Powdered Greens Pack in Lots of Nutrients—But are They Worth More Than the Real Thing?

Photo credit: fcafotodigital - Getty Images
Photo credit: fcafotodigital - Getty Images

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Shockingly few Americans follow the sage advice to “eat your veggies!” In fact, 90 percent of Americans don’t get the recommended amount of vegetables and 80 percent fall short on fruit, according to the 2020 to 2025 United States dietary guidelines. Because that leaves a lot of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber on the table, savvy nutrition companies have developed a slew of products to make it easier to fill in nutritional gaps.

And we get it: Fresh produce can spoil quicker than, say, a protein bar, and takes a bit more time and effort to prep than your go-to Doordash order. To help make it easier to get our greens, one of the biggest trends in the last five years in the non-pill supplement space are powders—specifically powdered greens (a.k.a. “super greens”). They usually clock in at $1.50 to $4 per serving and claim to “balance stress” and “detoxify” while “supporting food cravings,” “aiding digestion,” and “supporting immunity.”

The question remains: Do you gain the same benefits of powdered greens versus the real deal? We spoke to dietitians to find out what you need to about these emerald colored supplements.

What are powdered greens?

“Powdered greens are typically dried vegetables and fruits processed into a powder and turned into a supplement,” explains Mary Stewart, R.D., L.D., a registered dietitian and the founder of Cultivate Nutrition in Dallas.

Greens powders are made via one of two methods, or a combination of both:

  1. Dehydration: The ingredients are dried then crushed into a powder

  2. Extraction: The juice is extracted from the ingredients, dried, then crushed into a powder

For most products, you just add water, shake, and sip on the greens and they likely deliver some of these ingredients:

  • Leafy greens, such as collards, kale, parsley, or spinach

  • Grasses, for example, alfalfa grass, barley grass, oat grass, or wheatgrass

  • Seaweed, in the form of chlorella, dulse, kelp, or spirulina

  • Other antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits, like acai, blueberries, broccoli, beets, cabbage, carrots, raspberries, or tomatoes

  • Extracts, such as ginkgo biloba extract, grape seed extract, or green tea extract

  • Enzymes, like amylase, cellulase, lipase, maitake mushroom extract, papain, protease, or shiitake mushroom extract

Beyond a selection of the powdered green ingredients above, some formulations include additional herbs, probiotics, fibers, or natural sweeteners (stevia or monk fruit extract are two common choices). These ingredients likely get added to try to tame inflammation, support gut health and digestion, and improve the flavor, respectively.

Speaking of flavor, some powdered greens can taste a bit off-putting at first, as they can err on the grassy or vegetal side. For this reason, some users mix them with juice, blend into smoothies, sprinkle over salads, or stir into soups instead of sipping as-is.

In terms of what’s inside each serving, “the nutrient profile of powdered greens will vary quite differently compared to a serving of a single vegetable because the powdered greens are a concentrated form of a wide range of fruits and vegetables. You may have more or less of a specific micronutrient,” Stewart adds.

Vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, biotin, calcium, chromium, folate, iron, iodine, magnesium, potassium, and selenium are often MVPs on many supplement facts panels for the widely-available, best-selling powdered greens on the market. These include:

In general, these powdered greens might sound like a multivitamin and a salad mixed into one shelf-stable package, but are they worth it? Let’s examine the pros and cons.

What are the benefits of powdered greens?

Photo credit: egal - Getty Images
Photo credit: egal - Getty Images

1. They’re convenient

The first and most obvious reason to shake up your routine with powdered greens is that it’s fast, easy, and available on-the-go, explains Michelle Hyman, R.D., a registered dietitian at Simple Solutions Weight Loss in New York City. A lot of powdered greens devotees pack them in their luggage to start their day with a dose of antioxidants in a format that requires zero shopping, washing, prepping, cooking, or refrigeration.

2. They’re nutrient-rich

Powdered greens are a quick and easy way to add a concentrated blend of produce-aisle items to your menu for the day; one scoop can pack in as many as 30 different fruits and vegetables. A consistent dose may also improve blood levels of select vitamins in the blood, according to a November 2019 study in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research that looked at veggie and berry juice power. The nutrients and phytonutrients in certain vegetables included can help act as “armor” to protect the body from potentially disease-causing free radicals or bacterial or viral invaders.

3. They can help stabilize blood sugar

One small study in the October 2019 edition of BioMed Research International found that adding a vegetable powder to a meal with refined carbohydrates may help support healthy glucose and insulin responses within the body—resulting in fewer blood sugar roller coasters.

4. They may support brain health

The beta-carotene, folate, lutein, vitamin K, and other nutrients in green vegetables help keep your brain sharper longer, several researchers have found, so it stands to reason that drinking veggies with these micronutrients might offer a similar brain boost. In fact, one February 2017 study in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that for each 100 gram increase in fruit and vegetable consumption per day, participants had about 13 percent lower risk for dementia and cognitive impairment.

Important to note: Some of the nutritional benefits, including a good portion of the fiber, are lost during the dehydration process, so it’s not an exact one-for-one swap when comparing powdered greens to real veggies. More research is needed about how many micronutrients we can actually process and put to good use from these powders.

5. You can your lower risk for dehydration

For athletes, such as cyclists in particular, “depending on the frequency and intensity of workouts, one serving of powdered greens can serve as a healthy part of one’s daily routine. When we get our heart rate up and sweat for an extended period of time, it is important to replenish our lost fluids and electrolytes and to consume ample antioxidants to properly recover,” Stewart says.

Mix your powdered green blend with 8 to 12 ounces of water to help restore fluid levels after your sweat sesh and you get extra hydration with your nutrients.

What are the drawbacks of powdered greens?

1. Some brands are unregulated

Powdered greens are a dietary supplement, which is not regulated by the FDA, Hyman explains. In a 2016 report, Consumer Labs discovered that four of 13 commonly-sold powdered greens products were contaminated with lead, and others included trace amounts of arsenic and cadmium. Frequent exposure to or intake of heavy metals can negatively impact the immune system, kidneys, reproduction, and the central nervous system.

Some brands, including AG1, are tested at an independent lab to ensure safety, though. Be sure to examine the package and look for labels like NSF, USP and ConsumerLab, which denote the product has been third-party tested, which helps to verify that it contains what it says it does—and nothing else.

2. They may interact with certain medications

“Even healthy nutrients in excess may result in a poor reaction especially for those taking medications or other supplements,” Stewart says. Pregnant and breast-feeding women, children, and anyone on any other medicine—especially Coumadin and Warfarin, found in many blood thinner medications, which require consistent vitamin K intake—should consult with their physician before taking powdered greens.

3. You may not feel a difference…

…So you may feel like you’re wasting money. “If you’re eating a balanced diet that is packed with produce, as well as sources of probiotics, I don’t think you’re going to see a benefit,” explains Frances Largeman-Roth, R.D.N., a Dobbs Ferry, New York-based nutrition expert and the author of The Smoothie Plan. “Plus, compared to just drinking water, they’re expensive.”

It can be easy to get fooled by the head fake, Hyman adds. “I’d prefer my clients use their hard-earned money on buying actual fruits and vegetables. Consuming these powders may result in individuals thinking they don’t need to eat any fruit or vegetables for the day because the blends contain multiple sources of vegetables,” she says.

4. You’re missing out on the filling fiber

One major reason why the real deal—fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables—will always earn top ranks from Hyman is that powdered greens are stripped of most of the fiber found in whole produce. That means “they don’t provide the same satiating effect as eating fruits and vegetables,” she says. And you don’t get the digestion support that fiber provides.

Most powdered greens deliver 1 to 2 grams of fiber per serving. Greens like kale pack 3 grams of fiber per cup, while berries, like raspberries, offer 8 grams per cup.

“If a serving of the powder is the only source of produce for the day, the fiber in the powder pales in comparison to eating a few servings of the actual produce,” Hyman adds. Plus, the simple act of chewing whole fruits and veggies can also make you feel satiated faster.

5. You might forget about other colors besides green

“I don’t think it’s necessary to prioritize only green vegetables, either,” Hyman continues. “I encourage clients to ‘eat the rainbow’ and focus on consuming various colors of produce,” including seasonal fruits and vegetables that are red, orange, yellow, blue, purple, brown and white.

The bottom line

Stewart says supplements are designed to do just that–supplement your diet, not replace other items, especially whole fruits and veggies.

“If you’re not getting enough greens in your diet and you don’t think it’s realistic to add them to your diet through real food, you could consider having a serving of these powdered greens daily. But don’t replace your daily salad with them,” Largeman-Roth says.

Stewart reminds her clients that “you can’t ‘out supplement’ a poor diet,” and advises them to think of food first. The foundation of any diet should include minimally-processed whole foods with plenty of high-fiber carbohydrates (like veggies and whole grains), healthy fats, and lean protein. If you struggle to sit down for a meal, consider making a whole foods smoothie with frozen baby spinach or kale, milk or non-dairy milk, and frozen fruit, rather than just sipping powdered greens.

“Powdered greens can be a great way to fill in any nutritional gaps especially if you are on-the-go, traveling, deficient in certain micronutrients or need additional antioxidants to support physical or mental stress on the body. Adding powdered greens is not always necessary, but for some, can certainly be beneficial and supportive to your health goals,” Stewart says.

Although powdered greens are not necessary, they’re probably not going to harm your health either. That is, as long as you choose third-party tested and verified brands, so you know that the supplement facts are actually truthful—and that the canister includes the ingredients it says it does without extras.

If you do decide to powder-up your diet with powdered greens, it’s also important to focus on your overall fruit and vegetable consumption while drinking plenty of water.

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