Greens Powders Are The Secret To Getting More Veggies: Here's How To Pick One
There may be many conflicting opinions on what constitutes a healthy diet, but there's one thing that virtually every expert agrees on: You should eat more greens.
However, there are a number of obstacles that may prevent you from regularly piling your plate high with green and leafy foods. If you're sheltering-in-place right now, you may be limiting trips to the grocery store, which means it can be challenging to stock up on fresh produce. There's also a good chance your go-to greens may be in shorter supply these days. Or, perhaps you've always struggled to reach an ideal daily greens intake (hey, no one is perfect). If any of this feels familiar, allow us to introduce you to greens powder.
Greens powders are dried, powdered forms of various vegetables and fruits condensed down into a supplement blend that's easy to take. Many greens powders provide the entire daily recommended serving of vegetables in one scoop. These provide a little extra insurance, working to fill in any nutritional voids. Call it a little green safety net.
What are greens powders?
Although most people know that it's important to include vegetables in their diet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that only 1 in 10 Americans get enough vegetables. While greens powders aren’t an excuse to push whole vegetables off your plate, they can help bridge the gap.
A USDA-certified organic greens blend, featuring sea veggies and probiotics.
Greens powders are made in two different ways. The first is by dehydrating, or drying, various fruits, vegetables, and other health-promoting compounds, and then crushing them into a powder. The second is by extracting the juice from the compounds, drying it, and then crushing that into a powder.
Some greens powders use a combination of these methods to get their finished product. That's because dehydrating the whole vegetable can have a stronger taste that's off-putting to some. On the other hand, the juice from fruits and vegetables tends to be a bit sweeter.
But don't be fooled by the name. Many greens powders also contain plenty of beneficial, non-greens ingredients too. Ingredients vary by brand, but some of the most commonly included are:
- Collard greens
- Brussels sprouts
- Barley grass
- Alfalfa grass
- Goji berries
- Acai berries
Ingredients to look for.
There are lots of different greens powders on the market, but generally they have similar classes of ingredients. Most greens powders contain a combination of dark, leafy greens, fruits, and other non-greens veggies; some also include sea vegetables and superfood herbs and spices. As an added bonus, some greens powders even sneak in probiotics.
Dark, leafy greens
It probably doesn't come as a surprise that dark, leafy greens make up the basis of many greens powders. That's because greens are low in calories and carbohydrates but loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In fact, a single serving of kale provides all of the vitamin A that you need for the entire day.
Other fruits + vegetables
Although the focus is on green veggies, many greens powders also contain other non-green veggies and fruits. This adds vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals to the mix, and it also can improve the flavor.
Ingredients like beets, carrots, blueberries, and acai have a natural sweetness that makes the powders more palatable.
In some potent blends, you can find sea vegetables like spirulina, chlorella, kelp, and dulse. That's because they're rich in natural iodine, a mineral that supports healthy thyroid function.*
In fact, they're so important that Amy Shah, M.D., a double board-certified integrative medicine doctor, says if you could eat only five superfoods, spirulina should be one of them.
Superfoods like ginger and turmeric are bonuses.
Some greens powders also have added "superfood" ingredients, like ginger, turmeric, or ashwagandha. These ingredients give the greens powders an extra nutritional boost. For example, turmeric helps promote normal inflammatory processes in the body, while ginger supports healthy digestion and helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels.* Ashwagandha, which is categorized as an adaptogen, can help improve the way your body reacts to stress.
Many greens powders also contain herbs, like parsley, echinacea, and milk thistle, that come with health benefits of their own.
It's good to look for probiotics.
Although not all greens powders contain probiotics, there are many that do. While vegetables promote good gut health and a balance of healthy bacteria on their own, probiotics can directly introduce good bacterial strains into your system.*
In addition to probiotics, greens powders often contain a fiber called inulin, which acts as a prebiotic, feeding the probiotics in the supplement and the good bacteria that already live in your gut.*
Benefits of greens powders.
Even if you have the best intentions to eat a large variety of greens every day, according to statistics, it's likely that you're falling short. It's a lot easier to add a scoop of greens powder that contains a combination of 40 different vegetables, fruits, sea vegetables, and superfoods to your smoothie than it is to eat all of that in whole form. But, of course, the important thing is what these nutrients do in your body.
Support hormone balance*
A specific class of vegetables, called Brassica (or cruciferous) vegetables often make up the foundation of greens powders. These vegetables help balance hormones, specifically estrogen.* Researchers from one study done in postmenopausal women found that certain phytochemicals in cruciferous vegetables can help remove estrogen byproducts.*
Many greens powders contain a variety of cruciferous vegetables, which include:
- Brussels sprouts
- Collard greens
Greens powders support detoxification by providing your body with the nutrients it needs to carry out its natural cleansing functions.* For example, spinach is a rich source of folate and betaine, while spirulina offers methionine, an essential amino acid. Folate, betaine, and methionine are compounds that play a vital role in a natural detox process called methylation. Cruciferous vegetables and artichoke promote the production of glutathione, one of the most important antioxidants for detoxification and helping protect the body from free radicals.* They also help maintain the body's levels of a compound called metallothionein.* According to one review, metallothionein can attach to heavy metals like lead, mercury, and cadmium and help remove them from the body.*
Increases veggie intake
Vegetables are one of the richest sources of vitamins and carotenoids in the diet. So unless you're eating your recommended five servings per day, it's likely that you're falling short on some of these important nutrients. Greens powders are a simple way to increase your nutrient and overall vegetable intake without a lot of effort. One scoop of greens powders can contain as many as 40 different vegetables, fruits, and superfoods.
Because of the potency of greens powders, researchers from one study wanted to see what would happen to the levels of different vitamins in the blood after regular supplementation with a fruit, berry, and vegetable powder. Participants in the study took six supplement capsules every day for eight weeks. After the testing period, researchers tested blood levels of specific nutrients and found increases in vitamin E, lycopene, vitamin C, and beta-carotene and retinol (two forms of vitamin A).
Balances blood sugar*
Greens powders might also help maintain normal blood sugar levels.* One study looked at how mixing vegetable powder with refined carbohydrates could affect blood sugar levels in 24 individuals with diabetes. The researchers found that the addition of vegetable powder optimized both the glucose and insulin response.*
Enhances brain health*
Green vegetables are rich in nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta-carotene that directly support brain health.* Research shows that a higher intake of vegetables is directly correlated with lower rates of cognitive decline in older adults.* Eating vegetables can also improve cognitive ability.*
Protects heart health*
Adding a greens powder to your day might also help keep your heart healthy.* Researchers from one study monitored a group of 40 chiropractic students and faculty members taking a fruit and veggie powder for 90 days. They found that mixing the greens powder into water and drinking two glasses daily significantly benefited blood pressure in the group, even though they didn't experience any weight loss.*
Helps balance pH*
A typical Western diet is full of processed foods and too many carbohydrates that can decrease the body’s pH, creating a more acidic environment that leads to health problems like osteoporosis, obesity, and heart disease. A high acid load, as its called, can also make you feel less vibrant and healthy. Research shows that greens powders can help neutralize acids, decreasing your overall acid load and contributing to improved health.*
How to use greens powders.
Now that you know the benefits of greens powders, you might wonder how to get them in your diet. One of the easiest ways to incorporate greens powders into your day is to add them to smoothies. You can keep it simple by adding a serving of greens powders to some unsweetened vanilla almond milk in a blender, or you can incorporate your own mix-ins, like half a frozen banana, a squeeze of lemon, hemp or chia seeds, or unsweetened shredded coconut. If you want to keep your greens powders savory, then you can stir them into soups for an extra dose of veggies or add them to your scrambled eggs. You can even incorporate them into your favorite veggie dishes for added antioxidants.
Can a greens powder replace vegetables?
Mark Hyman, M.D., a functional medicine doctor, says, "Even with a perfect diet, many things—including depleted soils, the storage and transportation of food, increased stress, and a toxic environment—make it impossible for you to get the nutrients you need solely from the foods you eat." So while greens powders can certainly help increase your overall nutrient intake and provide what's missing from your food, you shouldn't use them as a total replacement for eating vegetables.
Greens powders are often lower in fiber than their whole vegetable counterparts. For example, while a typical serving of greens powders contains 1 gram of fiber, a single serving of whole broccoli will give you 3.8 grams. Even though some greens powders have supplemental fiber added to them, fiber supplements don't always provide the same health benefits as the fiber you get from whole foods. There's also a concern that some of the health-promoting compounds are lost when the vegetables are dried and turned into a powder. They also don't offer the same satisfaction that chewing whole vegetables does. Studies show that when you chew your food, you tend to feel more satisfied and are likely to eat less during the day. That's because chewing seems to have a positive impact on the hormones in your gut that control your appetite and satiety levels.
The best approach is to combine a daily dose of greens powder with a diet that's also rich in plenty of vegetables.
Dosage, safety, and side effects.
Even though greens powders are made of nutrient-dense foods, that doesn't mean they're a good idea for everyone. Since greens powders contain vegetables in a condensed form, they're also high in specific vitamins, like vitamin K, that can interfere with blood-clotting medications. If you're on blood thinners or other medications or you have chronic health problems, always check in with your doctor before taking a new supplement, greens powders included.
Even if you don't fall into these categories, it's important to make sure you're getting your greens powders from a trusted source. When it comes to regulation, the supplement industry is a bit of a gray area. Make sure the supplement manufacturer can verify that the greens have been tested for contamination and passed with acceptable levels. It's best to buy from companies whose greens powders have been certified through a third-party testing laboratory, like NSF International. That way, you know you're getting exactly what's listed on the label and nothing else.
And make sure you're sticking to the recommended serving size. More isn't necessarily better since some vitamins can build up in the system and lead to toxicity. A scoop or two per day, along with a healthy, vegetable-rich diet, is all you need.
Greens powders are an excellent way to boost your intake of vegetables, fruits, and other superfoods in a convenient, easy way. But while research shows that greens powders offer many of the same benefits as whole vegetables, they shouldn't completely take their place.
The best approach to greens powders is to include them as part of a healthy, whole-foods-based diet. When purchasing a greens powder, make sure you're getting your greens from a reliable source so you know it's safe and pure.