Do You Really Need a Greens Powder in Your Life?
It’s no secret that most guys fail pretty miserably when it comes to eating enough fruit and veggies. According to data from the Center for Disease Control only about 1 in 10 adult men is consuming the recommended amount of fruit (1 1/2 to 2 cups) and vegetables (2 to 3 cups) daily. Well, if the ads on your favorite wellness podcast are to be believed then you should consider greens powder as your nutrition savor. If you can just drink all your fruits and vegetables in one fell swoop and be done with it, then that surely is easier than gnawing on a carrot, right? After all, in the hustle of daily life, we’re all looking for ways to press the easy button.
It’s still perceived as being more “manly” to carve into a steak than a hunk of cauliflower. And at this time of year, the fresh produce section of your supermarket may look pretty bleak (and expensive!), leaving you with even less motivation to serve yourself more salads. And we all know that prepping enough vegetables to eat every day isn’t always convenient or enjoyable. So if it remains a Sisyphean effort to get Americans to eat enough broccoli and berries, is there a solution to still be able to get all the nutritional goodies including vitamins and antioxidants that they provide minus the hassle?
The promises are lofty: All the comprehensive daily nutrition you need in a single glass of water, with essentially no effort or the need to chew and chew. “It’s all you really need, really” according to one company. Since the fruits, vegetables and other ingredients used to make the mixes are known to boost immunity, promote gut health, improve brain functioning, supercharge recovery, these powdered greens claim to do the same. In other words, the sales pitch is that a scoop a day mixed with your aqua can help you live long and prosper. Age like a hero, if you will.
Plus, a powder is much easier to prep (and clean!) than anything requiring you to break out a blender or juicer.
It raises the question: Is drinking your greens just as healthy—or even healthier—than eating them?
Greens powder have an undeniable appeal. Here, we break down if these supplements deliver on their promises—and what you need to know about them before downing another moss-green drink.
What Exactly are Greens Powder?
For the most part, greens powders are made by dehydrating various ingredients and then crushing them into a fine powder that is ready to stir into water or juice and send down the hatch. They can also be produced by extracting the juice from the whole form of the ingredients, drying this, and then crushing into a powder. Brands will vary in their production methods.
Each one can give you a dizzying array of items. Don’t be fooled by the name. Many greens powder also contain plenty of non-greens ingredients too. Formulas vary by brand, but here is what you can find in many of the supplements.
- Greens, such as wheatgrass, kale, oat grass, spirulina, barley grass, broccoli, chlorella
- Fruit, such as pomegranate, cherry, blueberry, elderberry
- Beet powder
- Mushrooms, such as reishi, cordyceps, turkey tail
- Rhizomes, such as ginger, turmeric
- Extracts and herbs, such as milk thistle, ashwagandha
- Seeds, such as chia, flax
- Prebiotics, such as oligiosaccharides
- Spices, such as cinnamon, black pepper, cayenne
- Vitamins and minerals
- Sweeteners, such as stevia, monk fruit extract
The Stuff Ain’t Cheap
While most companies recommend taking one scoop per day, some will say that for short-term periods of high stress or exertion, two servings can be used. And, at up to three bucks a serving, this is not the cheapest way to live. Gram for gram, greens powder are going to be more costly than most actual fruits and vegetables. In other words, these are not supplements for the truly budget conscious.
You May Not Be Getting a Useful Amount of Some Ingredients
With ingredients like grape seed extract and ashwagandha it’s very likely a greens powder will provide compounds that you’d typically not get from munching on a salad. I don’t know a lot of guys that serve reishi mushrooms for dinner and garnish their sandwiches with oat grass.
For the most part, the greens powder on the market are made of proprietary blends with awesome sounding names like “Alkalinizing Grass Blend” and “Superfood Complex.” And while the components of these blends are listed on the label (such as wheat grass juice powder, turmeric, beet root powder), what’s almost always missing is how much of each is in the product.
With so many ingredients in the mix, there is the real possibility that some of them, including adaptogen mushrooms and anti-inflammatory turmeric, will be supplied in amounts that are too small to have much of a physiological impact. One brand boasts that they include 75 different ingredients in a single scoop serving (YES! 75 ingredients). There is only so much of each ingredient that can possibly be in the mix to keep the serving amount to a reasonable amount. Nobody wants to wake up and dump a cup of green powder in their water. Any brand can say it has broccoli even if it contains a minuscule amount of it. There’s no minimum amount of any ingredient that needs to be in a product.
With that said, labels are supposed to display the ingredients in order by quantity included, so looking at the first few ingredients listed should give you an idea of what you’re getting the most of in each serving.
Another shortcoming is fiber. For something that is so veggie- and fruit-rich, you’d think there would be more fiber in a greens powder. But, surprisingly, that is typically not the case. The processing involved in making greens powder extracts the fiber so you get less than what you do from whole fruits and veggies. By far, fiber is one of the biggest nutritional deficiencies in the typical American diet.
The Vitamin and Mineral Content is a Different Story, Though
While the information on the content of the so-called superfood ingredients is often murky, the vitamin and mineral content is more forthcoming. On the nutrition label, you’ll see how much of each vitamin and mineral the product contains in relation to the Daily Value. Some brands give you 100% or more of the daily recommendation for several vitamins and minerals. That means these greens powder can be an easy way to help make sure you are getting your daily need of micronutrients like magnesium, vitamin D, zinc and folate . You can look at them as a well-rounded daily multi-vitamin with some potential other health perks.
But know this, it can be a bit sketchy to use both a greens powder that provides high amounts of various vitamins and minerals as well other micronutrient supplements such as multivitamins as you may end up getting too much of a good thing.
Don’t Expect Greens Powder To Fix Your Digestion
Most greens powder promise to support your digestive health by providing probiotics. Since few people are eating enough fermented foods like yogurt, miso and sauerkraut, these powders can give your gut a boost of beneficial micro-critters. Just keep in mind that the research on our microbiome is still relatively in its infancy and there is going to be the real possibility that the strain of probiotic that a powder contains is not going to be the most beneficial to you or in the amounts necessary to have an impact. So for now, claims regarding improved digestion and regularity remain largely anecdotal.
They May, Indirectly, Spur You on to Eat Better
Here’s the thing, using a greens powder may, for some people, be a catalyst for adopting a more healthful diet. One healthy act begets another. Consuming powdered greens makes you think about eating more fruits and veggies so you end up doing just that. And if you feel better after downing a green drink, even if it’s a placebo effect, then that can also spur you on to eating better overall so you feel great all the time.
Plus, for most of these blends, you are encouraged to mix them with nothing more than water which works to boost your hydration efforts, which is key to good health and better gains from your time in the gym.
Remember, they’re supplements, so, yes, not much oversight here
Though the producers of greens powders boast all kinds of lofty benefits, these powders are considered supplements and not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration the same way that foods are. The upshot is that they have not gone through a process that proves they fully achieve their promises or contain everything the label says.
You can fight back by looking for a brand that is third-party certified such as achieving a NSF certification. This confirms that what is said to be in the bottle is there and that there are not any surprise ingredients you are not made aware of. Some third-party companies like Informed Choice will test for contaminants that can be dangerous when consumed regularly – to get the full benefit from greens powder you really should use them daily which could expose you to troubling amounts of certain contaminants like arsenic. But we don’t have much in the way of good data to say if greens powders suffer from concerning contaminant issues or not.
The Taste is Not Always Yum
Though many brands have worked hard to improve flavors and texture some remain hard to swallow. Green powders seem to fall somewhere on the flavor scale between tropical fruit and day-old grass clippings. Even in a smoothie, they can still taste much too earthy and have an unpleasant, powdery mouthfeel. In other words, it may take some trial and error to find one that you don’t dread sending down the gullet.
Are Greens Powder Worth it?
For all the potential shortcomings, the various guises of greens powders can still be a useful supplement to take even if the sales pitch is more robust than the science. They can help increase the nutritional quality of your diet in a convenient, easy way and fill in any nutrient and antioxidant gaps. Be honest with yourself, most days your diet is lacking in certain elements such as eating enough, well, greens, so this supplement can help get you where you need to be and are probably a decent choice if your budget allows it.
But what these powders are not is a direct substitute for vegetables and fruits and a reason to leave them off your plate. If you are having a tough time getting some of these healthful foods into your diet, these powders can help, but they don’t carry the same broad benefits as whole foods. If you’re expecting some kind of superhuman outcome then you’re going to be let down. No amount of powdered spinach or rosehip will make up for a lousy diet. If only it was that simple.
Top Greens Powder Products
These products make it easier for your day to be a little greener.