Why magnesium is important for fussy eaters
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. It is critically important to enable us to function optimally.
Unfortunately, estimates are that approx. 50% of adults are deficient in magnesium.
If we have a child who is not eating widely, it is more likely that they are not getting the full spread of vitamins and minerals necessary to keep the body functioning at its best.
However, blood tests ordered by GP’s tend to focus on whether iron is deficient and not some of the minerals like zinc and magnesium that can also affect function.
Magnesium is an important micromineral that we need to consume in relatively large amounts. Every cell in the body needs it to function. However, it also has a critical role as a co-factor.
Magnesium is necessary for hundreds of biochemical reactions in the body. This means that a deficiency in magnesium can also affect how effective other minerals ingested are.
Sixty per cent of magnesium in the body is found in the bones, but it is also important for the health of other bodily systems and processes. It is thought to help in boosting exercise performance, maintaining healthy sugar levels, reducing inflammation and heart health.
Magnesium is also important in regulating the neurotransmitters that transmit messages throughout the brain and wider nervous system. Further, it helps to produce energy, build proteins, and improve brain function.
There is also some evidence that magnesium may help reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms. Similarly, it may support better sleep as it regulates neurotransmitters involved in falling and staying asleep.
Signs of magnesium deficiency
In general, our bodies are amazing machines and can self-regulate even when given limited fuel. Although your child may appear to subsist on crackers and air, it is amazing how well their bodies can manage.
If, however, magnesium is low symptoms can include a loss of appetite, nausea and fatigue or weakness.
Boosting magnesium intake
There are many foods containing magnesium that can be a win for picky eaters. Others may present a bit more of a challenge for the fussy, but still be manageable with a little creativity.
Dietary sources of magnesium:
1. Seeds. Pumpkin, chia, and flax seeds all contain a good dose of magnesium. Some fussy eaters are okay eating pumpkin seeds (pepitas), as they are dry and crunchy.
If not, they can be dry toasted or fried with seasonings like soy sauce. Or, seeds are a good addition to cereals, muesli bars or cookies.
You can also grind seeds into a flour and then substitute for a portion of flour in baking. I use ground linseeds (flax) as a thickener in sauces and meatballs or as an egg substitute. Chia seeds can be used in puddings or jams too.
2. Nuts. Almonds, cashews, and brazil nuts are great sources of magnesium. Like seeds, they are dry and crunchy so can be accepted by picky eaters. If not, they can be ground and added as a flour substitute in baking.
3. Peanut butter. Yeah, a fussy eater favourite. Many picky eaters are okay with peanut butter which is a great source of protein, good fats, and magnesium.
4. Green leafy veg. These are often more of a challenge for picky eaters. For some children raw baby spinach leaves are accepted as texturally they are easier than lettuce or cooked greens.
We may also be able to add greens to some baking or smoothies.
5. Beans & peas. Again, these may be more difficult for many children. However, roasted chickpeas make a good, dry, crunchy snack. Or, both chickpeas and black beans can be used in certain recipes instead of flour.
Baked beans also provide magnesium and can be an easier sell for many picky eaters. Or frozen peas may be worth a whirl as there is none of the soft, mushy texture which is often a challenge for fussy eaters.
6. Whole wheat. Whole wheat products like bread, or crackers are a source of magnesium. If you have a child who is happy eating a range of bread or baked products then using wholewheat flour helps boost magnesium.
Wholemeal spelt pasta is also worth looking for, for those pasta eaters. I have made this for the most selective of eaters and had it accepted as it’s very soft and even the colour is quite close to white pastas.
7. Oatmeal/bran. I buy wholegrain oats but frequently put them in my spice grinder (coffee grinder would work), to make into smaller flakes or flour. That way I have the nutrients of the wholegrain, but the flexibility of use.
Porridge or muesli may be okay as a breakfast option. Or oats can be used in baking, everything from muffins to cookies to muesli bars.
I use oat bran as a thickener for sauces or to absorb moisture in recipes like meatballs or fritters.
8. Fortified breakfast cereals. Many cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals, so check on the box to see if your child’s favourite one comes with magnesium added.
9. Rice. Brown rice has more magnesium than white rice, but both contain the mineral.
10. Potatoes with the skin. If you have a potato eater, then leaving the skin on boosts many of the nutrients that a potato contains. Wedges or jacket potatoes are both great ways to keep the skin on but have a delicious option.
11. Salmon. Oily fish is a good source of magnesium. Although not super popular among fussy eaters, I do know of a fair number of children who do accept salmon.
12. Avocado. Again, avocado is accepted by a surprising number of fussy eaters. If it’s not a favourite, it can often be added to smoothies or baking.
13. Dairy. Milk, cheese, and yoghurt do contain magnesium, and these are often easier foods for picky eaters to accept.
14. Bananas. Bananas are a great source of quite a few minerals, including magnesium. If they are not accepted as is, sometimes it’s okay to add to baking as a sugar substitute or in banana cake or muffins.
15. Raisins. Again, these are fairly popular among fussy eaters.
16. Dark chocolate. Saving the best for almost last Dark chocolate contains a variety of nutrients. If dark chocolate is too bitter eaten on its own, it can be broken up and added to baking with sweeteners to make it more palatable.
Other foods do contain magnesium in smaller quantities like apple, broccoli, carrot, beef, and chicken.
If your child is consuming a range of these foods then you can probably breathe a little easier. If not then supplementation may be an option. Either choosing an ingestible product or a topical one.
Many people use either Epsom salts in the bath or magnesium oils as a way to boost levels, however, ingestible tablets are proven to be the most effective way to increase magnesium levels if dietary intake is low.
Judith, MA Cantab, is an AOTA accredited picky eating advisor and internationally certified nutritional therapist. She works with 100+ families every year resolving fussy eating and returning pleasure and joy to the meal table.
She is also mum to two boys and the author of Creating Confident Eaters and Winner Winner I Eat Dinner. Her dream is that every child is able to approach food from a place of safety and joy, not fear.
Learn more about Judith here: https://theconfidenteater.com/about/