Magnesium

Magnesium is essential for many of the daily processes that occur in the body, and its benefits are often more important than most of us realise. Here’s how you can incorporate this essential mineral into your family’s diet.

Magnesium is a vital component of a healthy human diet. About two-thirds of all magnesium in our body is found in our bones. Researchers have found that part of that magnesium helps give our bones their physical structure, while the other part acts as a storage site which the body can use in times of poor dietary supply. Magnesium, together with calcium, acts to help regulate the body’s nerve and muscle tone. It is also involved in the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats and it helps genes function properly.

The adult human daily nutritional requirement (which is affected by various factors including gender, weight and size) varies between 300mg and 400mg a day. Inadequate magnesium intake frequently causes muscle spasms and has been associated with a number of other problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety disorders, migraines and osteoporosis.

The most common symptom of excess oral magnesium intake is diarrhea and is most commonly seen in situations where magnesium is taken as a dietary supplement. Infants, who have less ability than adults to excrete excess magnesium even when healthy, should not be given magnesium supplements (unless prescribed by a professional). Too much magnesium may also make it difficult for the body to absorb calcium.

The role of magnesium in our body

•  helps us to absorb and utilise nutrients from food
•  helps convert blood sugar to energy
•  assists with correct muscle action
•  protects and maintains our nervous system
•  helps maintain correct acidity of our blood
•  assists in holding calcium in our bones and teeth
•  forms outer tooth enamel
•  helps regulate bone growth in children
•  helps control cholesterol levels

Although many foods contain magnesium, it is usually found in low levels. As with most nutrients, daily needs for magnesium are unlikely to be met by one serving of any single food. Eating a varied diet is essential to ensure adequate intake. Magnesium readily dissolves in water. As a result, refined foods, which are often processed or cooked in water and dried, are generally poor sources of magnesium. Blanching, steaming or boiling can result in a substantial loss of magnesium. For example, about one-third of the magnesium in spinach is lost after blanching. On the other hand, the loss that occurs from roasting nuts is minor.

Foods that are good sources of magnesium include:

  • Cocoa powder
  • Bananas, dried apricots, dried figs
  • Nuts
  • Spinach, peas, broccoli, beans
  • Sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds
  • Soy products
  • Whole grains (eg brown rice, wheat, buckwheat)
  • Dairy products
  • Legumes (eg black beans, lentils, pinto beans)

Cocoa powder is one of the highest food sources ofmagnesium and much-loved by most people, so a chocolate recipe seems in order. For this dessert I have combined dark chocolate, cocoa powder and nuts for a maximum magnesium boost!

When buying chocolate, keep in mind that dark chocolate, which contains more cocoa powder, contains more magnesium than other types of chocolate. As a self-confessed chocolate addict, I believe that when it comes to chocolate desserts using a good quality chocolate is of prime importance. There is no need to buy extremely expensive brands which are often more suitable for tasting in small quantities than for baking. But I recommend going for the standard dark chocolate blocks that are sold at the supermarkets over the so-called “baking chocolate”. Dark chocolate blocks usually have a cocoa content of between 50-65% which gives the best results in baking. Unfortunately, baking chocolate often does not contain a lot of cocoa solids, if at all, but tends to have hydrogenated vegetable fats and various artificial flavourings added instead, so its nutritional value is limited and is best avoided.

Chocolate should be handled with care. The best way to melt chocolate is to break it into small pieces and to place it in a bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water. No water needs to be added and the chocolate pieces should not be stirred. Just be patient, and within a short time all the pieces will be melted and ready for use. Do not overheat chocolate as it will become lumpy and lose its glossy appearance, and the taste will be affected.

When I was researching for my chocolate book I read this line, which made me laugh and has stuck with me since – “I have this theory that chocolate slows down the ageing process… It may not be true but do I dare take the chance?” Well, I know I don’t!

Although many foods contain magnesium, it is usually found in low levels. As with most nutrients, daily needs for magnesium are unlikely to be met by one serving of any single food. Eating a varied diet is essential to ensure adequate intake.

Baked chocolate creams

Serves 4

Ingredients
250g mascarpone cheese
200g sour cream
100g dark chocolate
2tbsp cocoa powder
2tbsp brown sugar
1tsp vanilla paste
or vanilla essence
2 egg yolks
2 eggs
A handful of shelled almonds
and hazelnuts

Directions
Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Break the chocolate into small pieces and melt in a bowl
set over a saucepan filled with gently with
simmering water.

Beat the sour cream and mascarpone cheese together. Mix in the melted chocolate until well combined. Add the cocoa powder, vanilla bean paste or vanilla essence and brown sugar. Beat in the egg yolks and whole eggs.

Divide this mixture between four individual ovenproof dishes. Place the dishes in a larger dish half-filled with water. Bake for 25 minutes or until just set. Leave to cool and refrigerate for at least four hours. Roughly chop the almonds and hazelnuts and roast in a frying pan. Sprinkle over the chocolate creams before serving.

Tip: baked creams are very simple to make, however it is also quite simple to ruin them by over-baking them. Using the bain-marie technique, which consists of partially immersing a smaller container filled with the mixture to be baked into a larger container filled with water helps avoid this. However, if the oven temperature is too high or if the creams are left to bake for too long they will curdle and lose their smooth, creamy texture, so be sure not to get distracted!

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