What are greens powders? What to know about the latest TikTok health craze

Green drink in a glass and powder on a white concrete background.
Green drink in a glass and powder on a white concrete background.

The videos seem to be everywhere: A TikTok user – sometimes an influencer – blending a greens powder with water and listing health benefits. Many claim these powders, which include dehydrated green vegetables, help reduce bloating, improve gut health, clear acne and more.

These viral videos and other marketing initiatives are making an impact – greens powders aren't new as a concept, but they are rising in popularity. "The global Green Powder market was valued at $255 million in 2020 and is expected to reach $597.4 million by the end of 2027," according to a report released in 2022 from Industry Research.

So what are these powdered greens and is there any veracity to these purported health benefits? Here's everything you need to know.

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What are greens powders?

Greens powders include dehydrated green vegetable powders and often other substances such as vitamins, minerals or even digestive enzymes. Some also contain ingredients such as probiotics, explains Samantha Cassetty.

"They can be 20 ingredients, 40 ingredients. Occasionally, some will have some sugar in and other won't have sugar in it. So there are a lot of different versions of this," says Dr. Shaline D. Rao,  who specializes in cardiology at NYU Langone, noting the idea is for people to use use them "to add to their otherwise healthy intake."

But these products aren't meant to be take the place of a healthy diet, Rao notes.

Why do people take greens powders?

Athletic Greens says on its website its product can "fill nutrient gaps, promote gut health, and support whole-body vitality."

The list of brands with similar healthful promises is long: Kiala NutritionBetterdays Co. Bettergreens, Bloom, Amazing Grass Green SuperfoodSakara Organic Protein + Greens Super Powder – it goes on.

On TikTok, some users with big followings like Emily Pesch, who calls herself a "ur gut health guru," and Jana Rogers who has more than 430,000 followers, have tried the powders, some in paid advertisements, likely increasing these products' popularity.

But the marketing strategy for many brands goes beyond social media, too. Athletic Greens, for example, has invested in podcast advertising with well-known hosts including Dax Shepard and Tim Ferriss, according to Marketing Brew.

Do greens powders work?

In short, experts say these powders aren't likely to serve as a source of nutritional magic.

But some studies have shown that specific powders could potentially be beneficial. For example, a 2011 study completed on Greens+ suggested that "greens+ might play a role in reducing the risk of chronic diseases" and a 2004 study on the same product had results that "were positive but not conclusive that greens+ increases vitality and energy." But the 2011 study was financially supported by the brand Genuine Health, which also provided the Greens+ for the study, so take it with a grain of salt.

"Even when these studies suggest they raise antioxidant levels in the blood, it might not translate to health benefits," Cassetty says.

Plus, supplements don't receive FDA approval and are not subject to the same regulation as medications, for example.

"(Greens powders are) marketed almost as like this quick fix or magic bullet and when it comes to taking care of our bodies and our health, there just really is not a quick fix," Cassetty says.

Gena Hamshaw, a registered dietitian in New York City, is skeptical that the powders could have that many immediate health benefits.

"They probably have some good vitamin and mineral content. It's possible that they have some antioxidants, but that's not something you would feel overnight," Hamshaw says.

And you shouldn't use them in place of eating vegetables.

"This will be very challenging to be as a full replacement," Rao says. "I think you could risk being undernourished if you approach it that way."

Are they safe? 

For the most part, the greens are "probably safe," according to Cassetty.

"I don't think they're unsafe but maybe unnecessary, particularly because they're expensive and you can get those nutrients in a budget-friendly way through other foods," she adds.

Rao agrees, adding that "I think they're safe, but you again have to view it as moderation – as a supplement on top of diet and (make sure) that you're not overdoing it."

And there are caveats to that rule.

Greens powders could be unsafe if you take them on top of other supplements. "There are upper limits for most of the vitamins and minerals and taking too much could lead to some problems and complications," Cassetty says.

Additionally, if you have a chronic health condition or take medications regularly, you should consult your doctor before trying greens powders, Rao says.

The FDA advises speaking with a health care professional – a doctor, nurse, dietitian or pharmacist – before buying or taking any kind of dietary supplement, including powders.

Whole foods are better than greens powders

Most people are better off eating their vegetables than taking a greens powder, Cassetty says.

"Just because something has like vitamins and minerals and natural ingredients, such as a powder derived from greens, doesn't mean that it's right for everybody," Cassetty continues. "And doesn't mean that it's going to provide any magical benefits. ... The first step is really to work on your diet and other lifestyle factors."

You take in a better matrix of nutrients from a whole food source, Cassetty explains. "Even though greens powder could offer you nutrients, it's still a highly processed food with lots of different ingredients."

Rao agreed. "I think the best answer is to have that healthy balanced diet that you prioritize, you know fresh fruits and vegetables," Rao said.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: TikTok greens powder is going viral: What is it? Is it healthy?