We know that food has the power to boost (or bust) our mood and overall mental health. Certain nutrients in particular support wellbeing by regulating the chemicals in our bodies that control our state of mind. One of the major ones, which many of us aren’t getting enough of: Magnesium.
Magnesium deficiency and depression
In fact, research shows a link between low magnesium intake and depression, and food plays a major role. Modern farming techniques have caused depletion of magnesium in soil, and our reliance on highly processed food also means we get less; for example, researchers George and Karen Eby note that only 16 percent of the magnesium found in whole wheat remains in refined flour. Plus, water-softening technology has stripped drinking water of magnesium, contributing to our deficiency.
So what happens in the brain and body when we don’t get enough magnesium? “When you start to untangle the effects of magnesium in the nervous system, you touch upon nearly every single biological mechanism for depression,” writes psychiatrist Emily Deans, MD, in Psychology Today.
Magnesium is involved with our hormone balance and stress response, Deans explains. Chronic stress causes excess cortisol in the body, which damages the brain and can make the effects of stress even worse, leading to depression. Magnesium can help suppress the release of stress hormones like cortisol, and acts as a barrier to prevent the entrance of stress hormones into the brain. It also protects receptors against an excess of calcium, which can damage the brain by over-activating neurons.
How to get more magnesium
How much magnesium you need depends on your age and gender (here’s a chart to help you figure out your daily requirement). Since there’s less magnesium in modern foods than in the past, it’s even more important to eat plenty of foods that contain it. They include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
- Dark leafy greens, such as spinach, chard, kale, collard greens, and beet greens
- Milk, yogurt, and some other dairy products
- Chia seeds
Here are two delicious, easy-to-make dishes that will help you and your family get more of this important mineral.
Rice with Spinach, Avocado and Toasted Pepitas
- Serves: 4
- Prep Time:
- Cook Time:
- 1 cup organic, short-grain brown rice
- 1¾ cups water or broth
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups baby spinach
- 1 clove garlic, sliced
- Juice of 1 small lemon
- ½ cup pepitas, toasted
- 1 medium to large Hass avocado, sliced
- Combine rice, water or broth, salt, and 1 tablespoon oil in a pot. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 40 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
- While the rice is cooking, heat the remaining tablespoon oil in a pan. Add the garlic and slowly toast until golden brown. Add the baby spinach and cook until it wilts, about 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and squeeze in lemon juice.
- When the rice is ready, stir in the cooked spinach and half of the pepitas. Serve in bowls, topped with sliced avocados and remaining pepitas.
Oatmeal with Almonds and Cacao Nibs
- Serves: 4
- Prep Time:
- Cook Time:
- 2 cups extra-thick, gluten-free rolled oats
- 4 cups dairy, nut, or oat milk
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- 1 cup chopped almonds, toasted
- ½ cup cacao nibs
- Place oats, milk, and salt in a pot and slowly bring to a boil, stirring frequently.
- Lower heat to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, or until oatmeal reaches desired consistency. You may need to add a little more liquid near the end of the cooking time.
- Spoon into bowls and top with almonds and cacao nibs. Serve immediately.
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