Greens powders are advertised pretty much everywhere you turn, and they seem to be an easy way to get a dose of healthy nutrients. But are greens powders a waste of money? The answer is– it depends. Not all greens powders are equal in terms of quality or what they contain.
As a dietitian I get a lot of questions about greens powders and whether or not you should add them to your regular routine. In this review, I’ll explain what we know about greens powders and their potential benefits, but before we get take a deeper look, let’s start at the beginning and talk about what they are first.
What are greens powders?
Greens powders are made from a blend of various veggies, fruits, probiotics, and other plant-based ingredients. The ingredients are dehydrated and ground up into a fine powder that you can quickly dissolve in water.
Every greens powder has a slightly different recipe, but in general, you can expect to find some combination of these ingredients in the mix:
- Leafy greens (ex: spinach, kale, broccoli)
- Edible grasses (ex: wheat grass, barley grass)
- Fruits (ex: acerola cherry, acai berry, goji berry)
- Green tea extract
- Blue-green algae
- Camu camu
- Digestive enzymes
- Fiber (psyllium, inulin, etc.)
- Antioxidants (ex: vitamin C, vitamin E)
- Adaptogenic herbs (ex: ashwagandha, rhodiola)
Greens Supplement Claims
Green powder supplement companies often make a wide range of claims about the benefits of their products. Some of the most common include.
- Essential nutrients: Greens powders often claim to be a concentrated source of nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Energy and metabolism: Many greens powder companies claim that their products can help boost energy levels and support a healthy metabolism (and sometimes claim to help with weight loss).
- Digestive health: Some greens powders include ingredients that may support digestion, like probiotics or digestive enzymes. Companies often claim that using their product can improve gut health as well as reduce bloating and inflammation. This is why greens supplements are often marketed to people with digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome.
- Immune support: Greens powders may also claim to support a healthy immune system, with ingredients like vitamin C, zinc, and echinacea. Companies may suggest that their product can help users ward off illnesses and stay healthy.
- Detoxification: Some companies also put ingredients in their powders that claim to support the body’s detoxification processes, like chlorella and spirulina.
The bad news: Greens supplements have not been researched enough to back any of these claims with actual science. For most of it, you’re looking at more marketing hype than actual health benefits.
Most of these claims come from the actual ingredients in the powder, not the powder itself. But, since we rarely know exactly how much of each ingredient is in these supplements, it’s impossible to know if there’s enough to matter (more on this coming up!).
Are powdered greens good for you?
Greens powders are packed full of greens and other healthy sounding ingredients– but are they actually good for you?
Like most dietary supplements, it depends.
Before I get into the potential health benefits of green powders, I think the most important thing to note is that they’re not a replacement for fruits, veggies and healthful foods.
The reality is that they can help you reach some of your vitamin and mineral needs, but they’re certainly not the only (or cheapest) way to do that.
While many greens powders claim to “count” as several servings of fruits and vegetables, that’s just not true. While you’ll get a hefty dose of important nutrients, lots of what is naturally found in whole fruits and vegetables is lost when it’s processed into powder form, like fiber, for example.
Greens powders are not a substitute for eating whole foods, even though the marketing would make you think otherwise.
There are limited studies on whether or not they’re truly beneficial. Plus, the studies that do exist on greens powders are funded by the manufacturers of the supplement, including the ones I’m about to mention. So take this limited research with a grain of salt.
There are a handful that have shown positive effects. For example, one study gave participants with high blood pressure a greens powder every day for 3 months. The result? Participants saw a significant decrease in blood pressure (1). Participants who took the placebo saw no change in their blood pressure.
Another study found taking greens every day for just one month had powerful antioxidant effects on their bodies, which may help prevent chronic diseases (2).
Many greens powders are also full of vitamins like C, A, and K, which support immunity, eye health, and protein building.
It’s unlikely that most powdered greens will do you any harm, and if you have major nutrient gaps to fill, they may even do you some good. But remember, they’re not a replacement for whole foods like fruits and veggies.
Do greens powders help with bloating?
A lot of greens companies claim their products reduce bloating thanks to the pro and prebiotics in the powder. And it’s no surprise many happy customers agree with this statement since probiotics have been proven to be beneficial in several studies (3, 4).
But– not everyone responds positively to certain probiotic supplements, so there is potential to have a negative reaction. Plus, keep in mind, some of the other ingredients can do the reverse and cause bloating too.
Whether or not greens powders will help with bloating depends on the formula and your body’s unique reaction.
Are greens powders safe?
You might be wondering if greens powders are a safe supplement to take on a daily basis. Let’s get into why this is an important piece of the conversation.
No two are the same
The truth is, every powder’s formula varies so much that it’s impossible to say they’re all safe. Companies usually have proprietary blends of different ingredients that no one has access to. That means you actually don’t know exactly how much of each ingredient is in that green supplement.
Proprietary formulas make it very difficult to say just how “safe” their product is…or if there is enough of the marketed ingredients to actually make a difference.
For example, the company can boast the benefits of a particular ingredient on the label, but you won’t know if their product contains a significant amount of it or just a tiny little sprinkle.
Also, some of the cheaper options contain more fillers to reduce production costs. The more filler ingredients, the fewer greens you’re actually ingesting.
Show me the test results
Some green powder products aren’t tested by a third party – an unbiased organization that tests the quality of the product. Third-party testing makes sure that the product meets quality, safety and regulatory standards.
You want your greens powders (or any supplement) to be third-party tested so that you know it contains what it claims, is free of harmful contaminants like heavy metals, and is safe to consume.
Talk to your doc
If you want to try greens powder for yourself, ask your doctor about the ingredients inside. Especially if you take medications. Some supplements contain ingredients, like alfalfa sprouts, that interfere with medications, making them less effective (5).
The cost of greens powders
Just like the quality, the cost varies widely too. It all depends on the cost of the product used to make it, the ratio of fillers, and of course the brand name. Some will cost you close to $100 for a month’s supply, while others are under $10 for the same amount – you can bet there’s a difference in quality.
If you’re stressed about taking the highest quality supplements, but simply can’t afford them, just remember you can typically get all the nutrients you need from whole foods. Supplements aren’t the only way, even if companies want you to think so. An overall healthy lifestyle matters most.
Pros and cons
If you’re still not sure if they’re right for you, let’s cover the pros and cons.
Greens powder benefits
- Greens powders are packed with essential vitamins and minerals. If you’ve got nutrient gaps in your diet, it can help to fill those (but remember, a well-balanced diet can, too!).
- They might also aid in digestion due to the prebiotics and probiotics (in some formulas).
- Some people find it helpful to set the tone for the day by starting with something that “feels healthy.” This might make greens worth it if they boost your mood and help keep your healthy habits on track!
Potential negatives of greens powders
- There’s limited research available, especially when you consider how different each greens powder brand is. Research is especially limited in pregnant/nursing women.
- You might have undesirable side effects, like bloating, nausea, or diarrhea.
- Adding a supplement to your grocery list can be expensive and might even take away from your fruit and veggie budget.
- You might accidentally eat fewer fruits and vegetables if it feels like you’re “replacing” them.
- Many aren’t third-party tested to ensure that the ingredients inside match what is on the label and that they’re free from contamination. As a Registered Dietitian, I recommend only buying supplements, vitamins, or herbs that have passed a third-party inspection for quality.
So, are they a waste of money?
Do you really need a greens powder supplement?
They may not be a complete waste of money, but they also may not be the best use of your money in my professional opinion.
While greens powders can certainly provide you with some healthful ingredients and fill some nutritional gaps, they’re absolutely not a replacement for whole plant foods.
If you do decide to try adding a greens powder, I strongly recommend you do your research on the ingredients list, check who tests the product’s quality, and ALWAYS talk with your doctor to see if it’s the right choice for you.
If you can’t afford greens or simply aren’t interested, then take a pass! Remember a well-balanced, healthy diet and lifestyle is truly what matters most (and that’s direct from a dietitian!)
Do you enjoy greens powders? If you do, tell me your experience with them in the comments, I love to hear them!