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  • Writer's pictureby Eve Lees

Magnesium deficiency another sad reflection of the human diet

Iron, potassium, folate, magnesium . . . these are just a few of the nutrients we’ve been told the general population is deficient in. And that’s very sad to hear as these nutrients are plentiful in whole, unrefined foods. If we are deficient in them, it’s a telling indication we are eating very poorly – and eating far too many

ultra-processed foods!

Low dietary magnesium, for example, has been linked to diabetes. That makes sense, as magnesium is involved in glucose metabolism(1). However, we are certainly not getting enough magnesium in our diets due to the amounts of highly processed foods we tend to eat. Processing can remove or reduce many nutrients. Good food sources of magnesium include whole grains, green leafy vegetables, nuts/seeds, and legumes.


In addition, thanks to popular diets vilifying gluten or the other lectins, we are eating even less of two rich food sources of magnesium: lectin-rich foods like legumes and gluten-rich whole grains like wheat. Then there are the advocates who (incorrectly) warn us about 'antinutrients' in magnesium-rich foods like spinach. I won’t use space in this particular article to explain the inaccurate recommendations to avoid these foods. You can surf my articles in this Blog to learn more – or do an internet search for gluten myth or lectin myth to learn the other side of the story.

Magnesium, as noted earlier, is particularly rich in foods like green leafy vegetables, legumes (beans and peas, etc), nuts and seeds, and whole grains. Working as a nutrition coach for many years, I have rarely seen anyone eat adequate amounts of these foods. Few eat lots of vegetables and even fewer eat sufficient quantities of legumes or whole grains (the kind you cook on the stove; I'm not talking about bread). About the only thing we do eat plenty of are nuts (although far too many and mostly coated in sugars and fats – also not conducive for good health).

The less we tamper with a food, the more nutrients it will retain . . .

Making sure your diet is rich in all nutrients is as simple as focusing less on highly changed, human-made foods, and focusing more on foods created in nature. The less we tamper with a food, the more nutrients it will retain. And nutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc.) are the tools we need to sustain life; to help our bodies operate efficiently. Choose a banana or an apple instead of a granola bar. Be cautious with deli meats and other ultra-processed meats: opt for slices of plain roasted chicken more often (you can prepare this ahead of time, freeze in small packages, and take out to thaw in the refrigerator on the day you'll need them). Hard cheeses are a better choice than cheese spreads. Cut back on eating so much 'bread' and instead, occasionally try a bowl of cooked whole grains (which is what 'bread' is made from). You get the idea.

If you are concerned about your magnesium intake in particular, simply eat more of the foods listed in this article that are high in magnesium. If you like, here’s a recipe to help with your magnesium and other nutrient concerns (preparation time is about 30 to 40 minutes) . . .

You’ll need the following:

  1. One cup any whole grain kernels, uncooked (quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, wheat, kamut, spelt, and there are so many others);

  2. Two to four tablespoons chia or flax seeds (or a mix of them);

  3. One cup brown or green lentils (canned and rinsed – or presoak and precook the dried ones).

  4. The following is optional if you have time; two cups of finely diced vegetables (your choices). Although I do suggest you add at least one cup of finely chopped leafy greens like spinach, kale, or Swiss chard – especially if you want to boost your folate or magnesium intake.

  5. Also optional: your favourite herbs/spices/seasonings; ½ cup fresh nuts (also your choice).

Combine one cup grain with two cups water and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to medium and let cook until all the water is absorbed by the grain. There's no need to cover the pan with a lid while it cooks. And avoid stirring the grain as it cooks (makes it too 'mushy'). Cooking the grain takes from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the hardness/softness of the grain (or grain combination) you choose.

While the grain is cooking you can be chopping up your favourite veggies (to add in a later step of this recipe): finely chopped spinach, chard or kale; diced sweet potatoes or squash, green onions, diced carrots, chopped asparagus or broccoli . . . add whatever you like if you want to do this step. Or skip this step if you have no time for slicing and dicing.

When the grain has absorbed all the water, turn off the heat, and let the grains cool for just five minutes. Then stir in the two to four tablespoons of either chia or flax seeds. Next, fold in the diced vegetables (as mentioned above) if you prepared any. Cover and let the mixture sit for about five or ten minutes, allowing the heat from the grains to steam cook the seeds and veggies.

Lastly, mix in one cup of canned or precooked lentils. I suggest brown or green lentils because if you or someone else is not a fan of legumes, you won't notice the green or brown-coloured lentils among the grain kernels. A great way to distract yourself or fool others! But if you like beans, feel free to use red lentils or other beans (chickpeas, kidney beans, etc.)

Option: this is also the time to mix in fresh nuts, or any spices, dried herbs, etc.

Once the mixture has cooled, fluff it up and break up the chunks with a fork. Store in the refrigerator and have up to 1/2 cup with meals or as a snack. Serve fresh veggie sticks or a salad with it, especially if you didn’t add vegetables while cooking the grains! You can eat it cold or reheat it. It keeps in the fridge for up to four days. When you’ve used it up, make a new batch. It’s convenient, very nutritious, and offers lots of fibre. And there is growing evidence fibre is necessary for that healthy balance of gut bacteria; research keeps linking it to good health (getting enough fibre is something you should be very concerned about if you are following either the Ketogenic diet or any high-fat, high-protein, or low-carb diet).

This recipe is one of my favourites. I make it regularly but I always vary the type of vegetables, legumes and whole grains I use, to help ensure I’m getting a wide variety of nutrients in my diet. Rich in whole grains, this meal is also my ‘bread’ – it serves as one of my complex carbohydrate sources – because I never eat typical “bread.”

You can eat it cold as a morning cereal: I put about 1/2 cup on a bed of fresh spinach and top it with berries or other fresh fruit. Occasionally I may drop a poached egg on top of it at breakfast – or I'll have fish with it when I have it for dinner. But since this meal offers a wide range of plant-based amino acids to build complete protein, you really don't have to add any animal protein sources.

With this mixture waiting in my refrigerator, it takes no time to prepare a healthful meal or snack, especially when I’m pressed for time. It is also ready as a quick and unique dish when I have unexpected company for dinner, especially if my guest is a vegetarian or vegan.

And that's the best thing about this recipe: it can be adjusted to suit anyone. Even finicky eaters. My husband will only eat it if it also contains something 'sweet.' Just before serving it, we mix in fresh pomegranate seeds, finely chopped dates, or sliced grapes.

Let your imagination go wild: use this as your "base" recipe and build on it with your tastes and preferences. Enjoy!


Eve Lees is a Nutrition Coach and Health Writer for several publications. She has worked in the health/fitness industry for over 35 years.


(1) More information about magnesium deficiency:

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