Why do you need it?

Your nerves and muscles need magnesium to work normally, it’s also essential for a healthy immune system, steady heartbeat and strong bones. It helps regulate your blood sugar levels and is vital for energy and protein metabolism. You also need it to make neurotransmitters – signalling molecules in the brain.

While diets high in processed foods can be lacking in magnesium, excessive intakes from supplements may affect your calcium absorption and cause heartbeat irregularities and confusion. Doses over 400 milligrams can also cause nausea and diarrhoea.


Your heart is the most important muscle in your body, so it’s no surprise that magnesium is important for heart health. Symptoms of deficiency include confusion, tiredness, depression, muscle twitching or spasms, irritability, heartbeat changes or rapid heartbeat, and sleep disorders such as insomnia.

How much do you need?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends 220 milligrams (mg) of magnesium a day for women aged 19 to 65 and 260 milligrams for men 19 to 65. The recommended intakes for infants, children, adolescents, older adults, pregnant and lactating women are given below.

Recommended nutrient intakes for magnesium. Click to read more…
Age groupRecommended nutrient intake
Infants and children
0-6 months26* to 36**
7-12 months54
1-3 years60
4-6 years76
7-9 years100
Females, 10-18220
Males, 10-18230
Females, 19-65220
Females, 65+190
Males, 19-65260
Males, 65+224
Pregnant women220
Lactating women270
From human breastmilk* or formula**. 
Source: WHO, FAO. 2004. Vitamin and mineral requirements in human nutrition. 2nd ed. Geneva: WHO.

Where to find magnesium

Magnesium is found in the chlorophyll of the leaves of plants, this is the pigment that gives them their green colour – so think ‘green leaves’ – but it is also plentiful in wholegrain foods, pulses, nuts and seeds.

  • Leafy greens: Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale and Swiss chard are rich sources of magnesium and are widely available in Uganda. One cup (180 grams) of boiled spinach contains 157 milligrams of magnesium – meeting more than half your daily needs.
  • Wholegrains: Staple foods in many Ugandan dishes such as brown rice and millet, as well as buckwheat and quinoa if you can find them, are good sources of magnesium. One cup (202 grams) of cooked brown rice contains 79 milligrams of magnesium. Try to use wholegrain varieties and avoid refined grains.     
  • Pulses: Peas, beans and lentils are rich in magnesium. Popular varieties include yellow, green and split peas, red kidney beans, black beans, mung beans, cowpeas (black-eyed peas) and red ‘masoor’ lentils. They are a versatile staple in Uganda and are used in curries, soups, stews, salads or simply boiled and served as a side dish. Half a cup (86 grams) of black beans contains 60 milligrams of magnesium and half a cup (82 grams) of chickpeas contains 40 milligrams.
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, cashews, peanuts, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds are commonly available in Uganda and can be included in meals or eaten as snacks. A small handful (28 grams) of almonds or pumpkin seeds contains around 75 milligrams of magnesium and one tablespoon (16 grams) of peanut butter contains 27 milligrams. 
  • Vegetables: Other vegetables like potatoes, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts also contain magnesium. A medium-sized (173 grams) baked potato contains 47 milligrams of magnesium and half a cup (78 grams) of broccoli, 16 milligrams.  
  • Fruit: Some fruits, such as bananas and avocados, contain magnesium, although in smaller amounts compared to other sources.  One medium (118 gram) banana contains 32 milligrams of magnesium and half a cup (75 grams) of chopped avocado, 22 milligrams.