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Super Greens: Are Greens Powders Healthy?

Health + Wellness
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By Marsha McCulloch, MS, RD

It's no secret that most people don't eat enough vegetables.


Greens powders are dietary supplements designed to help you reach your daily recommended vegetable intake.

Product labels claim that greens powders can support your body's immunity, energy levels, detoxification and more — but you may wonder if science supports these purported benefits.

This article tells you whether greens powders are healthy.

Greens powders are dietary supplements that you can mix into water and other liquids.

They typically have a green hue and can taste a bit grassy. Natural sugar substitutes are often added to improve flavor.

Greens powders generally contain 25–40 or more different ingredients, which vary by brand. These commonly include (1, 2):

Greens powders are dietary supplements that you can mix into water and other liquids.

They typically have a green hue and can taste a bit grassy. Natural sugar substitutes are often added to improve flavor.

Greens powders generally contain 25–40 or more different ingredients, which vary by brand. These commonly include (1, 2):

  • Leafy greens: Spinach, kale, collards, parsley
  • Seaweed: Spirulina, chlorella, dulse, kelp
  • Other vegetables: Broccoli, beets, carrots, tomatoes, green cabbage
  • Grasses: Barley grass, wheatgrass, oat grass, alfalfa grass
  • High-antioxidant fruits: Blueberries, raspberries, goji and acai berries
  • Nutritional extracts: Green tea extract, grape seed extract, ginkgo biloba extract
  • Probiotics: Lactobacillus (L.) rhamnosus, L. acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis
  • Plant-based digestive enzymes: Amylase, cellulase, lipase, papain, protease
  • Herbs: Holy basil, astragalus, echinacea, milk thistle
  • Mushrooms: Maitake mushroom extract, shiitake mushroom extract
  • Natural sugar substitutes: Stevia leaf extract, monk fruit extract
  • Extra fiber: Rice bran, inulin, apple fiber

The produce used in these supplements is generally dried and then ground into powder. Alternatively, some ingredients may be juiced, then dehydrated, or certain components of the whole food may be extracted.

A newer trend is to sprout or ferment ingredients, which increases vitamin levels and helps break down compounds that can interfere with mineral absorption (3, 4, 5).

The formulations are often vegan, as well as non-genetically-modified and organic—but check the product label for these details.

Prices of greens powders range from 22 to 99 cents or more per scoop (about 10 grams or two tablespoons), depending on the specific ingredients.

Summary

Though formulations of greens powders vary by brand, they're generally made from dried leafy greens and other vegetables, seaweed, grasses, high-antioxidant fruits and herbs. Probiotics and digestive enzymes are often added as well.

Nutrition Varies Based on Ingredients

Because ingredients of greens powders vary by brand, the nutritional value often differs between products.

On average, one scoop (10 grams or two tablespoons) of greens powder contains (6):

  • Calories: 40
  • Fat: 0.5 grams
  • Total carbs: 7 grams
  • Dietary fiber: 2 grams
  • Sugars: 1 gram
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Sodium: 2% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Vitamin A (as beta-carotene): 80% of the RDI
  • Vitamin C: 80% of the RDI
  • Vitamin K: 60% of the RDI
  • Calcium: 5% of the RDI
  • Iron: 20% of the RDI
  • Iodine: 100% of the RDI
  • Selenium: 70% of the RDI
  • Chromium: 60% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 5% of the RDI

The powders are generally low-calorie, but mixing them with something other than water may add calories.

Greens powders don't always list the content of all vitamins and minerals. They generally aren't as complete as a standard multivitamin and mineral supplement.

In some cases, greens powders are formulated as meal replacements, which makes the product more nutritionally complete and higher in calories.

Though not quantified on the label, greens powders are generally high in polyphenols and other plant compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory functions (1).

Summary

Greens powders are generally low in calories but high in certain minerals and vitamins, including selenium, iodine, chromium and vitamins A, C and K, as well as plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory functions.

A Supplement Worth Considering

The nutrients and plant compounds in greens powders may support overall wellness when used in combination with a healthy diet and lifestyle.

For example, greens powders are typically high in vitamins A and C, which help support immune function (7, 8).

Additionally, probiotics added to greens powders may support immune function and digestive health. However, the value of added plant-based digestive enzymes is uncertain (9, 10, 11).

Greens powders have been tested in a few small studies, but results can vary by brand and supplement formulation.

Additionally, product manufacturers typically fund these studies, which increases the risk of bias. Therefore, it's best to keep a healthy degree of skepticism.

May Help Prevent Chronic Disease

The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions of plant compounds in greens powder may help reduce your risk of chronic diseases.

In one four-week study in 10 healthy people, two tablespoons (10 grams) of greens powder taken daily lowered blood levels of oxidatively damaged proteins by 30% (1).

Preventing damage to blood proteins like enzymes is important, as they perform functions that help protect you from cancer and chronic diseases (12).

In another 90-day study in 40 people with high blood pressure, two tablespoons (10 grams) of greens powder taken daily decreased both systolic and diastolic blood pressure by about 8%. The control group observed no improvement (13).

Still, more studies are needed to confirm these possible benefits.

May Improve Your Energy

Some greens powders claim to boost your energy. Yet, they're generally low in calories and, therefore, don't necessarily supply much energy.

However, some of these powders contain compounds that may help you feel more alert and energetic, including green tea extract, which contains caffeine and plant compounds that support the burning of calories (14).

In a three-month study in 63 healthy women, those taking one tablespoon (10 grams) of greens powder containing green tea extract daily reported significant increases in energy, while the placebo group reported no change (15).

Still, this is only one study that needs to be replicated. It's also uncertain whether a greens powder without green tea extract would provide the same benefits.

Other Benefits

Some greens powders claim to help with detoxification and make your body more alkaline — meaning higher on the pH scale of zero to 14.

However, consuming greens powder won't affect your blood pH, which your body tightly controls within a narrow range of 7.35–7.45 (16).

On the other hand, your urine pH fluctuates within a broader range of 4.5–8.0. Eating greens and other vegetables can slightly elevate urine pH, making it more alkaline (2, 16, 17).

Some researchers speculate that small increases in urine alkalinity may help your body get rid of toxins, such as pesticides and pollutants. However, this hasn't been well studied in humans (16, 18, 19, 20).

Eating greens powders may still support detoxification in other ways. For example, when your liver detoxifies certain compounds, damaging free radicals are generated. Greens powders are rich in antioxidants, which can help combat these free radicals (21, 22, 23).

Summary

Greens powders may enhance overall wellness, support immune function and help reduce chronic disease risk. More research is needed to confirm other potential benefits, such as increased energy and detoxification.

Not a Substitute for Whole Vegetables

Eating a wide variety of whole vegetables and other produce as part of a well-rounded diet is the best way to achieve nutritional balance and avoid excesses of any one nutrient (24).

In their whole form, vegetables give you the satisfaction of chewing and are high in water. Both of these aspects promote fullness and may help prevent overeating. In this regard, greens powders are less satisfying (25, 26).

Additionally, greens powders are low in fiber, typically only providing 1–2 grams per serving, though sometimes extra fiber is added (27).

Note that greens powders are generally high in vitamin K. This vitamin interacts with certain medications, including blood thinners. Therefore, they may interfere with treatment (28).

They can also contain harmful contaminants, such as lead and other heavy metals. One lab analysis found contaminants in four of 13 products tested. Before selecting a product, check the company's website to find out if they verify purity.

Finally, some greens powders warn that children, pregnant or breastfeeding women and people taking medications shouldn't use the product. They often contain herbs and concentrated extracts that may pose potential risks or interactions.

It's best practice to speak to your doctor before taking any new supplement—greens powders are no exception.

Summary

Whole versions of greens and other produce are best for satisfying hunger, getting a balance of nutrients and minimizing your exposure to potentially harmful contaminants.

How to Use Greens Powder

For best results, follow the instructions on the canister of the greens powder you purchase.

It's most common to stir the the powder into water, juice, milk or milk substitutes and smoothies.

For food safety, refrigerate all rehydrated greens powders if you don't consume them right away.

If you'd rather not drink your greens powder, you can:

  • Add them to scrambled eggs or an omelet
  • Sprinkle them over roasted vegetables
  • Mix them into homemade salad dressing
  • Stir them into a vegetable dip
  • Add them to soup

However, when you heat greens powder, you may decrease or get rid of some of the nutrients, including vitamin C and probiotics.

If your vegetable intake tends to drop when you travel, consider taking greens powder with you to help maintain your nutrition.

Summary

The most common way to use greens powders is to stir them into water, juice or other beverages. You can also add them to recipes.

The Bottom Line

Greens powders are supplements made from greens, vegetables, seaweed, probiotics, digestive enzymes and more.

They may boost immunity and reduce chronic disease risk, but results may vary based on ingredients. Studies on these products are limited and, though nutritious, they should not replace whole foods.

You should still eat plenty of fresh greens, other vegetables and a variety of healthy foods.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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