magnesium in leafy greens such as spinach, nuts like cashews and almonds, seeds, eggs, and seaweed and kelp.
Choose organic varieties where possible, which are grown in soil which tends to be higher in magnesium.
Adding Epsom salts to your bath is another way you can ensure your body is getting enough magnesium, as your skin absorbs the magnesium sulphate from the salts dissolved in warm water, making them ideal for muscle relaxation and recovery after sports.
What are the symptoms of a magnesium deficiency?
Magnesium deficiency is rare as it is found in so many of the foods we eat every day. Our kidneys also help to regulate magnesium levels in the body by limiting the amount we lose when we urinate.56
Early signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:
- Appetite loss
Symptoms of a moderate deficiency include numbness, tingling and an abnormal heart rhythm.58
Who is most at risk of magnesium deficiency?
About 40% of girls aged 11 to 18 years have low magnesium levels, according to the 2011 National Diet and Nutrition Survey.59
People who abuse alcohol, older adults and people with type 2 diabetes could be more susceptible to magnesium deficiency as they may not absorb enough of the nutrient.60
What happens if I consume too much magnesium?
Excessive magnesium side effects can lead to stomach upsets, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, due to the fact that almost all forms of magnesium can have a laxative effect.61
Too much magnesium can also lead to low blood pressure, drowsiness, muscle weakness, slow breathing, and possibly even death in some circumstances.
If you have kidney disease, you should not take magnesium unless instructed to do so by a medical professional.
Magnesium can also interact with certain medications, such as blood thinning and anti-diabetes medication, and should be taken at least two hours apart from these medications.
This means you should be careful about how much magnesium you consume from supplements.
Read on to find out more about magnesium supplements...
When should I take a magnesium supplement?
If you eat a balanced diet with a wide range of foods every day, you should get all the magnesium you need.
However, you can take magnesium as a supplement if you think you’re lacking or deficient.
Should children take magnesium supplements?
Children should be able to get all the magnesium they need from their diets.
Should women take a magnesium supplement during pregnancy?
You can get all the magnesium you need from your diet during pregnancy.
However, a 2017 report in Advanced Biomedical Research found that many pregnant women are deficient in this mineral.
Ask your GP for a blood test if you think you may have low levels of magnesium.62
What are the potential benefits of magnesium supplements?
As magnesium is important for a healthy nervous system, low levels may be linked to the development of migraine. A 2012 study in Journal of Neural Transmission found that up to half of people with migraine were deficient in the mineral.63
With 60% of magnesium stored in our bones, research also shows that a diet containing enough magnesium can help lower the risk of developing osteoporosis.
It’s thought magnesium deficiency impacts bone cells and crystal formation, and increases inflammation.64
Which magnesium supplement is best for me?
- Magnesium tablets: Quick, easy and usually the most cost effective, taking magnesium tablets is the most common way to supplement magnesium.
- Magnesium spray: Using a spray is a great alternative to tablets if you struggle to swallow them or just straight up say no to popping the pills! A lot of people use magnesium spray for sleep enhancement as it tends to be absorbed faster than a lot of other supplements so you can have a spritz or two before bed to see if it works for you.
- Magnesium drinks: Another way to get your magnesium is by drinking it. The magnesium has already been absorbed into the liquid, so it bypasses the digestive system and goes straight to work in your bloodstream.
What about magnesium bath salts?
Magnesium flakes (magnesium chloride) and Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) are known bath-time favourites, claiming to help reduce muscle fatigue and help you relax.
It is claimed that magnesium flakes elevate cellular magnesium levels when exposed to our skin.
This allows magnesium compounds to break bonds and travel through the pores into the dermal layers and ultimately the bloodstream.65
When to take magnesium supplements
It doesn’t really matter what time you take magnesium supplements, unless you plan on using them to help you sleep.
Take magnesium 1-2 hours before going to bed if you want to use it as a sleep aid.
Make sure you take magnesium supplements with a meal.
Due to its laxative effects, you should avoid taking it on an empty stomach or in-between meals or you may have some tummy troubles.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
The final say
Magnesium is an essential nutrient found in a whole array of healthy foods and supplements.
Magnesium may be able to offer a number of benefits, from reducing tiredness and fatigue to regulating your mood to supporting your bones.
If you follow a healthy lifestyle, it’s unlikely you’ll be deficient. However, if you’re not taking as good care of yourself as you should be, it may be worth contacting your GP and picking up some magnesium supplements.
The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
Last updated: 25 February 2022
- https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/others/ https://www.nursinginpractice.com/article/diet-and-nutrition-requirements-when-breastfeeding
- https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/618167/government_dietary_recommendations.pdf https://www.algaecal.com/algaecal-ingredients/magnesium/magnesium-rich-foods/