Dietitians Say Greens Powders May Not Be Worth the Squeeze — Here’s Why |

Dietitians Say Greens Powders May Not Be Worth the Squeeze — Here’s Why

The number of greens powders you can choose from is overwhelming. If you’ve ever perused the greens powder section of the supplement aisle, you’ll know that the number of brands stocked on store shelves can be dizzying. Plus, many of these green powders tout various health benefits such as improved energy, increased immunity, improved circulation, and digestion. How do you know which is the best?

Starting with a look at the ingredients list is always an excellent place to start, but many green powders have 20 or even 50 to 70 ingredients, which can make you wonder if more is actually merrier in this case. Look no further. This article will explore what exactly is in a typical greens powder, whether you should be taking them regularly, and if they really provide all the health benefits that they claim to.

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Greens Powder, Explained

Greens powders are supplements made up of a mix of many ingredients including the powder, extract, or concentrate of various fruits and vegetables like papaya, pineapple, alfalfa, spinach, broccoli, and beetroot. However, you also will find various plants or ingredients (like extracts, algae, and herbs) added as well, including spirulina, green tea extract, chlorella, licorice root, milk thistle, and grape seed extract.

On top of that, oftentimes you’ll find added sources of fiber, prebiotics, and postbiotics, such as inulin and lactobacillus acidophilus. Some products may also add adaptogens like certain mushroom powders or extracts and digestive enzymes.

Typically these powders are designed to be taken daily and mixed with water, another liquid, or in smoothies. They do have an earthy, sometimes bitter, or even herb-like flavor. Although some people do like the flavor, oftentimes the unpleasant taste is a barrier to consumption. And the cost is typically rather pricey.

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Greens Powder Nutritional Profile

Greens powders certainly contribute an array of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and phytonutrients. However, there are numerous issues that need to be considered when it comes to green powders.

  • Lack of regulation: Many green powders are not third-party verified. This means that you cannot be sure if the ingredients listed are actually in the powder. Additionally, if the ingredient is actually in the mixture, it is included in the amount listed. That is why it is imperative to look for green powders that are third-party verified. Several credible third-party organizations that test supplements for safety, quality, and purity include U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP)National Sanitation Foundation (NSF)The Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG), and
  • Lack of testing: Although there are many claims on green powders, there is an overall lack of research on many of the marketed products and ingredients. While many do have initial studies with animals or some with humans, the amount that should be taken and the length of time the product should be taken to see results is still unfounded for most ingredients (especially herbal supplements and adaptogens).
  • Lack of knowledge of consuming so many ingredients together: Most of the research has been done with either individual elements or combinations of a few ingredients. So, you don’t know what will happen to your body with the full spectrum of nutrients consumed together regularly.

Taking so many nutrients together at one time may not be the best way to get the nutrients you need. Plus, greens powders should not replace a balanced diet. A food-first approach is best alongside a carefully thought-out supplement routine (with minimal ingredients) to complement your diet.

Potential Health Benefits of Greens Powders

Greens powders tout numerous health benefits including improved energy levels, detoxification support, enhanced immune function, and increased antioxidant intake.

May Improve Energy Levels

According to Danielle Omar, MS, RD, Integrative Dietitian at Food Confidence, greens powders can potentially improve energy levels, but this varies depending on the individual and the specific ingredients inside the product. Some green powders contain caffeine from ingredients like green tea extract, which can play a role in making you feel like you have more energy. However, note that caffeine is a stimulant. That said, greens powders also incorporate ingredients that have a high antioxidant load, says Omar. “The high antioxidant content may also reduce oxidative stress and lower inflammation, and this can lead to more energy.”

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May Support Natural Detoxification Pathways

As for detoxification support, Omar indicates that while greens powders can be a good source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, their specific impact on detoxification is not well-established. “Some greens powders contain ingredients like broccoli, kale, spinach, and other cruciferous vegetables that are rich in compounds called glucosinolates. These compounds can be broken down into active substances like sulforaphane, which has shown potential in supporting detoxification pathways in preclinical studies.” However, more research is certainly needed.

Can Potentially Support Immunity

When it comes to enhanced immune function, Amanda Sauceda, MS, RD creator of The Mindful Gut® says “Greens powders are cool, but they aren’t magic and they really aren’t going to enhance your immunity. The powders don’t give you anything more beyond what a well-balanced diet will provide.” Sauceda adds that the best thing you can do for your immunity is to consistently eat different colored foods. “Different colored fruits and vegetables will have a variety of nutrients and antioxidants to support your immune system.”

Convenient Way to Boost Vegetable Intake

Omar is a fan of green powders and likes them. “They’re a great way to get the benefits of greens when fresh greens are not available.” However, with so many green powders on the market, Omar tends to take a less is more approach.

She recommends choosing organic brands that use predominately freeze-dried ingredients and that are third-party tested for heavy metals, pathogenic microorganisms, chemical pesticides and fertilizers, synthetic herbicides and fungicides, and GMOs.

Possible Side Effects

There are so many ingredients added to green powders, so it’s important to double-check the ingredient list before selecting one to avoid any unwanted side effects. For example, dandelion, a seemingly harmless flower, can interact with numerous medications, including medication for people with diabetes, lithium, diuretics, and certain antibiotics. Another example is green tea extract which can lead to nausea and stomach pain in some people.

There are also side effects associated with adaptogenic ingredients. For example, ashwagandha has more than 35 constituents that have been isolated and many have been studied, including bioactive components such as alkaloids, steroidal lactones, saponins, and withanolides. These active compounds may not mix well with certain medications, such as antidepressants.

Additionally, greens powders are not appropriate for all people. Short-term side effects can include drowsiness, upper gastrointestinal discomfort, and loose stool. That said, greens powders are considered possibly safe when taken short term. The long-term safety of supplementation is unknown for all populations, and the use of ashwagandha is contraindicated during pregnancy.

The above examples are for one specific ingredient. These greens have between 20 and 70 or more ingredients. Each ingredient can have an interaction or side effect with a medication. Plus, how they work altogether is unknown.

Vitamins and Supplements

Incorporating Greens Powders Into Your Diet

If you choose to take a greens powder, there are many ways you can incorporate it into a balanced diet. Omar usually recommends adding greens powder to smoothies, but you can also use them in soups, chia pudding, energy bars, oatmeal, and sauces.

Smoothie bowls, balls, bites, or adding the powder to whole grain pancake or waffle batters are other options. Oftentimes, folks are looking to make the green powder taste better so you want to make sure you pair it with flavorful, healthful ingredients without going overboard on the added sugar and calories.

Greens powders also can be a supplemental way to get some fruits and vegetables into your diet, but shouldn’t replace the consumption of wholesome fruits and vegetables eaten as part of a healthy eating plan. If you choose to purchase a greens powder, look for those with minimal ingredients and minimal to no added ingredients like adaptogens or plant extracts. Remember to purchase a greens powder that is third-party verified and ask a health professional if you are concerned about any medication interactions.

Can a Greens Powder Replace a Multivitamin?

According to Sauceda, while green powders can be considered a supplement they can’t replace a well-rounded multivitamin. Multivitamins generally have larger doses of nutrients compared to green powder. However, Sauceda does note that greens powder can be good on the days you’re super busy or when you’re in between grocery store trips. It’s a convenient way to meet your daily goals for fruits and vegetables.

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