What Experts Really Think About Greens Powders

Brands that sell the supplements claim drinking the blends can help with gut health, inflammation and more. Is that actually true or is it total B.S.?
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Greens powders seem too good to be true — and maybe they are.
Illustration:Jianan Liu/HuffPost
Greens powders seem too good to be true — and maybe they are.

It’s hard to go on social media without seeing a fitness influencer or health-conscious celebrity touting greens powders.

Popular brands like Athletic Greens, Ora, Bloom and 1st Phorm have unique powdered green mixes that you can easily combine with water to create a beverage that helps you hit your daily vitamin needs while consuming powerful superfoods, too — or so they say.

Essentially, these greens powders are dried fruits or vegetables that are blended up into a powdered form, according to Carlie Saint-Laurent Beaucejour, a registered dietitian and owner of Crave With Carlie, a virtual nutrition practice.

Since fruits and vegetables are known to promote gut health, boost immunity and build antioxidant levels, these powdered greens claim to do the same, Saint-Laurent Beaucejour said.

Gina Milano, a clinical dietitian at Stanford Health Care in California, said, although the reported perks vary from blend to blend, most products also promise to help you maintain energy levels throughout the day and are said to alleviate bloating and support liver function.

In other words, the claims say one scoop of these greens powders can do a lot.

Here, experts share if these greens powders deliver on their promises — and what to know about the blends you’re drinking.

First, know that many of these powders are not FDA-regulated.

According to Milano, though the makers of greens powders seem to boast all kinds of eye-catching benefits, most of these powders are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, meaning they have not gone through a process that proves they fully achieve the promises.

“A lot of ... these different products will say something like ‘these statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease,’” Milano said. “So, even though they’re touting all these great claims, they’re still saying, in very small print, of course, ‘Hey, just so you know, this isn’t FDA-regulated.’”

For the powders that are not FDA-regulated, any claims around the prevention of disease or treatment of a health condition are not vetted. And the exact makeup of the disease-preventing superfood complexes are unknown, Milano added.

While these mixes claim to have superfood ingredients, like spirulina or green tea powder, it’s unknown exactly how much.

“There isn’t a ton of research on superfood products or green blends, which I guess is not surprising as a lot of these products vary from blend to blend based on the brand [and] manufacturing,” Milano said.

These greens powders are made of proprietary blends — so while the components of the powders are listed on the label (such as spirulina, alfalfa powder, wheat grass juice powder), what’s missing is how much of each is in the product.

You’ll find this information on the full ingredient list, next to or below the amount of vitamins and minerals in the product. For example, when it comes to Athletic Greens, these superfood ingredients are bucketed under blends like “Alkaline, Nutrient-Dense Raw Superfood Complex” and “Nutrient Dense Extracts, Herbs & Antioxidants.” For Ora, you can find them under “Organic Alkalizing Grass Blend” and “Organic Alkalizing Greens Blend.”

The ingredients listed in this area are buzzwords that you probably associate with healthfulness, and you’re not wrong: Studies show that consuming specific amounts of these items can be beneficial, especially spirulina and matcha, Milano noted. But since it’s unknown how much of these products are actually in these blends, it’s also unknown if there’s enough to do your body any good.

“We don’t know how much is actually included, so the effectiveness is really hard to determine,” she said, “I think just as a whole it’s hard to promise all these health claims that they typically recommend.”

The vitamin and mineral contents are more known, though.

Though some of the information on the makeup of the superfood complexes or proprietary blends is murky, Milano said she’s confident that the vitamin and mineral promises on the label are more straightforward.

These greens powders are an easy way to get your vitamins, she explained, so you can kind of look at them as a well-rounded daily vitamin.

It’s easier to measure vitamin and mineral content. “That, to me, is much more believable that they’ve measured and done the data collection on that piece of the puzzle,” Milano added.

Also, since most Americans are not getting the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables (which is 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of veggies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), Saint-Laurent Beaucejour added that these green blends overall could help people meet their nutrient requirements.

Powdered greens are safe for most people to consume, but they really have no huge benefit when compared with a diet of healthful whole foods.
d3sign via Getty Images
Powdered greens are safe for most people to consume, but they really have no huge benefit when compared with a diet of healthful whole foods.

If these greens help you focus on your health, there is probably nothing wrong with consuming them.

Both Milano and Saint-Laurent Beaucejour said that, though these greens powders are not necessary for a healthy diet ― and, at a time of high inflation, they’re an expensive investment at that ― they can usually be helpful for people who use these greens as a catalyst for a healthful change.

“I think if this helps the average person take one step to just putting vegetables on their plate or thinking about doing that, then, sure, these powders can be helpful,” Milano said. “If this is something they enjoy and it encourages them to make healthier choices, that’s a positive.”

Plus, most of these blends need to be mixed with water, so if you are drinking these powders you’re also boosting your hydration, which is key to good health — and most Americans aren’t drinking enough water as it is, Saint-Laurent Beaucejour noted.

When combined with other healthy activities, like eating a balanced diet, drinking water and exercising, these greens powders aren’t bad. But “there’s plenty of other things we can do to help our guts feel healthier, our brains function better and to live longer and healthier lives,” Milano said.

If you’re going to drink these powder blends, do your prep and research.

“These greens are juiced, pressed and made into powders, which extracts the fiber,” Milano said. “So the fiber content in a lot of these aren’t great.” For something that is so fruit- and veggie-rich, you’d think there would be more fiber, so that is a downside, she added.

“It’s not giving you that same fiber that a whole food approach would,” Milano said.

If you are going to drink these blends, make sure you’re eating full meals with your beverage. Milano suggested having two hard-boiled eggs or a piece of wheat toast with nut butter with your glass of greens.

Lastly, before picking out a blend, do your research to make sure the mixture is safe and has been through the necessary health checks.

“You do want to make sure that these brands are NSF third-party verified ... this basically just confirms that what is said to be in the bottle, like the vitamin content and the extracts that they are using, are there,” Milano said. (Even though, as mentioned above, the exact amount of each ingredient is not measured.)

Milano added that you can also see if the product you want to buy is reviewed by Informed Choice, which checks for contaminants and heavy metal content, or check Consumer Lab, which is a good safety resource for health products.

Some people may have adverse reactions, so check with health care providers before taking something new.

Since everyone’s genetics are different, these powdered greens may work for some people and not for others, Saint-Laurent Beaucejour noted. What’s more, they may be safe for some folks but not others.

“I think that’s why it’s important to work with your health care professional [and] work with a dietitian,” she said.

According to Saint-Laurent Beaucejour, you should inform your doctor of any supplements you’re taking or want to start taking. This is because some of the ingredients in these powdered blends could negatively interact with medications you’re taking or with medical conditions you have.

“These supplements are not FDA-approved, meaning they’re not regulated,” she said, adding that the sellers could make claims that are not true and could withhold information about possible side effects.

Though very rare, there is a chance of toxicity in these concentrated powers, she added.

“When it comes to any supplements, I would just be cautious,” Saint-Laurent Beaucejour said.

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