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Food First: Mighty Magnesium

Magnesium can indeed be referred as being “mighty” since it is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions – from nerve and muscle function to blood pressure regulation and bone and teeth formation. Since magnesium is a major mineral, it is thus required in greater quantities than some trace minerals like zinc or iron [i].

Daily Recommendations

  • Women age 19 and older: 310-390 mg/day
  • Men age 19 and older: 400-420 mg/day


Magnesium Deficiency

The good news is that magnesium deficiency is rare but the risk is increased in cancer, particularly among patients receiving platinum based chemotherapy drugs such as cisplatin or carboplatin. These drugs damage the kidneys which in turn results in poor preservation of magnesium levels in the body. Thus, it is so important to remain hydrated during chemotherapy treatments and beyond, so that these harmful drugs can be quickly filtered out of the body. In addition, treatment side effects can also play a role in magnesium deficiency, as frequent nausea, vomiting and diarrhea quickly deplete the body’s magnesium stores [ii].

The symptoms of magnesium deficiency can commonly mimic the side effects of chemotherapy drugs which can make diagnosis and treatment very challenging. Typically, your doctor will keep a close eye on the body’s serum magnesium levels throughout treatment but being aware of the signs of deficiency can be helpful especially when navigating cancer treatment.

Pay particular attention to the early signs of the deficiency which might include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue and weakness. Signs of a more serious deficiency include numbness, tingling, muscle contractions, muscle cramps, seizures, abnormal heart rate and personality changes [iii]. Low magnesium levels, as a result of chemotherapy drugs can last for up to 6 years following treatment. It is therefore very important to keep track of any signs and symptoms and report them to your doctor immediately [iv].


Magnesium in the Diet

The most common food sources of magnesium are:

  • Tofu
  • Legumes
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Pine nuts

Additionally, magnesium is added to some breakfast cereals and other fortified foods [v].

An easy way of incorporating magnesium in the diet would be through our Thai Chili Stir Fry with Crispy Tofu, Cashews and Kale recipe. Our stir fry is a good-for-you, delicious and easy-to-make dish, especially during summer.



Magnesium is extremely vital for the proper functioning of the body and an overdose through dietary sources is unlikely since the excess consumed in food is eliminated in urine. Thus, it is better to focus on a healthful, balanced diet to meet the daily requirements of this mineral.


** If instructed by a medical professional to take a vitamin or mineral supplement, it is important that these instructions are followed. In some cases, food sources of vitamins and minerals will not be sufficient for addressing nutritional inadequacies. **

[i] Kohn, Jill. “What Is Magnesium?” Eat Right. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics., Eatright.org., 20 Dec. 2017, www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/magnesium.
[ii] Oronsky B, Caroen S, Oronsky A, et al. Electrolyte disorders with platinum-based chemotherapy: mechanisms, manifestations and management. Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 2017;80(5):895-907.
[iii] “Office of Dietary Supplements – Magnesium.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2 Mar. 2018, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/#h5.
[iv] Saif, Muhammad Wasif. “Management of hypomagnesemia in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.” J Support Oncol 6.5 (2008): 243-8
[v] “Food Sources of Magnesium.” Dietitians of Canada, 28 Oct. 2016, www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Minerals/Food-Sources-of-Magnesium.aspx.
Thai Chili Stir Fry with Crispy Tofu, Cashews and Kale
For the sauce
  1. 4 tablespoons Thai Chili Paste
  2. 4 tablespoons water
  3. 1 tablespoon Cornstarch
  4. 1 tablespoon low-sodium Soy Sauce
For the stir-fry
  1. 16 ounces Extra-Firm Tofu
  2. 1 tablespoon Cornstarch
  3. ½ teaspoon Salt
  4. ½ teaspoon Black Pepper
  5. 1 tablespoon Olive oil
  6. 4 cups roughly chopped Curly-Leaf Kale
  7. ½ cup Roasted, Unsalted Cashews
  8. Optional: whole grain rice or quinoa for serving
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  1. Whisk together all of the ingredients for the sauce and set aside. This sauce can be saved for up to a week if properly stored in the refrigerator.
  2. Drain the tofu and press as much liquid out as possible. Cut the tofu into cubes and press with paper towels to remove any additional liquid. Toss the tofu cubes with cornstarch, salt and pepper.
  3. Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil. When the oil begins to simmer, add tofu and sauté until the tofu is a deep golden brown and crispy on the outside (4-6 minutes). Transfer the tofu to a plate and return the wok to the heat.
  4. Add kale and water to the wok. Sauté until the kale is a bright green color and tender. Avoid overcooking the kale as it can become soggy. Add the cashews and sauté to heat through.
  5. Add the tofu back into the pan and pour over the sauce. Toss to ensure that all the ingredients are coated and continue to cook until the sauce thickens (about 1 minute).
  6. Serve with whole grain rice or quinoa and enjoy!
Adapted from Inquiring Chef
Adapted from Inquiring Chef
Savor Health https://savorhealth.com/
Rebecca MacLean

Rebecca MacLean is a dietetic intern and graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University. Rebecca received her undergraduate degree in Human Nutrition and Food Science with a minor in Sustainable Food Systems from the University of Maine. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys home cooking and spending as much time as possible in the outdoors. She currently resides in New York City.

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