Magnesium is one of the most abundant elements in the human body. It is found in virtually all cells and is utilized by nearly all enzymes, making it an essential mineral. Sadly, many people in the US are deficient of magnesium, and people on a ketogenic diet are even more prone to magnesium deficiency.
The ketogenic diet is one of the healthiest new diets and entails consuming minimal carbohydrates and high fat to encourage the body to utilize ketones and fats for energy. It leads to tremendous weight loss and may be useful in patients with diabetes. Even so, getting adequate magnesium from a ketogenic diet can be difficult if you don't make it a priority.
At the beginning of the ketogenic diet, magnesium deficiency can be a contributor to symptoms known as the keto flu. Magnesium is one of the minerals depleted faster on a ketogenic diet than on a standard American diet because of the increased water loss and urination on the diet. As more water is depleted, so is your body's magnesium, making it more essential to be eating adequate amounts of magnesium when on keto.
Concerns on excessive caloric intake is not sufficient reason to deny your body magnesium. Here are five reasons why people who are on the ketogenic diet should make adequate magnesium a priority.
Magnesium Benefits for the Ketogenic Diet
- Provision of Energy
Magnesium activates the enzyme adenosine triphosphate, which is responsible for manufacturing energy in the human body. Magnesium is said to reduce fatigue while increasing one's endurance to physical activity1[i]. It also decreases the oxygen requirements of cells during physical activity.
Increasing available energy is especially important during the initial phase of the ketogenic diet - as your body is adjusting to utilizing fat instead of carbs as energy, a common complaint is fatigue.
- Reduces Anxiety, Promotes Healthy Metabolism
Magnesium is essential for the optimal function of neurotransmitters responsible for calming the mind, and promoting relaxation and proper sleep. Studies have shown that magnesium deficiency leads to anxiety and insomnia in mice[ii]. It does so by increasing the levels of cortisol which is a stress hormone.
Adequate sleep is especially important on a ketogenic diet as it streamlines the process of metabolism. Sadly, insomnia and restless sleep are common complaints at the beginning of the keto diet - which could be simply fixed by getting adequate amounts of magnesium.
- Helps with digestion
Magnesium relaxes the muscles of the digestive tract enabling optimal bowel movement. In addition, it neutralizes stomach acids thereby protecting the gut lining. Magnesium deficiency can also lead to constipation.
Anyone who has tried the ketogenic diet can tell you constipation can be an issue at the beginning of the diet. A well-functioning digestive system is essential on a ketogenic diet, which is dependent on adequate magnesium levels.
In addition, low-grade acidosis is a common complaint of keto dieters. This stems from eating high acidic foods like dairy and meat, and not enough alkaline vegetables. Introducing more vegetables, as well as neutralizing magnesium, can help alleviate low-grade acidosis. You can also try adding in some apple cider vinegar to help neutralize acids - ACV has several other benefits to the keto diet as well.
- Promotes proper muscle function
Magnesium plays a vital role in neuromuscular signaling and muscle contractions. It enables muscles to relax and contract thereby functioning optimally. It also works with calcium to control heart muscular contractions and maintenance of optimal blood pressure.
Case in point, magnesium deficiency has been known to lead to muscle cramps, pain and muscle weakness. Muscles are perhaps the most vital organs in energy utilization by the human body and well-functioning muscles are a necessity for the ketogenic dieter.
Top 10 Ketogenic Diet Foods Rich in Magnesium
With all these benefits of magnesium to a ketogenic diet, it's important to get the proper daily in-take. The FDA recommends 410 mg per day of magnesium by adults. It is actually easy to get adequate amounts of magnesium from ketogenic diet foods if you know where to look! Here are the top nine foods that provide adequate magnesium levels for those on a ketogenic diet.
Swiss chard- Similar to spinach, Swiss chard is a low carb keto diet powerhouse. 3 cups of raw Swiss chard provide 88 mg of magnesium and only 2 net carbs. Swiss chard is high in Vitamin A and K, as well a good source of copper and potassium - two other minerals to watch on the keto diet.
Almonds- one ounce of almonds provides 78 mg of magnesium with only 2.5 net carbs. These nuts are also rich in vitamin E, riboflavin and copper.
Spinach- 3 cups of raw spinach provides 71 mg of magnesium and with only 1 net carb.Spinach is also high in Vitamin A and K. Spinach is one of the lowest net carb vegetables for the keto diet with the highest nutrients.
Avocados- one ripe avocado gives one 58 mg of magnesium plus 13.5 grams of fiber, with only 3.5 grams of net carbs. Avocados are one of the healthiest keto diet foods! They are high in healthy fats and rich in vitamin E, B vitamins, zinc and very high in potassium!
Peanuts- one ounce of peanuts provides 48 mg of magnesium with 2 net carbs. Be careful on your peanut intake as they are high in omega-6 fats. Your omega-6/omega-3 ratio is important to inflammation - another reason people use the ketogenic diet. However, peanuts still have health benefits and can be used in moderation on the keto diet.
Walnuts- one ounce of walnuts provides 45 mg of magnesium. Walnuts have one of the best omega-6/omega-3 profile on the low-carb, keto approved nuts. Walnuts are also a good source of copper, manganese and some B vitamins.
Salmon- a 4-oz filet of Atlantic salmon provides 42mg of magnesium. It has an awesome amount of Omega-3 fatty acids. It is high in selenium, B vitamins, vitamin D and even a good source of potassium.
Tuna- one 5-oz can of tuna provides 35 mg of magnesium. Tuna is also rich in omega 3 fatty acids making it a great keto food. It is very high in B vitamins and selenium.
Chicken-a 4 ounce serving of chicken breast contains 31 mg of magnesium with zero carbs. Be careful to watch your macros and eat chicken with other healthy fats to not overdo your protein on keto. Chicken is also a good source of potassium and great source of B vitamins and selenium.
Almond Milk - Unsweetened almond milk is not super high in magnesium, but it's worth mentioning for a bit of supplementary magnesium. It has 17 mg of magnesium per cup with less than 1 net carb.
A ketogenic diet does not have to mean inadequate magnesium intake. In fact, it is entirely possible to ingest a minimal number of carbs while providing your body with more than enough magnesium. Despite the great keto food options available for magnesium, another great option is supplements.
Magnesium Supplements to Aid a Ketogenic Diet
Magnesium supplementation is a great option for people on the ketogenic diet as most supplements have high amounts of magnesium. However, when selecting a supplement, bear in mind that some forms of magnesium have better absorption and bio-availability than others. In addition, some forms are better suited for specific health needs.
Magnesium citrate is easily found in most stores. This is a form of magnesium supplementation that is especially suitable for patients with digestive problems. It does not irritate the gut lining and has a mild laxative effect. Plus, magnesium citrate is well absorbed. If you're going to pick up magnesium in stores, remember the type - citrate.
Similar to magnesium citrate, it is easily found in stores. However, the bioavailability has been reported to be as low as 4%. This is one option that we don't recommend.
Magnesium Chloride oil
This is a special form of magnesium supplementation that is meant for topical application. It is particularly suitable for patients with digestive problems that lead to malabsorption of nutrients. The permeability and bioavailability can be increased using heat for instance, adding drops of the oil to your bath water.
It is especially suitable for persons on the ketogenic diet as it reduces energy utilization via metabolism in the gut. Here's a magnesium chloride oil we recommend.
Magnesium glycinate is another form of magnesium supplementation with a better bio-availability. In addition, it barely irritates the stomach lining[iii]. Magnesium glycinate is difficult to find in stores, yet easy to find online. Because of the high bio-availability compared to other options, we recommend this magnesium glycinate.
Magnesium Sulfate Salts/Epsom Salts
Magnesium sulfate salts are often part of the formulation of Epsom salts. They are especially used topically in baths and are thus absorbed via the skin. Some people also swear by consuming small quantities of Epson salts with warm water to curb magnesium deficiency. Magnesium sulfate is well-absorbed.
One Last Note...
Magnesium toxicity, though rare, is a serious complication of overdosing on magnesium supplements. The symptoms include diarrhea, nausea and abdominal cramps. Excessive magnesium also interferes with the body’s calcium levels which can lead to cardiac and musculoskeletal problems. For the ketogenic diet, adequate magnesium levels are a must, but be smart about it.
Read Next: Keto dieters are deficient in potassium as well as magnesium; but it's hard to supplement with potassium - you must get it through food!
[i] Nielsen FH, Lukaski HC, Update on the relationship between magnesium and exercise, Magnesium Research, Volume 19, Issue 3, September 2006
[ii] Chollet D, Franken P, Raffin Y, Henrotte JG, Widmer J, Malafosse A, Tafti M, Magnesium involvement in sleep: genetic and nutritional models, Behavior Genetics, September 2001
[iii] Schuette SA, Lashner BA, Janghorbani M. Bioavailability of magnesium diglycinate vs magnesium oxide in patients with ileal resection. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 1994 Sep-Oct;18(5):430-5.