Do You Actually Need a Greens Powder? Dietitians Tell Us the Real Deal
The supplements aisle is an overflowing cacophony of options, hawking everything from collagen to krill oil in any form and flavor you can imagine, each one offering a myriad of health benefits. To help narrow down this overwhelming landscape of the wellness industry, let’s take a look at one particular type of supplement that’s been massively growing in popularity: the greens powder.
What is a greens powder?
Greens powders are a diet supplement that focuses on the nutrients and vitamins found in leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables, available for consumption in powdered form. Convenient and (debatably) tasty, they claim to be a quick solution for anyone who feels they don’t get enough daily greens, and often allege that they pack tons of vitamins, minerals, prebiotics, and adaptogens, all of which may aid immunity, energy levels, recovery, and digestion. Created to dissolve in water or mix into smoothies, greens powders make it even easier to incorporate a whole host of nutrients in one quick beverage. Some powders also add probiotics and enzymes, which many of us are trying to more regularly incorporate into our diets.
What a greens powder isn’t
Greens powders are not a magical cure-all for incorporating vegetables into your diet. “Greens powders, as with any supplement, shouldn’t be considered a replacement for a healthy diet,” explains Sarah Pflugradt, MS, RDN, author of Live to Eat Well. “The nutrients in some powders do not match greens in their whole form per serving,” she adds, meaning that eating greens like spinach, kale, arugula, chard, and other vegetables in their whole form should still be a regular part of your diet. “Vegetables and fruits in their whole form are a complete package of nutrients, water, and fiber,” says Pflugradt, noting that these key benefits of fruits and vegetables make them so important.
Read next: The Health Benefits of White Vegetables
Mary Claire Legg, RDN, creator of Redefining Real Food, emphasizes the synergistic nature of the foods we eat, meaning we can get even more benefits from foods when they are paired and eaten with certain other foods. For instance, you’ve probably heard that turmeric is more beneficial when eaten with black pepper, which is true — it increases the bioavailability of turmeric by a whopping 2000%. In this same way, greens powders may not be as effective on their own.
So while incorporating a greens powder can fill in some blanks or supplement a balanced diet, relying on a powder means missing out on the important and complementary relationships between whole foods. Taking advantage of these beneficial relationships between foods is worth looking into, especially before replacing whole foods with powdered forms.
Do you need this supplement?
It might be easy to think, “More greens? Everyone is always talking about how I need to eat more vegetables. What could go wrong?” But it’s not quite so simple. “Many greens powders have herb blends that may interfere with certain medications, so it’s a good idea to get a double-check from your doctor if you’re on medications,” explains Pflugradt. This makes it even more important to do your research, talk to your doctor, and understand your unique body’s needs. The last thing you want to do is spend your hard-earned cash on a greens powder that you later learn is actually toxic to your liver or undermining the other medications you might be using.
“Supplements have a place,” explains Legg, “but everyone is unique with what is going on in their body and in what they need.” Legg recommends consulting with your doctor, getting lab work done, or connecting with a dietitian in order to find out what your body might need beyond making diet changes.
All that said, there can be benefits to incorporating a greens powder, if it’s right for you. “Greens powders could be helpful for those with a balanced diet,” confirms Legg. And with a growing understanding of the importance of gut health and a healthy microbiome, having a regular source of probiotics and nutrients can help supplement a healthy diet. It also never hurts to have another reason to hydrate more, right?
Ultimately, it’s better to add actual greens, which can be incorporated into smoothies, soups, and bowls, and enjoy a rainbow of vegetables instead of relying on a powder. But greens powders can be particularly helpful when you’re a little out of control of your diet, such as during travel. If you’re a guest in someone else’s home or you’re traveling with a group, it can be hard to get all the greens you’d like into your diet. In these moments, a greens powder can be really convenient to make sure your body is still being fed with some of those nutrients. Not to mention, consistently taking a greens powder in and around travel can help keep you regular, which sometimes is difficult during the stress of travel.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
As with any supplement, it’s crucial to do your research when picking a product in order to avoid things like heavy metal contamination — yes, this is definitely a possibility — or ingredients that will conflict with medications you might already be taking. Don’t rely on labels, marketing, or even others’ reviews as your only reason to start taking a powder; do your research, taking into consideration your individual needs.
What do you want to look for when choosing a greens powder supplement? Look for organic certification and, very importantly, products that are third-party tested. “Don’t consider buying a greens powder that’s not tested,” says Pflugradt. Nutrition labels can be difficult to decipher, and since there’s still no regulation from the FDA on supplements like green powders, it becomes even more important for the consumer to do their own research to understand exactly what they are putting into their body. You can do a quick search to find whether a company and products are third-party tested, through NSF International Certification or via ConsumerLab, which tests for gluten, heavy metals, and toxic levels of ingredients such as lead.
You should also consider what you need to supplement your diet with. Looking for more protein? A good fit might be a collagen-based greens powder. Or if you’re looking to boost ingredients related to gut-health, look for a powder that incorporates safe prebiotics and probiotics. And, of course, keep an eye on any added sugars.
Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult with their doctor before starting a greens powder or other supplement, as little research has been conducted about the effect of powders on these populations.
Our top greens powder picks
These are our top picks for greens powders to consider if you’re interested in incorporating a greens powder into your routine.
This green juice is super high-quality, and it’s USDA organic, vegan, GF. We love that every blend goes through strict third-party testing. If you’ve been dealing with mental burnout, this might be a pick for you — it contains ashwagandha and other adaptogenic superfoods like spirulina, moringa, chlorella, matcha, and wheatgrass.
This blend from Garden of Life checks a lot of the boxes: certified organic, NSF-certified, vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free. With 40 ingredients, including probiotics and enzymes for digestion, this raw powder is definitely one to look into. Note that Garden of Life carries a number of other green superfood products, but not all of them are certified organic or third-party tested.
Athletic Greens (AG1)
This powder contains 75 different ingredients, although not all of those are certified organic. Third-party tested, it promotes immunity, gut health, boosted energy levels, digestive aid, and cognitive health. It is one of the most expensive powders on the market.
This certified organic brand is gluten-free, dairy-free, and primarily plant-based (except one greens product). Focusing on whole food nutrition, the powder is made by dehydrating grasses, fruits, and vegetables. While not NSF certified, testing does occur on their products, and they offer a variety of flavors and forms (i.e., powder and tablet).
While not a vegetarian or vegan option, this collagen powder will offer more protein and support for skin, hair, and nails, with organic greens and amino acids. This product is not NSF certified, but other products by Vital Proteins are.
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