Food & Diet

Why Magnesium is Important for the Growth and Development of Kids

Written by Apurva Surve
Published: May 18, 2023
Apurva Surve is a consulting sports nutritionist and has more than 11 years of experience assisting fitness enthusiasts and athletes in achieving nutrition and performance goals. She has a bachelor's and master's degree in food science and nutrition, as well as an International Olympic Committee Post Graduate Diploma in Sports Nutrition.

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We, as parents, often focus on nutrients such as protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin D to promote the growth and development of our kids. Magnesium, the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body, is often overlooked in children’s diets. The average adult human body has 20-25g of magnesium – 60-70% of it in bones, 25-30% in muscles, 6-8% in soft tissues, and 1% in extracellular fluid. Magnesium is absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract and stored in bone mineral tissue. The extra magnesium passes through urine and faeces. 

Importance of magnesium in the human body

Magnesium is a crucial element, needed as a cofactor in more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. It helps our body perform numerous functions, including bone development, neuromuscular function, signalling pathways, energy storage transfer, glucose, lipid and protein metabolism, DNA and RNA stability, and cell proliferation. If you don’t have enough magnesium in your body, biological processes needing it may not work as efficiently. 

Let’s explore how magnesium is essential for kids.

  • Supports Growth & Energy Production

As we go about our daily lives, our bodies require constant energy for various functions. The molecule, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), serves as the body’s currency for energy. When a phosphate bond breaks from an ATP molecule, energy is released and utilised to support bodily processes. Magnesium plays a crucial role in stabilising the structure of ATP during ATP-dependent enzymatic reactions. Therefore, children, who lack energy, may be deficient in magnesium. Magnesium also plays a role in protein synthesis, enzymatic activity, cell growth, and regeneration – all crucial processes involved in growth and development.

During peak periods of growth, growing pains is a real struggle for many kids. Magnesium is effective in easing growing pains and plays a pivotal role in muscular activity, especially relaxation. Without it, our muscles may not be able to relax properly, leading to cramps, weakness, and even increased irritation in the nervous system.

  • Supports Bone Health

Did you know magnesium is just as essential as calcium for healthy bones? It helps absorb and metabolise calcium, converts vitamin D into the active form, and regulates hormones to promote bone growth and development. The hydroxyapatite mineral, a crystallised component of bone, contains between 50 to 60 % of magnesium on its surface. 

Magnesium, coupled with calcium and phosphorus, makes up the majority of the internal part of the structure of the bone matrix in adults. A significant fraction of magnesium is located on the surface of the bone and in the matrix of growing children’s bones. Magnesium also contributes to bone growth and health by taking part in the parathyroid gland signalling, which is responsible for calcium balance and bone tissue turnover. As a result, magnesium deficiency in children may result in rapid bone loss and a decline in bone growth.

  • Supports Brain Development and Neurological Function

Low levels of magnesium can have an impact on a child’s behaviour as well. Agitation, irritability, and attention difficulties are among the potential consequences. When kids are under physical or emotional stress, they may exhibit other symptoms of magnesium deficiency. That’s because magnesium is essential for the body to manage the stress response. From difficulty concentrating to trouble sleeping, these issues can be a real struggle for both kids and their parents. However, recent research suggests that boosting magnesium levels could be a simple and effective way to prevent and manage these challenges.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter that promotes calmness and sleep and is crucial to maintain a healthy neurological function. Magnesium is essential to maintain the levels of GABA. By maintaining GABA levels, magnesium could help keep kids calm, focused, and happy.

How does magnesium deficiency affect a kid’s growth and development? 

Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, lethargy, and weakness are early indicators of magnesium deficiency. Numbness, tingling, muscle contractions, cramps, seizures, rapid changes in behaviour caused by excessive electrical activity in the brain, personality changes, irregular heart rate, and coronary spasms may occur when magnesium deficiency progresses. 

Magnesium deficiency in children can result in hypoparathyroidism, hypocalcaemia, and poor bone formation, which can be particularly severe among kids under two years of age, during the rapid growth and development period. Because magnesium is essential for glucose metabolism, magnesium shortage has also been related to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. 

How much magnesium does your kid need? 

According to the National Institute of Nutrition and the Indian Council of Medical Research, children and adolescents should consume the following amounts of magnesium per day:

Age Group RDA
Children (1-3y) 90
Children (4-6y) 125
Children (7-9y) 175
Boys (10-12y) 240
Girls (10-12y) 250
Bovs (13-15y) 345
Girls (13-15y) 340
Boys (16-18y) 440
Girls ( l 6-l8y) 380

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Source: ICMR-NIN Expert Group on Nutrient Requirement for Indians, Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) and Estimated Average Requirements (EAR)-2020

What are the food sources of magnesium

Magnesium is found in many foods and is usually sufficient in an average diet. Seeds, legumes, nuts – almonds, cashews, and peanuts – whole grain bread, cereals, millets and dark chocolate are all rich in magnesium. Milk is also a reasonably good source of magnesium. However, the most regularly consumed fruits – oranges, apples, and bananas – are all low in magnesium.

Magnesium-rich foods chart

Foods Magnesium content (mg/100grams of edible portion)
Whole wheat flour 125
Broken Wheat (Dalia) 116
Jowar 133
Bajra 124
Ragi 146
Cowpea (Chawli) 213
Whole green moong 198
Rajma 179
Soyabean 259
Amaranth leaves 194
Spinach 8
Almonds 318
Walnuts 180

Source: Indian food composition tables. Hyderabad: ICMR-National Institute of Nutrition; 2017.


When it comes to food processing, certain methods can have a significant impact on the nutritional value of our food. For instance, refining grains can result in the reduction of magnesium content due to the removal of germ and bran. Diets that are high in vegetables and whole grains that have not been refined usually carry high levels of magnesium. Magnesium is also frequently added to a variety of breakfast cereals and other fortified foods to make up for any inadequacies. 

To ensure optimal magnesium intake for your child’s healthy growth and development, include magnesium-rich foods in their diet. Every kid is different, and their nutritional needs depend on their age, gender, and level of activity. Consult a qualified nutritionist to get a diet plan for your child that is healthy and well-balanced.

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The views expressed are that of the expert alone.

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