Greens powders have become incredibly popular over the last few years. Many greens powders on the market promise a more robust immune system, better gut health, improved energy, sharper focus, balanced blood sugar levels, healthy heart, and balanced blood sugar levels. Why wouldn’t everyone want to get all their greens in one serving and not worry about it for the rest of the day?
While no greens supplement can replace a well-balanced, varied diet, it can certainly provide a nutrient boost and is a way to get more greens in when on the go. Greens powders have been promoted as an easy way to include a day's worth of nutrition from fruits and vegetables. But are greens powders necessary? Is there enough scientific research to support their efficacy? Can a single supplement really provide so many benefits? And are there any risks associated with consuming powdered greens?
Let's find out.
What Are Greens Powders
Greens powders, also known as super greens, are dietary supplements made from ingredients high in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, probiotics, enzymes, and in some cases, even fiber. Depending on the brand, green superfoods generally contain 25–40 or more different ingredients, including:
- Vegetables: beets, broccoli, carrots, collards, kale, microgreens, spinach
- High-antioxidant fruits: acai berries, blueberries, goji berries, raspberries, strawberries
- Seaweed/algae: chlorella, dulse, kelp, spirulina
- Grasses: alfalfa grass, barley grass, wheatgrass
- Nutritional extracts and herbs: astragalus, dandelion, echinacea, garlic, ginger, ginkgo, milk thistle, parsley
- Adaptogenic mushrooms: cordyceps, lion's mane, maitake, reishi, shiitake
- Probiotics: Bifidobacteria, Lactobacillus
- Digestive enzymes: amylase, cellulase, lipase, papain, protease
- Extra fiber: inulin, pectin (apple fiber), rice bran
Most of these ingredients are either dehydrated and ground into powder or juiced first, then dehydrated and ground into powder. Even though the ingredients come from whole foods, green powders are considered supplements. You can generally find them in the supermarket supplement aisle, a health food store, or online. Because green powders are concentrated (largely through removing water and sometimes even fiber), a small amount of powder is enough to get the nutritional equivalent of multiple servings of fruits and vegetables.
For an illustration, here's an ingredient list of AG1 by Atheltic Greens, which contains 75 ingredients! (currently, the most ingredient-packed superfood powder on the market).
Why a Greens Supplement?
There may be many conflicting opinions on what constitutes a healthy diet, but there's one thing that virtually every expert agrees on: eating more greens is beneficial. Although most people know it's important to include vegetables in their diet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that only 1 in 10 Americans get enough vegetables.
A whole-food diet rich in vegetables may be a significant step up from the Standard American Diet that has a lot of grains, vegetable oil, and processed ingredients. However, there are many reasons even a seemingly healthy diet alone may still not provide enough nutrients and supplementation might be necessary. (1, 2) Some of the reasons include:
- Reduced food diversity: healthy hunter-gatherer humans ate a much wider variety of vegetables than we do today — up to 20 species per day and 100 species throughout the year! The supermarket vegetables we normally eat have been bred to have more uniform shapes and sizes, with higher sugar content and less bitterness, which means fewer vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients than wild vegetables.
- Depleted soil with fewer nutrients, including minerals and bacteria: over the last 100 years, industrial farming has depleted the most nutritious topsoil from important minerals and beneficial soil bacteria that would produce nutrient-rich foods.
- Modern lifestyle: chronic stressors and environmental pollution increase our need for nutrients - B vitamins and magnesium to manage stress, antioxidants to deal with pollutants and chemicals, etc.
Benefits of Greens Powders
If you’re thinking about incorporating greens powder into your diet, there are plenty of potential benefits:
Strong Immune System
Greens powders contain many functional elements like antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting compounds, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, selenium, phytonutrients - carotenoids, glucosinolates, phytosterols, and polyphenols - and coenzyme Q10 to name a few.
Supplementation with powdered greens and high-antioxidant fruit often results in a higher concentration of antioxidants in the bloodstream after supplementation. Greens powders have been specifically shown to increase blood levels of vitamins B9, C, E, and K, as well as selenium and certain phytonutrients associated with a healthy immune system. (3, 4)
The vitamins and minerals in greens powders can strengthen the immune system in several ways. The combination of vitamin C and zinc, for instance, stimulates white blood cells, which help fight off infections. (5, 6) Vitamin E works as an antioxidant to protect the integrity of cell membranes from oxidative damage caused by free radicals. (7) Finally, selenium plays a vital role in modulating immune and inflammatory responses. (8) A 2011 study found that a 10-gram serving of greens powder taken daily for four weeks reduced cell oxidation in participants by 30%, suggesting the antioxidant and immuno-boosting effect of the greens. (9)
While vitamins and minerals are essential for health, more does not necessarily mean better. So, when choosing a greens supplement, always check the % Daily Value (DV) for each nutrient to ensure you’re not getting too much. As Walter Willett, M.D., a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health notes, "the irony is that the people most apt to take lots of supplements are educated folks with a healthy diet—in other words, those who need them the least."
Healthy Gut Microbiome
A healthy gut microbiome includes a wide range of different beneficial bacteria and is vital for a strong immune system. Supporting a balanced intestinal microbial community is essential for the integrity of the immune system, prevention and response to infections, and recovery from illness. (10, 11, 12)
Therefore, many greens contain probiotics or both probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics support a healthy gut microbiome. Prebiotics are nutrient fibers that feed probiotics. Together they support the body in building and maintaining a healthy colony of bacteria and other microorganisms.
However, the effects of probiotics are strain-specific, so if you’re taking a random blend of probiotics, you might not be using the one that would be effective for your specific gut health goals. And even if you were using the proper strain, you may not receive an adequate dose or formulation that’s enterically-coated to survive passage through your stomach acid and inhospitable small intestine. (13)
So, when purchasing a greens powder, look for one with clear labeling to ensure you're buying the most potent option. A daily dose of 10-20 billion colony-forming units (CFU) is advisable for individuals seeking everyday immune and digestive support. However, as with most supplements, there is a large dose range over which probiotics are clinically effective, and higher dosages may be advisable for certain individuals and health conditions. (14)
Increased Energy Levels
Greens supplements claim to improve energy and enhance performance. This is often due to the B-complex vitamins most green supplements contain. B vitamins are necessary building blocks for energy; they help the body extract nutrition from food and convert it into usable energy. All the B vitamins except B9 are involved in at least one and often in several steps of the energy-production system within the cell. (15) Since the body doesn't produce B vitamins - they are so-called "essential vitamins," they must be obtained through the diet. Furthermore, vitamin C, iron, and magnesium are involved in energy-yielding metabolism as well. (15)
Adaptogenic herbs are another component of many greens supplements. This class of herbs provides anti-fatigue and anti-stress effects. Ashwagandha, astragalus, eleuthero, and rhodiola, have even been shown to increase muscular output and endurance during periods of high-intensity exercise. (16, 17, 18, 19)
It's important to note, though, that there's no evidence that greens powders should be universally recommended to athletes. (20) While green supplements often claim to boost energy levels and enhance performance, this may also be due to energy-boosting additives, like caffeine and catechin polyphenols from green tea extract. Every brand is different, though, so always check the label.
Improved Cognitive Health
Several studies of late have started to shed light on just how beneficial greens powders are in providing a boost to cognitive function and concentration.
Green vegetables are rich in nutrients like vitamins B9 and K, and beta-carotene that directly support brain health. B9 is a key vitamin for supporting brain and neurological health, optimal neurotransmitter function, and balanced psychological health. Vitamin K is another important vitamin for improved cognitive performance as it's one of the key factors required to produce sphingolipids (a specialized type of fat) that makes up the structure of brain cells and improves the resilience of brain cells to damage through gene expression. (21, 22)
Researchers also found that consuming one serving of dark leafy greens, including collards, kale, and spinach, daily can help mitigate cognitive brain function and memory loss deterioration. What’s more surprising, though, is that eating or consuming two servings daily may provide more beneficial effects. (23) In addition to dark leafy greens, other top brain-boosting ingredients include herbs, such as ashwagandha, bacopa, ginkgo, and rhodiola.
The daily dosages that have shown benefits with regard to cognitive health were 300-500mg of Ashwagandha root extract (24, 25), 300 mg of Bacopa Monnieri extract (26), 240 mg of Ginkgo Biloba extract (27), and 300 mg of Rhodiola Rosea extract. (28, 29) Unfortunately, since proprietary blend formulations aren’t disclosed on the label, many greens supplements contain ingredients dosed too low to be effective.
Consistent access to high-quality nutrition is a key factor in maintaining heart health and preventing cardiovascular disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least 400 grams of fruits and vegetables daily to prevent cardiovascular disease. (30)
Results of a study done on a population receiving a supplement of fruit and vegetable powder showed that it can decrease the burden of cardiovascular diseases. (30) Another study monitored a group of 40 chiropractic students and faculty members taking fruits and vegetable powder for 90 days and found that mixing the greens powder into water and drinking two glasses daily significantly benefited blood pressure in the group. (31) Some studies have also reported a reduction of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and homocysteine, both of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. (32)
While greens powder shouldn’t replace whole fruit and vegetable intake, it can be a great addition to a healthy diet.
Balanced Blood Sugar Levels
Taking a greens supplement can help maintain healthy blood sugar levels. One clinical study examined how mixing vegetable powder with refined carbohydrates could affect blood sugar levels. The researchers found that adding vegetable powder helped optimize glucose tolerance and insulin response. (33)
Superfoods commonly used in green powders, including chlorella and spirulina, have been shown to lower blood glucose levels. More specifically, taking 1000 mg of chlorella daily has resulted in noticeable reductions in fasting blood glucose levels. (34, 35) In the other study, spirulina supplementation of 2000 mg daily resulted in an appreciable lowering of fasting blood glucose and postprandial blood glucose levels. (36) In certain cases, spirulina was more effective than the popular diabetes drug Metformin. (37)
An increased intake of vegetables in general is beneficial to balance blood sugar levels and lower the risk of type-2 diabetes. So if you’re not opting for greens powder, you can consume more whole vegetables to reap this benefit.
What To Look for In Greens Powders
The Foods & Drugs Administration (FDA) doesn't regulate supplements. The term "greens powder" is open to interpretation since there's no universally accepted definition. This means that each greens powder on the market is unique.
Supplement companies are very clever at promoting their formula. So, when choosing greens superfood, it's best to ignore marketing claims and consider the following factors instead:
Ingredients and Dosage
The effectiveness of any supplement is based on its ingredients and amounts in the formula.
Each ingredient should be present in the minimum effective dosage to work. For instance, you need a minimum of 1000 mg of spirulina daily to see any health benefits. Clinical trials include spirulina dosages that range between 1 gram to 8.4 grams of spirulina per day. The suggested dose for ashwagandha, for instance, is between 450-500 mg once to twice daily. If a product contains less than a minimum effective dose of a certain ingredient, you might not experience its full nutritional benefits.
Of course, more is not always better. So, always talk to your healthcare provider for personalized advice on appropriate dosages of different micronutrients.
Generally, the FDA requires supplement companies to list each ingredient and the quantity of each ingredient. However, manufacturers are allowed to label a group of ingredients as "blends" and only list the quantity of the entire blend, not the individual ingredients the blend contains. In other words, a supplement could contain 800 mg of two ingredients with one of them making up 700 mg and the other one 100 mg. Unfortunately, as a result, the most effective component, which is usually the most expensive, is typically barely contained in the product.
The only thing that is mandated is that the manufacturers list each ingredient from highest to lowest regarding dosage quantity. And if you really wanted to know what exactly a certain product contains, you could send it to a third-party testing lab. There, they can run a chemical analysis and provide you with the list of ingredients the product contains and, more importantly, the quantity of each ingredient.
When purchasing a greens supplement, look for a fully transparent label that discloses every ingredient and amount.
Some manufacturers volunteer to have their product tested, examined, and approved by an independent organization without primary involvement in manufacturing the supplement being questioned. Third-party testing evaluates the supplement to guarantee the label directly equals the product’s compounds in terms of quantity, nature, and pureness.
High-quality supergreens should be manufactured in a cGMP lab, and third-party examined to ensure that what is listed on the product is actually in the product. Some of the third-party companies include the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), or Informed Choice for Sport (ICS).
If you want to be sure the product you choose is effective, potent, and safe, always check that it's third-party tested.
While not essential it's always reassuring when a company stands behind its brand. A money-back guarantee is essentially a statement from the company that promises to refund money to customers who aren't happy with their purchase.
Ideally, the supplement company you choose to purchase a product from would offer a guarantee of some sort, the longer, the better.
It’s easy to get swept up in the latest nutrition trends, and it’s generally best to do your own research and consult with health professionals before adding supplements to your diet. Here are some of the popular myths about greens powders:
Green superfoods can make the body more alkaline
There are a few versions of the acid-alkaline theory, but the basic claim is that metabolized food leaves behind an "ash", which can be either acidic or alkaline on the pH scale. According to the theory, it's best to eat more alkaline foods (fruits and vegetables) than acidic foods (meat, dairy, grains), so that we end up with an overall alkaline load on our body.
First things first, it's that foods leave behind an acid or alkaline ash, determined by the relative content of acid-forming components such as phosphate and sulfur, and alkalis such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. (38, 39) It's also true that foods change the pH of our urine. (40, 41) This is actually really easy to measure with pH test strips.
Unfortunately, urine pH is not a good indicator of the overall pH of the body. The body tightly regulates the pH of the blood and extracellular fluid. Regardless of what you eat, your blood pH hovers around 7.35 and 7.45. (42)
Green superfoods help detoxify the body
Detoxing is based on the idea that the human body is exposed to pollutants. Your digestive tract isn't designed to handle artificial ingredients, your lungs can't easily filter out airborne chemicals like car exhaust fumes, and your skin can't absorb parabens without health risks. Since toxins are bad, it seems logical that they should be removed from the body, be it through a special diet, juice cleanse, or with the help of supplements.
The truth is that your body is already well-equipped to detox itself. You're constantly eliminating and detoxifying because if you didn’t, you’d be dead.
The main detoxifying organs in the body are the liver, kidneys, and intestines, while the skin and lungs play a minor role in excreting toxins. So, the best way to help your body "detoxify" is to support the natural functions of those organs through eating a balanced diet, drinking enough water, and exercising.
The only worthwhile "detox" diet is a simple healthy diet that limits highly processed, high-fat, and sugary foods, and replaces them with more whole foods such as fruits and vegetables. That said, if you suspect you have chemical toxicity, contact your healthcare provider who can provide testing and a customized detoxification protocol.
Potential Risks of Greens Powder
It’s a common assumption that ingredients like herbs and plant extracts are safe because they can be found in nature and purchased without a prescription, but that isn’t always the case. Greens powders are regulated like other supplements, making them susceptible to contamination. And even if you're using a product tested for purity, you need to be aware of potential drug interactions which are common with some herbal ingredients. Some things to consider before adding green superfoods to your diet include:
Unlike prescription or over-the-counter drugs, supplements don't have to undergo safety, efficacy, or purity testing through the FDA before they reach the market.
Supplement manufacturers are responsible for the product’s purity, and they must accurately list ingredients and their amounts. But there’s no regulatory agency that makes sure that labels match what’s in the bottles. You risk getting less, or sometimes more, of the listed ingredients. All of the ingredients may not even be listed.
An independent study by consumer labs found that out of 13 tested products, 4 were contaminated with dangerous lead levels. One had large quantities of arsenic, and another was contaminated with cadmium. (43) In high amounts, these contaminants can lower energy levels and cause organ damage. Contamination with pesticides and pathogenic bacteria can also be a concern.
So, when buying supplements, make sure they have been third-party tested for safety and purity, are 100% organic, and contain only whole-foods ingredients.
Many supplements have mild effects with few risks. However, some supplements influence the absorption, excretion, or activity of prescription drugs with potentially serious consequences. If that happens, it can affect the potency of your medication. (44)
For instance, warfarin (a prescription blood thinner), ginkgo (an herbal supplement), and vitamin E all thin blood. Taking any of these products together may increase the potential for internal bleeding. Vitamin K, on the other hand, reduces the ability of warfarin to work effectively. The herb St. John’s wort is sometimes used to ease depression, anxiety, or nerve pain, but it can also speed the breakdown of many drugs, including immune-suppressing drugs for transplant patients, antidepressants, and birth control pills, and make them less effective. (45)
Depending on the medication involved, the results can be serious. So, always let your doctor and pharmacist know what supplements you’re using and check for potential interactions.
One of the most common green powder side effects is an allergic reaction.
If you have a wheat allergy or celiac disease, make sure your green powder is certified gluten-free. If you’re dealing with an autoimmune disorder such as lupus or multiple sclerosis, you may want to avoid powders with alfalfa because of its immune system-stimulating effects. People allergic to shellfish can have an adverse reaction to seaweed. Even green tea - a common ingredient in green supplements - seems to trigger allergic reactions in some people.
Allergic reactions can be mild or severe, depending on the allergy to the specific ingredient. So, always check the ingredient label to ensure no allergens are present. If you experience any adverse side effects when you take a super greens powder, stop taking it immediately.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding Concerns
Almost all herbal supplements are not recommended for pregnancy or breastfeeding due to extremely limited studies on whether they are safe for infants.
Another concern during pregnancy is that self-medicating can cover up symptoms that may indicate a more serious problem. What seems like a typical headache could signal high blood pressure; lower back pain could indicate early labor.
It's essential for women who are pregnant or who have the potential to become pregnant to let their healthcare provider know if they are taking any supplements, and discuss the risks and benefits of continuing them.
Green Powders Q&A
If superfood powders or powdered greens are new to you, you may have a few questions. Let me address some of the frequently asked greens powder questions here.
Are Greens Powders Worth It?
For someone who eats almost no fruits or vegetables - due to a busy lifestyle, traveling, limited access to fresh produce, etc. - or has higher nutritional needs, such as athletes, a well-formulated greens powder may provide immensely valuable nutritional supplementation. A greens supplement is an easy way to get many essential nutrients and help fill potential nutrient gaps. However, for someone who already eats a diet rich in fresh, ideally organic, foods, there may be much less benefit. In fact, several studies have noted very small improvements in biomarkers after supplementation in people who already ate fruits and vegetables.
If you’re trying to decide between getting your nutrients from whole foods or a greens powder, there are many reasons to lean toward the first option. You can get all the claimed benefits from eating whole foods in their fresh state, in addition to water and fiber. Plus, some ingredients in green powders can interact with prescription drugs or trigger allergic reactions, so always consult your doctor before adding them to your diet.
How to consume greens powder?
The typical guidance is to mix one scoop of powder in 8 ounces/240 ml of cold water. Whether you’ll enjoy the flavor of powdered greens is another question. Some brands have a grassy, chlorophyll-forward flavor, while others add natural flavors like vanilla, orange, or berry. If you aren't keen on mixing it with water, you can try fruit juices, smoothies, or even yogurt. For best results, follow the instructions on the container of the greens powder you purchase.
When is the best time to take greens powder?
I like taking my greens powder in the morning on an empty stomach for the best opportunity to absorb all the nutrients, but you may choose to take it before a workout for a clean burst of energy.
Like any vitamin, greens powders can show the best results if you take them regularly. So, no matter when you choose to take your greens throughout the day, make sure it’s a time that you can maintain consistently.
How often to consume greens powder?
As long as you are taking a good quality, organic green powder, you can consume a serving each day.
Can supergreens replace a meal?
No. Greens powders aren't meal replacements. They can be used in conjunction with a diet as they do fill you up a little, but that really is not what they’re designed for. Most greens powders contain less than 50 calories, which is insufficient to replace a proper meal.
What's the difference between a greens powder and a multivitamin?
The majority of greens powders are made from whole foods, meaning, they contain nutrients the body can easily absorb. Multivitamins, on the other hand, contain synthetic vitamins and minerals, which might be harder for the body to absorb. There is little research on whether synthetic multivitamins are as effective as whole-food ingredients. In addition, multivitamins contain fillers to bind the ingredients together and create a tablet or a capsule.
What’s the best greens powder?
My favorite greens powder is SuperGreen Tonik. This greens powder supplement contains 38 vitamins, minerals, superfoods, and adaptogens in clinically proven dosages, with no proprietary blends. All the ingredients are organic and free from dairy, eggs, gluten, soy, sugar, caffeine, and artificial additives.
Supergreen Tonik also tastes great. I have tried at least 30 greens powders before writing this review, and I can confidently say that Supergreen Tonik tastes the best. It’s slightly sweet and very refreshing with a hint of mint.
And yes, I have tried AG1 by Athletic Greens as well and prefer SuperGreen Tonik. I will write a detailed review and comparison in another post.
Green Powder Recipes