Could your choices in foods, like vegetables, breads and snacks really affect your health risks? Yes, of course. But recent studies highlight a reason that you probably wouldn’t think of: Adequate amounts of magnesium could reduce the risk of diabetes by 10 to 34 percent.
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In a study of over 39,000 women, those who were getting the most magnesium had an 11 percent lower risk of developing diabetes six years later than those who got the least. Among overweight women the magnesium impact was even stronger: Risk fell more than 20 percent.
In two other studies of more than 85,000 women and 42,000 men, individuals who consumed the most magnesium lowered their risk of developing diabetes more than 30 percent during the next 12 to 18 years compared to those who consumed the least amount. After adjusting for other influences on diabetes, like weight, exercise and family history, in all three studies, this beneficial effect of magnesium was evident.
Magnesium may impact action of insulin
The conclusions of these three studies are generally supported by earlier large population studies. Laboratory studies suggest that magnesium influences the action of insulin in the body. A lack of magnesium may worsen insulin resistance, triggering the onset of diabetes.
Magnesium may also affect other health conditions. Adequate magnesium may lower the risk of osteoporosis and play a role in blood pressure control. Although magnesium lacks a direct link so far to cancer prevention, foods that are good sources of magnesium supply nutrients and phytochemicals that help protect against cancer. If you create an eating pattern that provides magnesium through food, rather than supplements, you will help lower your risk for essentially all of today’s top health risks, heart disease and stroke included.
To obtain this protection, extremely high levels of magnesium are unnecessary. In all three of the latest studies, the big difference in diabetes risk lies between people who met the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) and those who stayed below it. There was little, if any, advantage for those who consumed well beyond the RDA amount.
The current RDA for magnesium is 310-320 milligrams (mg) for adult women, and 400-420 mg for adult men. Average intake among Americans tends to lag about 100 mg below these recommended levels. Those most likely to have low blood levels include the elderly and those who take diuretic medications, which increase the excretion of magnesium.
Natural food sources
The best food sources of magnesium are green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts and dried beans. Meat, milk and other starches are moderate suppliers. Because refined foods have the least, magnesium intake has dropped since we now eat more refined and processed foods than ever.
Simple substitutions in basic food choices can add that missing 100 mg of magnesium. A cup of iceberg lettuce, a nutrient-poor leafy vegetable, has 4 mg of magnesium, while romaine lettuce contains 8 mg and spinach leaves 24 mg. Instead of a refined cereal with 7 or 8 mg, have shredded wheat or another whole-grain cereal (24 to 60 mg). Switch from a sandwich with 2 slices of white bread (12 to 22 mg) to whole-wheat bread (48 mg). Instead of snacking on a few crackers that provide 3 mg, have a small handful of nuts with 50 to 86 mg. Remember that nuts are calorie-dense, so watch your portion size. Using dried beans in salads and mixed dishes is another easy way to add 40 to 50 mg or more of magnesium.
The impact of making these healthy food choices goes well beyond adding more magnesium to your diet. The vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemical in these higher-magnesium choices help fight cancer and heart disease, while boosting your overall health.
Nutrition Notes is provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C.
© 2013 MSNBC Interactive Reprints