Eating a healthy, balanced diet that provides all the essential nutrients in appropriate quantities is crucial to preventing and managing type 2 diabetes. While all nutrients contribute to health, some are superior to others for regulating blood sugar, and magnesium is one such nutrient.
Magnesium is the fourth most common mineral in the body after calcium, sodium, and potassium. Your body needs it for more than 300 chemical reactions, including making protein, producing energy, regulating blood pressure, and of course, controlling blood sugar. Magnesium controls blood sugar by making the cells in your body more sensitive to insulin and promoting insulin secretion from the beta cells in the pancreas.
If you are deficient or don’t eat enough magnesium, the cells in your body are less able to absorb glucose from your bloodstream, your pancreas produces insufficient insulin, and insulin is less able to do its job, that is, removing excess glucose from the blood. All these factors lead to insulin resistance, a key player in type 2 diabetes. Many studies support magnesium’s role by showing that people with diabetes have lower magnesium levels than people without diabetes.
The daily recommended dietary intake (RDI) for magnesium is 420mg for men and 320mg for women, and you can easily get this by eating a wide range of plant foods. Magnesium is abundant in green leafy vegetables such as waterleaf, efo, afang, and hot leaf (uziza). It is also present in nuts and seeds, including almonds, cashews, sesame seeds (benniseed), sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.
Unrefined grains (brown rice, ofada rice, steel-cut oats) are a source of magnesium but refined and processed grains such as white rice, have lost up to 97% of their magnesium, making them poor sources. For this reason, it is better to rely on vegetables, fruits (bananas, pawpaw, guava, grapefruit), legumes (beans, lentils and peas), nuts and seeds for magnesium if you eat a lot of refined grains. It is also vital to reduce your alcohol, caffeine and sugar intake because they deplete the body’s magnesium stores.
Finally, it is best to get magnesium from food because unlike supplements, your body can easily remove excess. Excess magnesium intake from supplements can cause diarrhoea, low blood pressure, muscle weakness, confusion and poor kidney function. If you choose to use a supplement, take no more than 350mg daily.