Magnesium for children
14th October, 2020
The role of magnesium in the body is an important one, for both adults and children. It’s vital for a broad range of bodily functions, in fact it’s involved in hundreds of reactions taking place in the body every day. The human body can’t produce its own magnesium, therefore it’s important to ensure that we get enough magnesium either through our diet or through supplementation.
Why is magnesium especially important for children?
Magnesium is essential for the healthy growth and development of the body, including the maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. Did you know, that in adolescence, a large percentage of the body’s bone mass has already been reached, eventually peaking at about 18- 20 years old?  This highlights the importance of ensuring that children receive adequate levels of magnesium from an early age, to help give them a strong start in life.
Magnesium affects many areas of our lives, without adequate magnesium levels our heart couldn’t keep a steady beat, our muscles wouldn’t be able to contract and relax properly and our energy levels would be very low. Magnesium also helps us get restful sleep and plays a role in maintaining our blood sugar levels. It may also help in soothing the nervous system and may help relieve the symptoms of stress and mild anxiety, which is particularly important for anxious or nervous children. Emotional stress can increase our requirements for magnesium, so it’s vital that we have an adequate intake of magnesium to help us deal with daily stress and emotional tension .
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, between 2011 and 2012, one in three children aged over two years, did not meet their dietary requirements for magnesium . Constant growth and development means that children need a continuous intake of magnesium to keep up with the high demands of a growing child.
Magnesium deficiency signs
Early signs of magnesium deficiency may include; loss of appetite, fatigue, muscle tension, cramping and even mood changes. Clinical trials have been conducted, supporting the connection between magnesium nutritional status and behaviour .
Magnesium helps to convert glucose from the food you eat, into energy for your body. Without adequate levels of magnesium, your cells can become less sensitive to insulin, therefore potentially disturbing healthy blood sugar levels, which may result in altered mood and energy levels. Occasional tantrums and challenging behaviour are normal for growing children, however if the episodes become more frequent or intensify, be mindful of their diet and make sure that the episode isn’t a result of a sugar crash or a nutritional deficiency.
While magnesium is readily available in food, children who are fussy eaters may tend to be more prone to magnesium deficiency. Allergies and food intolerances may also mean that some children may not be reaching their daily recommended magnesium intake. Farming practices and the processing of foods have seen a decrease in the amount of magnesium found in some foods. Foods such as fruit and vegetables grown in nutrient depleted soil may no longer have the magnesium levels they once had.
Highly refined foods such as white bread or pasta contribute very little to the dietary intake of magnesium and therefore the consumption of these foods should be limited. Try to eat wholegrain versions where possible. The way that we cook and prepare foods can also affect the magnesium content in food, for example boiling vegetables can increase the loss of magnesium in food, while steaming can help to retain nutrients.
Processed foods are high in salt and sugar and can increase magnesium loss in the body, they generally offer minimal nutritional value and are best left on the shelf.
However, it’s not only foods that can affect magnesium levels, soft drinks and sports drinks contain high levels of phosphoric acid which can affect magnesium absorption. Water is the best option for children. Remember children often mimic what their parents or carers do, so try to lead by example and have plenty of fresh water within easy access, or pack water bottles when away from the home.
Magnesium is easily lost through body fluids such as sweat, so children who are frequently active or involved in extracurricular sport activities, may require more magnesium than those children who have more sedentary lifestyles. Illness can also influence magnesium levels, diarrhoea and vomiting may leave the body depleted of magnesium due to fluid loss.
Magnesium is an essential part of chlorophyll, which gives plants their green colour. This would explain why green leafy vegetables are so full of magnesium. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale top the list for magnesium content, however broccoli, avocados, pepitas, wholegrains, nuts and legumes are all great sources as well.
Sources of magnesium:
- Green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale
- Pumpkin seeds, Flax seeds, Brazil nuts
- Whole grain bread
Snack ideas for a magnesium boost:
- Smashed avocado on wholegrain toast
- Fruit smoothie with baby spinach
- Almond or peanut butter on whole grain crackers
Remember, if you are in any way concerned about your child and their health, seek the advice of a health professional who can give you a personalised health plan, specific for your child’s needs.
2. Schwalfenber, GK. (2017). The Importance of Magnesium in Clinical Healthcare. Hindawi, doi.org/10.1155/2017/4179326
4. Black LJ et al.(2014). Low dietary intake of magnesium is associated with increased externalising behaviour in adolescents. Public Health Nutrition, 18(10), 1824-30.doi: 10.1017/S1368980014002432