How To Choose The Healthiest Greens Powder
Kermit the Frog famously sang “it’s not easy being green” on the classic Muppet Show of the 1970s, but that was well before greens powders became one of the most sought-after supplements among health aficionados.
Made from varying combinations of vegetables, grasses, plants, algae, herbs, and fruits that have been dried and blended, these “green superfoods” are designed to help you reap the health benefits of the vitamins and minerals packed in these verdant food sources.
But as demand for these green powders has grown, so too has some confusion. And how could it not? With new products cropping up at every turn and claiming to be the best greens blend money can buy, it can be a challenge to keep up. (Maybe there’s something to Kermit’s memorable lament after all.)
To help you navigate the increasingly crowded green landscape, take a look at our helpful guide on how to choose the healthiest greens powder and find out which route is right for you.
Why You Need A Greens Powder
Should you consider using a greens powder? From getting a solid dose of nutrients to boosting your immune system, there’s plenty of reasons why a healthy greens powder might be right for you.
1. It’s an easy way to get your daily veggies.
It’s no secret that most people don’t eat enough vegetables. Depending on age, weight, and activity level, the USDA recommends anywhere from 3-6 servings of vegetables and 2-4 servings of fruit each day as part of a healthy diet. Yet only 1 in 10 adults get enough fruits or vegetables. (1) A scoop of green powder in a smoothie, glass of water, milk, or juice can be among the most convenient ways to get your greens in without thinking twice.
2. They’re loaded with nutrients.
While nutritional values vary from brand to another, greens powders are generally high in vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K. They’re also rich in minerals including iodine, which is essential for thyroid health; selenium, which helps thyroid function and may reduce risk of certain cancers (2); and chromium, which impacts insulin and can lower blood sugar for diabetics. (3)
3. Green powders can boost the immune system.
A green scoop a day might indeed keep the doctor away. That’s because a single serving of the green stuff is brimming with polyphenols and antioxidants, which are proven to have anti-inflammatory properties that fight free radicals and improve immune function. (4)
4. Might improve energy levels, weight loss, and more.
Depending on the ingredients, some green powders can have stimulating effects on the body. For instance, powders with green tea extract could potentially spur calorie-burning and increase energy (5) thanks to its rich mix of caffeine and catechin polyphenols. One study demonstrated that those taking one tablespoon of greens powder every day responded with increased vitality, energy, and overall sense of well-being. (6)
5. They fit into your regular smoothie routine.
Adding green powder to your daily smoothie is about as simple as it gets, which is a big reason why they work for so many people. The key to adopting a new habit is that it easily weaves into your lifestyle and consuming greens powder as part of your regular smoothie ritual is one way to do that.
A Few Precautions About Greens Powder
Sounds great right? Of course, there are always two sides of the coin. Let’s look at some of the potential disadvantages of greens powder.
Not a great source of dietary fiber
While extra fiber is added to some greens powders, they’re generally low in fiber. As such, don’t rely on these powders alone. Consuming foods rich in dietary fiber—fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes—is essential for digestive health and overall health. (7)
They aren’t meal replacements
Consuming a wide variety of whole foods should not be replaced by drinking green juices. Rather, these drinks should simply enhance your nutrient intake. In fact, the mere act of chewing itself impacts appetite, satiety, and gut hormones. (8)
They don’t always taste so good
Greens powders are loaded with plants, vegetables, and herbs that can be quite bitter to the palate. Many brands use natural sweeteners such as stevia and fruit, but be aware that excessive sweeteners can significantly raise sugar levels.
Keep things in perspective
There is no such thing as the “best greens powder.” What works for you might not be the ideal choice for someone else. The FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) does not review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed, so it’s up to you to do the research. (9)
Good news: Reading this guide is part of your research!
What’s In Greens Powder?
Because specific ingredients vary from one brand to the next, the only way to know the specific ingredients of a greens powder is to read the label. Many are dairy-free, soy-free, or vegan, but check the product label to be sure. Below are some of the most common ingredients found in these formulations.
- Dark, leafy greens such as kale, spinach, dandelion
- Algae like spirulina, chlorella, dulse, kelp
- Nutrient-dense vegetables such as broccoli, beets, carrots
- Grasses including wheatgrass, barley grass, alfalfa grass
- Herbal extracts from green tea, ginger, ginkgo biloba, astragalus, echinacea
- Antioxidant-rich fruits like acai berries, goji berries, schisandra berry, and blueberries
- Probiotics and plant-based digestive enzymes
- Mushrooms such as shiitake, maitake, lion’s mane, chaga
- Natural sweeteners including stevia or monk fruit
- Added fiber from rice bran, inulin, etc.
What Makes Greens Powder Green?
Greens powders use green plants as a base, all of which have chlorophyll—the naturally occurring pigment that gives them their emerald-colored hue and is also linked to many health benefits. (10) Here are some of the grassy greens you’ll likely find in greens powders.
Made from the sprouted leaves of the common wheat plant, many people claim wheatgrass provides a surge of energy and alertness similar to coffee—minus the jitters. Wheatgrass is high in flavonoids, vitamins C, E, F, and has anti-cancer potential. (12) That said, the bitter taste is not something most people enjoy. (11)
Made from the leaf of the barley plant rather than the grain used in cereals, barley grass is a gluten-free green loaded with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants that support the immune system. Studies show it’s a functional food that can treat and prevent many chronic diseases. (13)
Derived from the flowering alfalfa plant, this herb—also known as lucerne—is a good source of vitamins A, C, E, and K as well as some minerals and other plant compounds. While more research is needed, some studies show that the saponins in alfalfa can block the absorption of bad cholesterol. (14)
With characteristics of both plants and animals, spirulina is a kind of cyanobacteria (aka blue-green algae) that became widely celebrated after NASA used it as a food source for astronauts. (15) Studies have shown this complete-protein “super green” has immune-boosting, cancer-fighting, antiviral, and anti-allergic effects. (16)
This is another type of green algae linked to numerous health benefits. (17) This nutrient powerhouse is also a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids that must be consumed through diet. Research shows chlorella can relieve symptoms of fibromyalgia, hypertension, and ulcerative colitis among other conditions (18).
Greens Superfood Powder
Greens powders have dozens of ingredients. Here are a handful of other ingredients that are sometimes used to give these powders a superfood boost.
Green Tea Leaf Powder
Also known as matcha, this popular extract wakes up the senses thanks to its caffeine content. But unlike coffee it also has L-theanine, an amino acid that has a calming, feel-good effect. (19)
Schisandra Fruit Powder
Taken from the purple-red berries of the schisandra plant, this powder is loaded with lignans that have a protective effect on the liver and can help regulate the immune system. (20)
Made from the dark green plant naturally found underwater, kelp powder is a powerhouse of iodine—the trace mineral that is required for optimal thyroid function. (21)
Also known as the “good bacteria” that balance your microbiome, probiotics are an essential part of gut health, which is directly linked to a strong immune system. (22)
Because of their ability to help break down food for energy and nutrients, digestive enzymes are often used in greens powders as an added bonus. However, some doctors say there isn’t enough evidence that shows these enzymes can help healthy people. (23)
These anti-inflammatory fungi are not only a good source of vitamin D (24), but varieties such as reishi, maitake, shiitake, lion’s mane, and chaga are also rich in beta-glucans—sugars found in the cell walls that fight cancerous tumors. (25)
Why Organic Is Important
Not all green powders are created equal. Just as it’s a good idea to eat organic food whenever possible, it’s important to choose greens supplements that are made from organic greens to avoid any pesticides, herbicides, and other potentially harmful ingredients.
Also, steer clear of chemical fillers, preservatives, and artificial colors. Look for the USDA “certified organic” label to make sure what you’re taking is non-GMO and at least 95% organic content. (26)
Is Greens Powder Gluten Free?
Contrary to what its name suggests, wheatgrass is actually gluten-free when harvested without any seeds—the seed kernels of the wheat plant have gluten, not the grass itself. (27) That said, if you suffer from Celiac disease or have a sensitivity to gluten, be sure to verify that the product you choose is certified as gluten-free.
Is Greens Powder Keto?
While the ketogenic diet does include many of the green vegetables found in greens powders, some higher-carb veggies—for example, potatoes, carrots, and beets—aren’t necessarily allowed. (28) To choose a keto-friendly greens powder, read the ingredient list and avoid corn starch and fiber additives.
It’s Easy Being Green!
Adopting a greener lifestyle is something more people are striving for these days. This not only means taking an eco-friendly approach to the kind of car you drive or recycling and reusing items, but it also means adopting more plant-based habits when it comes to what you eat and drink.
Adding greens powders to a diet that already includes a wide variety of nutritious, whole foods can be enormously beneficial in more ways than one. Of course, always consult your doctor before starting any new supplement and don’t forget those timeless words from Kermit, “I’m green…and it’s beautiful.”