Important Minerals, Magnesium, Zinc, Calcium

June 17, 2017

We’re sharing the background on why magnesium, zinc, and calcium are important for your body to function. Listen in for signs that you’re getting enough of these minerals and signs, like charley horses, brittle nails, insomnia or migraines, that you may be deficient.

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Brenna: Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition. I am Brenna Thompson, licensed and registered dietitian and this show is brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness, a company specializing in life-changing nutrition education and counseling. Each week we bring you information on how eating real foods in balance can help to heal your body and boost your metabolism. As a dietitian I get to work one on one with clients in our North Oaks and St. Paul offices. I also love to teach many of our community and corporate classes. One of those classes just happens to be all about minerals. Does that surprise you? A nutrition company that teaches a class solely dedicated to minerals? Things like zinc, magnesium, calcium, iron.

Kate: It doesn’t surprise me. They can give you energy. Think of that iron, when you’re low in iron, boy do you drag. Minerals can help you build bones and teeth, obviously we think of calcium. And some minerals keep your muscles working, I think of magnesium and potassium. Kind of funkier, little minerals. Oh hey, I’m Kate. I’m Kate Crosby certified nutrition specialist, and I also see clients in the Nutritional Weight & Wellness North Oaks office. As a nutritionist I know how important each and every mineral is to our body. While every mineral is important, we only have time today to discuss three of them – magnesium, zinc, and calcium.

Brenna:  What exactly is a mineral? Think back to your high school chemistry class, do you remember looking up on the wall and seeing the big periodic table of elements? Starting with hydrogen and helium. In the middle of that chart are all the different minerals.

Kate: Let’s start with magnesium first. Our magic mineral. I love to think of magnesium as the relaxing mineral. Long time listeners have probably heard us talk about magnesium because we often bring it up, for good reason.

Brenna: I remember learning in my college course on advanced nutrition, kind of a dry subject but we actually had to draw the Krebs cycle. So we had this big poster board, I actually kept it over my bed in college. I know, I was a little bit of a nerd. But, as I thought back as I was thinking about this show, I thought back to this Krebs cycle and I remember that we used the color brown for magnesium and I thought of how many times we had to use the brown colored pencil in that cycle.

Kate: Which means you needed a lot of magnesium to make energy.

Brenna: Right. Magnesium is used in over 300 metabolic processes so it’s very important to helping our body turn those proteins, fats and carbohydrates into energy. The foods that we eat go through that Krebs cycle and that’s how we turn foods into energy. That’s pretty significant.

Kate: So, how would you know if you don’t have enough magnesium? It’s an element that’s really, really important for energy. Low magnesium levels sometimes means poor athletic performance. Often it means fatigue as well.

Brenna: Or it means muscle cramps as well. I think all of the nutritional weight and wellness nutritionists have been taught that if a client has muscle cramps, charley horses, migraines, or just chronic headaches, maybe it doesn’t get to the migraine point, but it’s always there. Or insomnia, or you struggle with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or unbalanced blood sugars. If you have any of those health conditions or symptoms they you are probably low in magnesium.

Kate: There you go. You can sort of see why it’s called the relaxing mineral. It relaxes your blood vessels, so lowers your blood pressure. It relaxes your head muscles or brain to get rid of those headaches or migraines. It relaxes the muscles in your calves so you don’t wake up in the middle of the night with those Charley horses. And boy, I’ve been hearing a lot about Charley horses as people are sleeping lately. Another thing magnesium is really helpful for is mood, think anxiety or depression. So if you suffer from anxiety or depression than you are probably short on magnesium. In fact there’s a piece of research published just this year in the journal Nutrients shows a correlation between magnesium supplementation and a reduction in anxiety. I use this supplement all the time for clients that have panic attacks and any of the rest of us who just worry too much.

Brenna: That monkey mind or recycled thoughts.

Kate: it does so much, right away. It is one of those supplements that I find clients feel right away. Which makes it easier for them to continue using it.

Brenna: Kate, I think we may have forgotten one other symptom that people low in magnesium often experience. Chocolate cravings. I know that one! So I used to run a lot in high school, or college and even after that. We lived in Georgia for about three years and I was telling Kate this morning I would go for runs, 4 miles or so and I’d weigh myself before or after and I would lose three pounds in sweat. So when we sweat a lot we lose our minerals. So I was losing a lot of calcium, magnesium and zinc through my sweat. But the symptoms that I had through this low magnesium would be things like leg cramps, not just in one leg, but in both of them, in the middle of the night. I had a hard time falling asleep, I’d lay there and stare at the ceiling and I craved chocolate. Not just like “Oh a little chocolate would be nice.” No. I looked at Ryan one night, specifically remembering this going “Oh, honey, doesn’t a chocolate brownie brownie, with chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce sound really good right now?” He was like “Who are you?”

Kate: What happened when you came to work at Nutritional Weight & Wellness?

Brenna: I started to make eating real foods, high in magnesium, things like fish, salmon, more nuts and seeds. Greens, a wide variety of greens. Not just things like romaine lettuce. Swiss chard, spinach, kale. I made eating those foods a priority, building magnesium back up. And I avoided foods that will deplete my body of magnesium. I never drank soda, but that would do it. But you know, splitting a bottle of wine on Friday and Saturday nights that is certainly not going to help. But, I also started to supplement with about 400mg of magnesium at bed time. Wouldn’t you know it, I slept better, I didn’t have cramps in my calves, and my chocolate cravings went away. Not immediately, but over the course of a year and half or so, I noticed that I didn’t need to have it. I still enjoy it.

Kate: Perhaps listeners are wondering what foods are high in magnesium. Of course, if you guessed chocolate, you would be right. But eating a little chocolate is not going to help build up your magnesium reserves. Meat, especially grass-fed meat is high in magnesium. So how does that work, well we get minerals from our soil and when you feed cows grasses, the grass is much higher in magnesium, so will the meat of that cow. Much higher than if you fed the cows the corn or soy like the commercially raised beef. Grass-fed beef is also a little higher in omega-3 as well.


Brenna: Before break, we’d been talking about magnesium and you’d been mentioning how grass-fed beef, because the cow is out there eating his own leafy greens, is greater in magnesium that corn fed. Now we as people can get more people by eating our leafy green vegetables like kale, collards, Swiss chard, arugula, and spinach are all high in magnesium. 

Kate: Exactly what I had this morning with my eggs.

Brenna: I had some spinach with my beef this morning. Now if you came over to my garden, I don’t have any spinach growing but we do have arugula. We also have turnips and beets, and people might not think about this but you can eat turnip greens and beet greens. You just sauté them in some butter with a little garlic and you would get some tasty magnesium. Or you could go to the farmers market and get some greens.

Kate: A few other foods are also high in magnesium are avocados. Including avocados in a meal, pretty easy to do. Nuts and seeds are high in magnesium, so are dried beans like black beans, lentils or kidney beans. The point being, you really have to ask yourself “How am I going to include these foods in my diet every day?” One idea that’s maybe a little unusual for some people is to include an avocado in their protein shake for instance. It’s a great source of fat but it’s also got a lot of magnesium in it.

Brenna: It does, but it also helps really thicken up those shakes which I think makes them more filling. Now we can’t just eat a small spinach salad once a week to get your magnesium. It takes planning and cooking, daily.

Kate: But we could eat a large steak salad several times a week and top it with avocado and ½ cup of black beans for a magnesium packed lunch. About 400 mg in that!

Brenna: And for supper we could grill some chicken and have a side of cooked winter squash (acorn, butternut, gold nugget squash). One of the easiest ways to cook that is put it in your slow-cooker, whole. You don’t even have to poke a hole in the darn thing. Maybe put about 1 cup of water to the bottom, put it on high for three hours and it’s done. And it doesn’t take a machete to cut into the thing. So you have your chicken, some squash, get some green beans and throw some slivered almonds on top. The squash and the almonds they’re high in magnesium so now you’ve got another 250 mg of magnesium just in that meal.

Kate: That sounds very good and doesn’t sound too complicated. You might be wondering. Do those amounts sound like a lot or a little? 250mg and 400mg. We tell people that most people need between 700-1200mg of magnesium each day. So you’ve got to be thinking about it.

Brenna: Even if people are eating a diet high in magnesium, is it still possible to become low in magnesium?

Kate: It certainly is possible. Sometimes you might not be able to absorb all that magnesium from your food and also, if you’re eating foods high in sugar or drinking excessive amounts of coffee or alcohol, these foods pull these magnesium out of our body. You’ve got to be careful of what you drink to support absorption.

Brenna: So does this mean that to support good sleep, fewer muscle cramps, and better moods, you might need to give up you mocha lattes loaded with caffeine and sugar, and your nightly cookies or cocktails in order to stop depleting your body of magnesium?

Kate: Probably you’re going to have to reconsider those. As nutritionists we frequently recommend clients not only eat a diet high in magnesium with all those nuts, seeds, greens and grass fed meats, but that they also supplement with magnesium. I often have clients take 400mg of magnesium glycinate before bed to help them fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer and have a deeper sleep. And those 400mg of magnesium is going to reduce those muscle cramps. It happens very quickly.

Brenna: Now we did have a caller over break, she didn’t want to come on the show but she had mentioned that magnesium didn’t help her relax.

Kate: And she wanted to take it during the day. Which is fine. I take it throughout the day and then load it up at night.

Brenna: Ok, because you need a lot of magnesium, you’re taking way more than 400mg. Which is fine.

Kate: You figure out what you need. Some days you need more than other days, if you’re sweating a lot you’re going to need a lot more. Just the other day we had a client come in to the North Oaks office to shop and she was loading up on magnesium and I asked her about it. She said she was having Charley horses and leg cramps at night and so she started to take about three magnesium glycinate at night and she said they’ve diminished but haven’t disappeared. I suggested that she could take more than that and she’s very excited that she will go back and get rid of them all together by taking more. Magnesium really works and as I’ve said before, you feel it, because it either relaxes you or you get rid of your headache or your muscle cramps diminish.

Brenna: If someone struggles with high blood pressure and constipation I might recommend two capsules of mixed magnesium, this is just another form, we had mentioned magnesium glycinate. Mixes magnesium has both the glycinate form and the citrate form in it. It’s the magnesium citrate that helps pull water into the bowels and soften stools. So magnesium kind of helps that colon relax instead of being so tight and constipated. It also helps get your stools a little bit softer so they’re easier to pass.

Kate: Listeners, are you thinking, I can’t swallow that many capsules! Or we had a caller who said she couldn’t take a tablet, but if it was a capsule she would break it in half and dump it in some water. But a better solution for that caller might be our liquid magnesium. It’s great for little kids or people who can’t swallow that many capsules or tablets. And it tastes really good.

Brenna: It tastes apple juice.

Kate: Yes, it’s got this interesting flavor. A tablespoon of this contains 250mg of magnesium. It’s such a simple way to get your magnesium. I’m really glad we’ve come up with that one.

Brenna: I’m a big fan of, for people who can’t swallow capsules, the natural calm. It’s a powdered form of magnesium, it is just a citrate form so you have to be a little bit careful because remember the citrate form is the kind that loosens stools.


Kate: We also had a caller over break who was wondering about Epson salt baths. Epson salt is another way of getting some magnesium by taking it as a bath, it goes through your skin. And as you pointed out Brenna it has a little calcium. It is a fantastic way to get your muscles to relax, get relaxed before going to bed. Often I will take an Epson salt bath after working out to make sure that I have a deep sleep.

Brenna: To make sure we get through all of this I think we should move on and talk about one of the most frequently asked question female clients ask, “Should I be taking calcium for my bones?”

Kate: That’s a good question, and I generally say yes, because calcium does a lot more in our bodies than just build bones.

Brenna: That’s right, similar to magnesium, calcium is needed to help prevent muscle cramps and lower blood pressure. In fact low calcium levels have been correlated to preeclampsia in pregnant women.

Kate: So explain that one.

Brenna: So preeclampsia occurs after twenty weeks of pregnancy and it’s where a woman’s blood pressure goes very high, there is protein in her urine which should not be there and it can lead to poor liver and kidney function, fluid retention because if you’re not getting rid of these fluids and they build up, you puff up and ultimately it can lead to seizures and death. This is not something to mess around with. Worldwide in 2015 there were 47,000 deaths related to preeclampsia. However, studies have shown that supplementing with 1000mg helps lower blood pressure and prevent preeclampsia.

Kate: Calcium is very important for pregnancy. Here’s another way you can tell if you’re low on calcium – do your nails chip a lot? Maybe you are always getting them painted or having fake nails put on. These brittle nails are a sign of low calcium.

Brenna: This makes me think of Shirley, who works the front desk in North Oaks for us. I think it was last summer and she had been switching up her supplements and she tried a different calcium and said “Brenna, my nails are chipping. They weren’t chipping before.” So we had her restart the activated calcium and wouldn’t you know it, a month or two later they were nice and strong again.

I think we have all heard that we should drink milk and eat cheese and yogurt to get our daily dose of calcium. But Kate, I know you can’t do that.

Kate: Right, I’m dairy sensitive. That doesn’t work for me.

Brenna: Or maybe someone is lactose intolerant or have other kinds of dairy sensitivities and can’t eat these foods. What would you recommend people who don’t tolerate dairy?

Kate: Calcium is found in many of the same foods as magnesium. Green leafy vegetables, kale, spinach and broccoli, winter squash, dry beans, and almonds. Think a ¼ cup of almonds has 150mg of calcium in it. Not bad.

Brenna: One of my favorite ways to make sure I am eating a meal full of calcium is to eat canned sardines or canned salmon that still have the bones in it. I love these things. Stinky, fermented fishy things, I love. Don’t worry you won’t even notice you are eating the bones, they disintegrate when you mash them up. The sardines you don’t even have to mash them up, you don’t even know they are there.

Kate: That canned salmon is one of my backup foods. I always have a can around. It’s an easy meal, quick, quick, quick. So, how much? It is recommended that people get about 800mg of calcium daily. Not too much, but not too little.

Brenna: Someone could easily get 300mg by eating a cup of plain yogurt for breakfast. Are you saying “Ick plain yogurt, what about vanilla yogurt?” Vanilla has a lot of sugar in it. I have a lot clients that say “What about that plain vanilla yogurt?” No, no, no, no, that is not plain. Plain is the stuff your great grandma Ethel would have eaten. Yogurt that is flavored vanilla is full of sugar and not going to support your body to its fullest. To make that plain yogurt taste good, we’d always recommend full fat, because fat has flavor and will help support your blood sugar levels, improve your digestion, support your moods. All good things.

Kate: Then you can just add some fruit to it, like berries which are perfect right now, they’re so tasty and ripe, peaches soon. Those would taste great with full fat yogurt, and some slivered almonds which are also a good sources of calcium.

Brenna: What might you be willing to pack for lunch that would be a high calcium meal?

Kate: How about a kale salad for lunch. Two cups of raw kale has 400mg of calcium.

Brenna: Half a days’ worth, just with kale! Top that kale with a serving of the salmon salad supreme recipe from our website and you can add another 200mg of calcium. That’s a 600mg calcium lunch!

Kate: Just between breakfast with the yogurt and lunch with the salmon kale salad we have already had 900mg of calcium. And we haven’t been trying too hard. That sounds like a really good way to start your day.

Brenna: Kate, listeners might still be thinking, “But my doctor said I should take a calcium supplement.” Let’s take a minute and discuss the differences between high quality and low quality calcium.

Kate: So let’s look at different forms of calcium. This is really important when you’re buying a calcium supplement you need to look at what form of calcium am I buying? Because they are not created equal. One of the best forms is Microcrystaline Hydroxyapatite Calcium, that’s a mouthful, we will shorten it, MCHC. Our NutriKey brand, activated calcium, three capsules of that activated calcium contains 700mg of calcium. Now, what’s the beauty of this? This MCHC calcium is identical to human bone, it’s from cows and actually increases bone mass. I need to say that again, it increases bone mass. Other forms of calcium just slow down bone density. MCHC is going to really increase that bone mass and it’s really easily absorbed. That is a good superior form of calcium.

Brenna: Much superior to what I used to take in High School. Do you remember the calcium chews? I would buy those to get my calcium. They are made with calcium carbonate.

Kate: Explain why that doesn’t work.

Brenna: Calcium carbonate is the cheapest and lowest quality form of calcium on the market. Not what we want. And it’s very poorly absorbed. If you think of Tums, you know, the antacid, Tums is made from calcium and I have heard doctors tell clients to just take some Tums, it’s fine.

Kate: It is not fine.

Brenna: It is not fine because it is an antacid and you need acid in your stomach to absorb your calcium. So it does not work.

Kate: So this calcium carbonate is not good, very inferior. In addition Brenna, there are a couple things we have to stay away from, things we like very much. Certain beverages that we enjoy but you have to be careful not to drink too much of them because it will affect your calcium absorption.

Brenna: Are you talking about coffee? 

Kate: That I am. Maybe having on to two cups of coffee a day is ok, but drinking it all day long will decrease absorption of calcium, and increase its excretion. Coffee is going to be pulling coffee out of you. As women who are concerned with our long term bone strength I know we both limit our coffee and caffeine.


Kate: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness and we were talking about real food snack ideas. And both Brenna and I are going to give you a few ideas of easy snacks you can do. One of my favorite snacks is more lunch. Often when I got to work I just pack a huge lunch and I’ll have half of my lunch, or half of a normal lunch size. Salad with chicken, lots of veggies, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado and maybe some gluten free crackers. I’ll eat that for my snack maybe around three. I bring extra. I don’t like thinking about extra things, simple.

Brenna: Another frequent snack for me is veggies, hummus and some kind of meat. Leftover rotisserie chicken or whatever. Kate, you were in the office last week and I asked what you were eating and it was snap peas and rotisserie chicken. It’s real exciting but it’s real food and it works. So talking about magnesium and calcium. We were just talking about how antacid medications decrease our absorption of calcium. But they are also going to decrease our abortion of magnesium and our B vitamins. So if you’ve got gut problems we need to fix your gut so you can absorb your nutrients.

Brenna: The last mineral we’re going to talk about today is zinc. I’m going to guess that not many people are thinking about zinc during these warm summer months.

Kate: Most of the time we think of zinc in the winter because it’s such a great one at boosting your immune system. And we think of flu and cold season in the winter. But you might not realize that even though it’s not winter or flu season, you’re probably deficient in zinc. About 73% of Americans are deficient in zinc. Actually kids are more deficient than us adults, 83% of kids are deficient. How would you know if you were deficient in zinc?

Brenna: Let us ask a few questions to help you find out. Do you crave sweets after meals, or do you feel the need to salt all of your food? 

Kate: There is a high concentration of zinc in the appetite regulating part of our brain, so if we are low in zinc, our appetites and taste preferences can be altered you may not be hungry for breakfast for instance or you crave those sweets.

Brenna: Take a look at your nails, we mentioned earlier that if they chip easily and are brittle that can be a sign of low calcium. But do you have white spots on your nails? This is another sign of a zinc deficiency.

Kate: How well is your immune system working? Is it strong, or do you catch every bug that goes around your office? Again, poor immune function can point to a zinc deficiency. 

Brenna: Just a few more symptoms for you, do you struggle with acne? Studies have shown that supplementing with zinc works just as well as taking antibiotics for acne. Zinc reduces the inflammatory response to bacteria on our skin. They’ve also found that when they take the bacteria that causes acne and they have it in a little petri-dish and they add zinc to it, it kills the bacteria.

Kate: Think about that for your teenage son. Hand him a hamburger, maybe give him a little zinc supplement and that may be the end of acne for him. Maybe zinc deficiency be contributing to poor fertility? This might be new information, but ovaries need zinc to produce healthy eggs, and men need a lot of zinc to make healthy sperm and to have a healthy prostate. A prostate tissue requires ten to fifteen time more zinc than other areas in your body.

Brenna: From this list of symptoms listeners might think that we need large quantities of zinc, but not really, compared to magnesium and calcium it’s actually a very small amount, only 11-13mg per day.

Kate: But it’s very easy to become low. Every time you catch a cold or get major infection or have surgery your body needs more zinc.

Brenna: If you sweat a lot through work or exercise. Especially this time of year, they’re running or at the beach, just lying on the beach sweating, or in the yard working. Our neighbor was having drain tile put in her basement and these three workers, these three gentlemen were carrying mixed concrete from upstairs down into her basement from about 7 in the morning until 9 at night. And they were drenched in sweat. She had offered them Gatorade, not that I like that, but she had the right idea here, she knew that they were going to be low in potassium, sodium and magnesium and knew that they would have muscle cramps tonight. But they’d only drink their water!

Kate: And think about teens when they’re exercising.

Brenna: All those soccer games this summer or baseball games. When we sweat, we sweat out zinc.

Kate: Really there are lots of ways to lose zinc, and there are very few foods high in zinc. Lamb and beef contain between 4-7mg per 3oz serving. Compared to chicken which only contains 1mg.

Brenna: Or ½ cup of beans or 1 cup of yogurt or ¼ cup of pumpkin seeds has about 2 mg.

Kate: So you’ve got to add up a lot of food here to get that recommended amount of zinc. To get close to 11-13mg of zinc from their diet they really have to be diligent about eating enough protein. We didn’t mention the best source which is actually oysters. A 3oz serving contains 74mg of zinc. That’s a really easy way to grab some.

Brenna: Once a week or every other week I do buy these smoked oysters and put those on a couple of crackers with a little cream cheese. It’s fantastic. So someone wanting to increase their zinc intake might want to consider opening a can of oysters a couple times a week and serve them with raw veggies and hummus or the crackers and cream cheese.

Kate: Or they might want to just make a few more beef steaks on the grill at supper. And if they feel like they want a supplement, I personally take our NutriKey supplement, just called Zinc, each capsule contains about 54mg of a reactive zinc, it’s very absorbable. I usually recommend taking one of those at night, all through the winter and continue spring and summer. Because that zinc is really important.

Brenna: I was thinking, besides people who are sweating a lot or they have acne or low immune function, a group of people I think of that would be low in zinc would be the elderly or vegetarians because they aren’t eating the beef, the lamb and the oysters.

Kate: Pumpkin seeds are also a great source of zinc, one of my favorite foods and you know zinc is also effects the thyroid so it’s important for being able to convert one kind of a thyroid hormone into an active thyroid hormone and so it’s pretty important that you look at your zinc levels and maybe supplement with that.

Brenna: That’s a really good point. And we had mentioned that you need 11-13mg of zinc but that our supplement is 54mg, that seems like a big difference but you need a lot of zinc to rebuild yourself when you’re deficient. It’s time to wrap up today's show, I hope we have given all our listeners a new appreciation for how important minerals are to our health.

Kate:  If you are struggling with symptoms of any of these mineral deficiencies let me suggest making an appointment with a Nutritional Weight & Wellness nutritionist, just call the office at 651-699-3438.

Brenna: Thank you for listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. If you found this show interesting, please share it with a friend or family member. Our message each week is how eating real food supports your health. It is a simple but a powerful life-changing message. Be sure to tune in next week when Cassie and JoAnn are joined by our supplement superhero, Greg Peterson. He’ll be talking about all things prostate and about how estrogen impacts that prostate health. 

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