Magnesium is an essential cofactor for over 300 metabolic reactions in the body, yet research estimates that approximately 75% of Americans aren’t receiving the proper daily recommended dietary allowance (RDA).1This means that most of our little ones aren’t getting sufficient magnesium either.
While magnesium is easy to obtain through a balanced whole foods diet, many adults and children have a magnesium deficiency and don’t even realize it. With the introduction of highly processed and well-marketed packaged foods, parents aiming to please picky eaters reach for products that lack essential nutrients. Furthermore, immediate symptoms of magnesium insufficiency are hard to spot, so we don’t always see signs of a deficiency until later on in life when health challenges have set in with deep roots.
What Are the Health Benefits of Magnesium?
Magnesium plays a vital role in most of our primary bodily functions, including:
- Energy production
- Enzyme activation
- Muscular contraction
- Neurotransmitter release
- Cardiovascular health
- Cellular membrane structure
- Nutrient metabolism
Studies suggest that over the last 100 years in the United States, the daily magnesium intake for adults has been declining from 500 mg/day to 175-225 mg/day on average. Since most parents choose to cook meals for their children, this decline in adult dietary magnesium has a trickle-down effect that can end up causing a deficiency in children as well.2
Some research findings on immediate symptoms of magnesium deficiency are still being confirmed. However, clinical and pre-clinical studies looking at long-term health risks of chronic magnesium deficiency, defined as serum magnesium <0.75 mmol/L, found an increased risk in developing conditions requiring medical attention.
How to Spot a Magnesium Deficiency in Children
The easiest way for parents to spot a magnesium a possible deficiency in their child is to see if they exhibit signs of poor sleep habits and constipation. When it comes to quality sleep, magnesium plays a supportive role by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, maintaining healthy levels of the neurotransmitter GABA and regulating levels of the hormone melatonin. As a natural laxative component, magnesium helps to relax the muscles in the intestinal wall, increasing mobility and pulling in water to soften stool and help with constipation symptoms.
Mild symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite, while rare cases of extreme deficiencies can include seizures, abnormal heart rhythms, and neuropsychiatric changes.3
How Much Magnesium Do Kids Need?
The current RDA for magnesium was revised in 1997 by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine to provide a standard for all life stages based on balance studies that determine how much of a nutrient is needed to prevent deficiency. The following is the RDA of magnesium for children ages 0-18:4
- Infants (0-6 months)
- Male: 30 mg/day
- Female: 30mg/day
- Children (1-3 years)
- Male: 75 mg/day
- Female: 75 mg/day
- Children (4-8 years)
- Male: 130 mg/day
- Female: 130 mg/day
- Children (9-13 years)
- Male: 240 mg/day
- Female: 240 mg/day
- Children (14-18 years)
- Male: 410 mg/day
- Female: 360 mg/day
What Are Great Kid-Friendly Sources of Magnesium?
Parents looking to increase their child’s magnesium levels will find that there are a variety of magnesium-rich foods that are easy to incorporate into their diet. The highest sources of magnesium are found in dark greens and leafy vegetables such as spinach, artichoke, and avocados, as well as nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews, and peanuts. Soy products, legumes, whole-grain bread and cereals, and fruits such as bananas are also excellent sources of magnesium. The amount of magnesium (mg) in some of these commonly found grocery items is listed below:5
- Dry roasted almonds, 1 oz: 80 mg
- Dry roasted cashews, 1 oz: 75 mg
- Spinach, frozen or cooked, ½ cup: 75 mg
- Oatmeal, instant fortified, 1 cup: 55 mg
- Avocado, ½ cup pureed: 35 mg
- Kidney beans, canned, ½ cup: 35 mg
- Peanut butter, 1 tablespoon: 25 mg
- Banana, raw: 30 mg
Magnesium supplementation is also an option for parents with children who may be slow to take on a new dietary change or have preexisting conditions or food allergies. Parents should consult their child’s pediatrician or health care practitioner to learn about the pros and cons of magnesium supplementation. When supplementing with magnesium, it may be prudent to avoid multivitamins that may have additional quantities of unnecessary minerals and vitamins which can exacerbate a magnesium deficiency, such as high levels of calcium. 6
Proper magnesium levels are key to a healthy nervous system, muscular function, immune system, cardiovascular health, and bone strength, so it’s certainly not a mineral that we should overlook.
Many adults and children are unknowingly deficient in magnesium. With the widespread use of processed foods targeted towards kids, parents may find it overwhelming to switch their children over to more nutritional options. However, the earlier the incorporation of this vital component in a child’s diet, the easier it will be for them to maintain better eating habits and bring these habits into adulthood.
Creating meals for the entire family that consist of quality whole foods and avoiding processed foods is the best way to ensure that kids don’t set themselves up for potential long-term health risks in adulthood. Cooking with various spices and blending flavors to make unappealing ingredients taste delicious is the key to getting children to eat healthier versions of their favorite foods.
Establishing proper nutritional habits in kids can be difficult, but it's not impossible. And the benefits they will reap will pay off substantially in the long run, providing them with the essential building blocks they need to grow into strong and healthy adults.
1 “Therapeutic Use of Magnesium - AAFP.” 2009. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2009/0715/p157.html. Accessed August 7, 2019.
2“Magnesium in Prevention and Therapy - NCBI.” 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4586582/. Accessed August 7, 2019.
3 “Therapeutic Use of Magnesium - AAFP.” 2009. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2009/0715/p157.html. Accessed August 7, 2019.
4 “Magnesium - Micronutrient Information Center Linus Pauling Institute.” 2019. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/magnesium. Accessed August 7, 2019.
5 “Therapeutic Use of Magnesium - AAFP.” 2009. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2009/0715/p157.html. Accessed August 7, 2019.
6 “Subclinical Magnesium Deficiency: A Principal Driver… - NCBI.” 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5786912/. Accessed August 7, 2019.