Magnesium Deficiency

Magnesium is an abundant mineral in our bodies that is vital to our health.  Yet many of us are deficient in it.  60% of the magnesium in our bodies is stored in our bones, 38 - 39% is stored in cells, and the remaining 1 - 2% is in the blood, where it is crucial for maintaining a regular heart beat.

So what else does magnesium do for us? It has roles in:

  • muscle and nerve function
  • immune function
  • blood pressure control
  • energy production
  • blood sugar regulation

In the standard American diet with processed and refined foods, much of the magnesium is lost in our diet through that processing. This is especially the case with refined wheat flour to white flour and brown rice to white rice.  Also, alcohol and caffeine deplete magnesium in our bodies - as does chronic stress.  Thus a significant proportion of the American population is deficient in magnesium.

Some of the signs of magnesium deficiency include:

  • abnormal heart rhythm
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • fatigue
  • high blood pressure
  • irritability
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle spasms or twitching
  • poor sleep/insomnia
  • poor nail growth
  • tremor
All of these symptoms have more than one cause however, so if you think low magnesium may be an issue for you, discuss it with your health care practitioner.  It can be easily remedied and can make a big difference in how you feel.

An easy way to increase your magnesium levels is through the diet.  Eating a whole foods plant based diet is recommended - with no or minimal processed foods.  Add to that, some of the the following foods, which are good sources of magnesium:

  • pumpkin seeds
  • sesame seeds
  • sunflower seeds
  • almonds
  • cashews
  • black beans
  • soy beans
  • spinach
  • swiss chard
  • quinoa
  • millet
  • buckwheat
  • brown rice
  • salmon
  • halibut
  • dark chocolate
I don't recommend you try a supplement, unless under the guidance of a health professional.  

I made some pumpkin seed milk this week, to give it a try. Here's the recipe:

1 cup pumpkin seeds (soaked 6 - 8 hours in water)
3 cups water

Discard the soak water from the seeds and place them in a high powered blender, like a Vitamix.  Add the water and blend on high until smooth.

Refrigerate and enjoy.  You can strain the milk if you prefer but you get all the goodness of the seeds if you don't strain it but just shake it before use.  A lovely creamy milk.

It doesn't taste like dairy milk so if you are making it and expecting it to have the same taste - it won't.  But it tastes nice. I had it on my cereal - but you can also use it for cooking and have it in smoothies etc as a great source of magnesium (and also zinc).

So if you have trouble sleeping at night, with restless legs, try a handful of pumpkin seeds in the evening or a square of dark chocolate (75% or more cocoa content).  Or start your day with a green smoothie made with pumpkin seeds and spinach.

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Spicing things up

I held two spice classes this week for my food as medicine groups, looking at what benefits certain spices have to our health and how we can incorporate them into our daily lives.

Photo From Wikimedia commons

As well as tasting individual spices, we created a variety of blends from different countries and then tasted them in either applesauce, butternut squash or sweet potato - as vehicles for the spice, so you could get the true flavors.

Tasting stations at the ready!

The key spices we focused on were

  • cinnamon - great for diabetes
  • turmeric - anti-cancer and anti- inflammatory activity
  • black cumin - immune system boosting
  • cloves - toothache, mosquito repellent, anti-infection
  • cocoa - great source of flavonols which increase nitric oxide production, and help heart health
  • Plus we looked at those spices that can affect the Cancer "Master Switch" - NFkB
The blends we made we:
  • Chai tea - India - we actually made a tea-less version
  • La Kama from North Africa
  • Garam Masala - India
  • Golden Milk -India
  • Panch Phoron - India
  • Chinese five spice - China
  • Colombo Powder - Latin America
  • Quatre Epices - France
  • Hot Chocolate - Mexican
We then ended up with a chocolate tasting of 6 chocolates with cocoa contents of >75%.  I'll tell you more about that another day!

It was a great class.  People really started to focus on tasting carefully and identifying different flavor and whether spices predominated or harmonized. 

Health benefits of chocolate

I'm always happy to read research that points out the health benefits of chocolate.  If you enjoy chocolate, you may enjoy reading this :=D

Photo by Chocolate Reviews
A 15 day study performed on hypertensive human volunteers evaluated the effects of eating dark chocolate or white chocolate on various circulatory measurements.  The patients who ate the dark chocolate showed an 11-point (mmHg) reduction in systolic blood pressure and a 6.2-point (mmHg) decrease in diastolic blood pressure.  The participants who ate white chocolate showed no change in blood pressure.

These researchers also looked at measurements of insulin sensitivity and found that after consuming dark chocolate for 15 days, the fasting insulin levels declined by 29% along with a 6% reduction in fasting glucose. Again, no improvements were seen in the white chocolate group.

Endothelial function was also measured and the dark chocolate group also saw an improvement to almost normal levels, while no improvements with white chocolate.

Photo by Peluna
Further longer term studies, including a meta-analysis of 15 studies ranging from 2 - 18 weeks long, have corroborated these results, with the conclusion that dark chocolate decreases blood pressure and improves insulin sensitivity.

A concern regarding chocolate intake has been whether these health benefits would be offset by increased weight gain, or serum lipids but these parameters remained unchanged.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this research comes from one of the German scientists who points out that small amounts of dark chocolate convey a similar BP lowering potential to  major dietary modification techniques. Long-term adherence to complex major dietary modification is often low, however "adoption of consuming small amounts of flavanol-rich cocoa into the diet is a dietary modification that is easy to adhere to and therefore may be a promising behavior approach to lower blood pressure in individuals with above-optimal blood pressure."

I'll be blogging about additional health benefits of chocolate again soon, but in the meantime, if you fancy some chocolate, chose a bar of dark chocolate with more than 65% cocoa, and find one that has less than 10g sugar per serving. And then a typical serving size should be about 20g - one or two squares. Or else add a tablespoon of cocoa powder to baking or smoothies or....

The photo above is some chocolates I made this week for some friends coming round on Saturday.  It's 70% cocoa and on top are freeze dried raspberries on the left hand side and a little secret on the right hand side ones. I can't tell you about that until after my friends have had them!