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Clever brands have seized the opportunity to market green superfood powders to health-conscious consumers who want to increase their vegetable intake because they’re afraid they’re not getting enough nutrients through regular food.
Green powders promise to fill that gap by delivering the recommended daily serving of vegetables through the convenience of a drink.
The premise of liquid superfood sounds exciting and almost too good to be true. Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding such products, and most of them aren’t as healthy as the label claims.
The purpose of this article is to take a closer look at those chlorophyll-rich powders and to provide answers to a number of common questions, including:
- Are those supplements as nutritious as real food?
- Can green drink powders improve athletic performance and improve my energy levels?
- What should you look out for in green powders?
- What are the health benefits of liquid veggies?
- Are there potential side effects of “drinking” vegetables?
- What’s the best green powder?
- Why are most greens food powders contaminated with heavy metals?
So stick with me as we explore everything you need to know about superfood powders.
What Is Green Food Powder?
Green powders are dietary supplements consisting of powdered fruits, vegetables and other plant-based compounds that can help you pack more nutrients into your regular diet.
All you have to do is mix a scoop of the powder with a few ounces of water, nut milk or your favorite protein shake.
Manufacturers of green powders claim that their products can help detox, reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases, improve your energy levels and mental clarity, support your immune system, lose weight and more.
So let’s learn more about the potential benefits of green powders and find out if there’s sufficient scientific evidence to back up those claims.
But before we get into the weeds, let’s talk about how these products are manufactured and what types of green powders you can find on the market.
How Are Green Powders Made?
A common technique for making green powders is to dry the ingredients and then grind them. In some cases, manufacturers first extract the juice of plants (juicing) and then dry the juice to make it into powder.
There are different drying techniques, and each has pros and cons:
- Freeze drying
- Air drying
- Spray drying
You can read this article if you’re interested in the details between these methods, but in a nutshell: freeze drying uses low temperatures and thus preserves the nutrients in food much better than spray-drying or air-drying. It’s also more expensive.
While air drying sounds natural and relatively straightforward, it also uses higher temperatures (which can destroy some of the nutrients in the food).
As a result, I recommend green powders from brands that use freeze-drying during their manufacturing process.
There is also a new trend of sprouting and fermenting ingredients, which can remove some of the antinutrients commonly found in plants.
That helps with improving the absorption rate of micronutrients. We’ll get more into that in a bit when we talk about “superfoods,” so stay tuned.
Popular Green Powder Ingredients
Green powders often contain 20 to 75 different plant-based ingredients, but the exact number varies by brand. Common ingredients include:
- Antioxidant-rich fruits and leaves such as goji berries, pineapple, raspberries, blueberries, citrus bioflavonoids extracts, moringa.
- Digestive enzymes such as astragalus root powder extract, bromelain, and burdock root powder.
- Extracts such as green tea extracts (including matcha), cocoa bean polyphenol extract, grape seed extract and ginkgo biloba extract.
- Grasses such as barley grass, wheatgrass, oat grass and alfalfa grass.
- Leafy greens such as kale and spinach.
- Mushrooms such as reishi mushroom extract, maitake mushroom extract and shiitake mushroom extract.
- Natural sweeteners such as stevia or monk fruit extract
- Nutrient-packed veggies such as broccoli, carrots, red beets and cabbage.
- Prebiotics and fiber such as inulin (from artichokes), tapioca starch or apple fiber.
- Probiotic bacteria such as lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium bifidum.
- Seaweed such as kelp, spirulina and chlorella.
Types of Superfood Powder
If you walk through the supplements aisle of your local Whole Foods Market, or search on Amazon*, you’ll find countless plant powders to choose from. So let’s talk about some of the different types of superfood powders.
While this article focuses primarily on dried superfood powders, which consist of a mix of different plants (green and otherwise), you can also find powdered versions of individual fruits, veggies, roots and mushrooms*.
For example, for my testing I got a container of organic moringa leaf powder*. It’s a plant native to South Asia and its leaves have been used in Ayurvedic medicine for at least 4,000 years.
If you decide to make plant powders part of your dietary lifestyle, I’d recommend going with a product that contains a wide variety of ingredients — especially those that you would normally not put on your plate.
Unless, of course, your goal is to supplement with a specific plant, herb or nutrient.
What to Look for in a Greens Powder?
Considering the overwhelming amount of products on the market, let’s look at some of the key requirements you should have when it comes to green powders.
By applying these requirements, you can quickly weed out unhealthy or ineffective products and focus on those that provide the most potential benefits.
- Organic and non-GMO
- Naturally sweetened
- Dairy-free probiotics
- Added sugar
- Grains and soy
- Artificial ingredients
When it comes to green powders, ingredient quality is just as important as when you’re shopping for fresh produce.
That’s why I recommend sticking with brands that only use organic and non-GMO ingredients that have been carefully processed using a freeze-drying method.
Avoid any products that include cheap fillers, such as wheat, corn, soy, unnecessary starches or other artificial ingredients.
As a rule of thumb, I avoid products that include added sugars.
The problem is that nutritive sweeteners exist under dozens of different names, including fructose, maltodextrin, dextrose, rice syrup, corn syrup and others.
So it’s not always easy to identify added sugars in processed foods without reading the label very carefully.
In addition to nutritive sweeteners, I also stay away from artificial sweeteners that don’t have any calories, such as sucralose, sugar alcohols (i.e., erythritol) and others.
The few exceptions to this rule are stevia leaf extract and monk fruit extract, because they’re from truly natural sources.
You can read more about that rationale in this article.
This one seems like a no-brainer, but the reality is that almost all fresh produce contains trace levels of heavy metals and other chemicals from the soil and water. As a result, so do organic green powders.
California has established a law known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act (commonly referred to as Proposition 65).
The law requires manufacturers of supplements to add a “Prop 65” warning on a product label if the product in question contains any ingredient that tests over 1/1000th of what the World Health Organization terms as “Safe Harbor Levels.”
Virtually all green powders violate those limits. Whether or not you see a warning on the label depends on where you live: if you live outside of California, you might not see such a warning, because manufacturers use different (less scary) packaging.
Considering that natural plants grown in “clean” soil — such as spinach — contain higher levels of chemicals than what California’s law allows, you might consider ignoring such warnings altogether.
I don’t recommend that. Instead, look for products that have been third-party tested for heavy metals and make sure they contain the lowest amount possible. For instance, Athletic Greens and Ketōnd test their products.
Ketōnd wrote an excellent article* on the subject, explaining how the company handles testing for heavy metals.
Why Superfoods Are a Misnomer
You’re probably familiar with the term “superfoods,” which describes foods that are incredibly nutrient-dense. The assumption is that the more nutrients a food packs, the healthier it is.
Examples of “known” superfoods include chia seeds, dark leafy greens, most berries, blue-green algae, etc.
Here’s the problem: the superfood label is bullshit. Nutritionally, there is no such thing as a superfood.
In fact, many of the so-called superfoods include (natural) compounds that are either inflammatory or hamper the absorption of other nutrients.
For example, many dark leafy greens, including Swiss chard and spinach, contain antinutrients (such as oxalates) that significantly reduce the food’s nutritional value by hampering mineral absorption.
Also, studies have shown that Vitamin A is 15 to 20 times more bioavailable in meat than in plant sources, while iron is three times more bioavailable in meat than in plants.
That’s why I don’t like the label “superfoods.” Think about it: what good is a nutrient-dense plant food if the body can’t absorb most of it?
That doesn’t mean high-quality food powders don’t deserve your consideration. Just don’t expect miracles from individual ingredients.
Who Should Use Green Powders?
That means you should do everything you can to fulfill your body’s nutritional needs with pastured meats, wild-caught seafood and organically-grown fruits and vegetables.
I realize that fulfilling one’s nutritional needs is sometimes easier said than done given our stressful, modern lives. That’s where green powders can help to fill those dietary gaps.
However, don’t mistake green powders or other supplements as a replacement for real food.
Also, if you’re an athlete and consistently put high physical strain on your body, you might have a higher demand for both macronutrients and micronutrients than what you can meet with regular food.
As a result, consuming natural protein supplements and green powders might be a necessary evil.
Health Benefits of Green Powders
There are two ways of looking at the benefits of green powders. Some sites, such as Healthline, list the scientifically-relevant benefits of individual ingredients you can commonly find in green powders.
Such benefits include:
- Reduced oxidative stress and inflammation, thanks to the actions of plant compounds. That may reduce your risk of developing a chronic disease, such as cancer or heart disease.
- Improved energy from ingredients such as green tea extract, which is a natural source of caffeine.
- Detoxification, by including alkaline plant compounds or alkalizing greens that are supposed to increase your blood pH. (Note: You cannot influence your blood pH with food.)
- Weight loss, by controlling your appetite and blood sugar levels.
The reality is that most of these claims stem from poorly-designed or observational studies that don’t necessarily prove cause and effect.
That’s why I think it’s a waste of time going down the rabbit hole of trying to match individual ingredients to health benefits.
Instead, focus on the bigger picture. I hope we can all agree that our bodies need nutrients and the best source of such nutrients is fresh food.
However, if you feel like you’re already doing the best you can but it’s not good enough — maybe because of lifestyle factors that are difficult to influence — consider using supplements such as green powders.
I work out 5 or 6 times a week, and I have a stressful job and two kids who demand my constant attention.
Additionally, I use supplements such as green powders to fill any potential gaps — especially those I might not be aware of.
Are Greens Supplements Worth It?
The highest quality green powders don’t come cheap because they’re expensive to manufacture. So the question remains if it’s worth spending $50 to $70 dollars every month on a green powder.
Frankly, I think such products are only worth the money if you’ve already taken care of the basics.
That means you:
- Follow a low-carb high-fat diet — such as a ketogenic or paleo diet — that includes nutrient-dense foods
- Sleep well and have consistent bed/wake times
- Fast intermittently (it’s free)
- Exercise regularly
If you don’t do 1 through 4, green powders might still provide benefits to you, but they are certainly not the lowest hanging fruits when it comes to improving your health and wellbeing.
If you’re a business woman or man, think of it from a return on investment (ROI) perspective. What’s the biggest bang for your buck? I’d argue that diet, sleep and exercise offer a higher ROI than supplements.
Once you’ve picked all the low-hanging fruits, supplements can certainly give you an edge!
What Are the Best Green Powders?
While searching for the best green powders on the market, I noticed that most products don’t meet my clean and ancestral eating requirements. There are only a handful I would consider buying and recommending to others.
Athletic Greens is packed with 75 vitamins, minerals and whole-food-sourced ingredients. I consider it the top-of-the-line green powder. The only thing that could be improved is the sweetness.
I think Athletic Greens added too much stevia for my taste. However, other users — including my wife — seem to love it, so it’s definitely a personal preference.
Ketōnd Super Greens
Ketōnd, on the other hand, offers an organic plant-based micronutrient blend that’s manufactured in an FDA-approved facility — and it’s half the price.
To be fair, Ketōnd doesn’t quite offer the breadth of ingredients of Athletic Greens, which is reflected in its lower pricing.
In a nutshell, both products offer high quality and organic ingredients without any fillers, artificial sweeteners, processed carbs or dangerous chemicals. They’re also vegan friendly.
Organifi Green Juice
Organifi’s products also meet all of my dietary requirements. It’s USDA Organic, gluten-free, soy free, dairy free and non-GMO. Plus, it tastes really good and not too sweet at all.
The tub I got shows a Prop65 warning for cadmium (see above). At first, I found that irritating until I learned more about the law and its labeling requirements.
Sunny & Green Cleansing Green
Sunny & Green* is another brand that I really like, just based on the ingredients. What’s cool about Sunny & Green is that they offer both greens food powders as well as powders made from individual plants, such as organic beetroot or blue-green algae.
SuperGreen Tonik* is the latest addition to my list of recommended green powders. I like this product because the team behind it was incredibly transparent and forthcoming when I asked them about individual ingredients and processing methods.
Besides that, SuperGreen Tonik features organic greens, a nootropic blend to boost mental performance, and an immune blend to help support your immune system.
Unlike most other products I’ve tried, SuperGreen Tonik lists the individual vitamins and ingredients on its label. I’m sure many of you will appreciate that.
Taste-wise, this green powder is comparable to Organifi or Ketōnd. All three contain Stevia, which gives the products a lightly sweet taste. My wife noted that by adding a sweetened green powder to her post-workout protein shake, she can omit the banana she used to use as a natural sweetener. That cuts down on carbs and sugar!
Other Products I’d Recommend
Nested Naturals Super Green
Nested Naturals is another brand that offers a high-quality product without any undesirable ingredients or fillers.
I haven’t had a chance to try Super Greens yet, but other users have complained about its taste. Your mileage may vary.
Green Products I Would Not Recommend
The following products all look pretty good on the surface, but there are some issues that prevent me from recommending them:
Amazing Grass Green Superfood
This green superfood powder checks all the boxes and it’s available in three different flavors.
The only thing I don’t like about it is the inclusion of an arguably unnecessary filler or anti-caking agent called silica. It’s also worth mentioning that this is the brand that adds sugar to its formula marketed to kids — see below.
Amazing Grass Kidz Superfood
I’ve noticed that most products marketed to kids are less healthy than their adult counterparts. Amazing Grass Kidz Superfood* is no exception.
Believe it or not, it contains cane sugar. I don’t care what else it has: they’ve lost me with sugar.
Purely Inspired Organic Greens
You can find Purely Inspired at Walmart at a very reasonable price. The problem with the product is that it contains too many crappy ingredients, including wheat, corn starch, silicone dioxide (filler), maltodextrin and more.
Vibrant Health Green Vibrance
At a first glance, Vibrant Health* seems to offer a solid product that might even compete with Athletic Greens as far as breadth of ingredients is concerned.
Unfortunately, Green Vibrance contains trace amounts of milk and soy, and a highly-processed vanilla flavor made from non-GMO rice.
Frequently Asked Questions
You certainly can mix different green powders, but I recommend looking at the food label to make sure you don’t exceed the recommended dosage.
Even too much of the healthiest food can cause an upset stomach, diarrhea and other symptoms.
Absolutely! My wife uses green powder for her post-workout shake, which often includes almond milk, protein powder and a low-carb fruit.
Sure thing! Mixing green powder with a natural protein powder makes for an excellent pre-workout meal or post-workout shake, packed with phytonutrients.
According to the American dietary guidelines, men should consume 2 cups and women 1.5 cups of fruit each day.
These and other government recommendations are why more than 71% of Americans are overweight or obese. The truth is that fruits are loaded with sugar (fructose) and provide only small amounts of bioavailable micronutrients.
As a result, I recommend staying away from most fruits, with the exception of avocados, berries and a few other low-carb options.
Enzymes undoubtedly play an important part in the digestive process.
If you’re suffering from digestive issues or have an imbalance in your gut microbiota, supplementing with probiotics and enzymes can certainly help.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Because your body can’t make them, you have to eat enough protein from high-quality sources.
While I have seen some powdered greens that contain amino acids, I don’t think that’s necessary — especially plant-based protein, which is poorly absorbed by your body.
I’ve noticed that as well, and I think it’s simply because there isn’t enough room to list all the vitamins and minerals that come with the included ingredients.
Non-GMO means that the organism (i.e., the plant) was not genetically modified. However, just because something is non-GMO doesn’t mean the manufacturer didn’t use chemicals (such as pesticides) to grow the plant.
That’s why I recommend products that are both non-GMO and organic.
However, you should know that farmers are still allowed to change the characteristics of plants via cross-breeding and other methods. So the fact that something is non-GMO doesn’t mean it hasn’t been materially modified.
Additionally, the label USDA Organic doesn’t mean that no pesticides were used. Under USDA regulations, farmers are still allowed to use certain chemicals that don’t violate the program.
Free radicals are atoms or molecules that are highly reactive because they’re missing an electron. In your body they can damage cells and they are linked to aging.
Their counterpart are antioxidants that chemically react with those free radicals to “neutralize” them.
ORAC means Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, and it was a method to measure the antioxidant capacity of different foods. The USDA even used to publish a database of foods and their ORAC score.
Unfortunately, marketers abused those scores to make up claims about health benefits that had no scientific basis. So, if you see a product boasting a high ORAC score, just ignore it.
The Standard American Diet is among the worst things you can do to your body, as is evidenced by the exploding rates of metabolic diseases.
A plant-based diet, such as a vegan diet, is often “less bad” because (among other things) vegans are often more health conscious and pay better attention to food quality.
However, just because a diet is “less bad” doesn’t make it good. Both from an evolutional and scientific perspective — I’m talking about clinical trials and not observational studies here — the human body isn’t made for eating only plants.
But that’s an entirely different discussion and a subject for another blog article.
In most cases, green powders don’t replace a meal or even a snack. That’s because they lack calories and other essential macronutrients, such as protein (amino acids) and fat (fatty acids).
However, you can certainly mix those powders with traditional meal replacement powders. For a list of my favorite vegan and keto meal replacement shakes, check out these links.
Any time you introduce your body to new foods, you might impact your digestion and even upset your digestive tract.
Chances are, you just need to get used it. If your stomach issues don’t go away after a few days, you might be sensitive to one or more of the ingredients. If that’s the case, try switching brands and see if the situation improves.
Green Superfood Powders – Should You Buy Them?
I recently read a statement in the new book Keto Answers* that if you’re concerned about not getting enough micronutrients from food, you should eat more meat. That sounds corny and funny (not to mention disturbing if you’re a vegan), but it’s absolutely true.
The caveat to that statement is that the parts of animals that are most nutrient-packed are the organs. The problem is that most of us don’t eat nearly enough organ meat. When was the last time you had heart, liver, kidney or spleen on your plate?
I’m “pretty good” with liver. But in reality it makes up a negligible part of my diet. That’s a problem, and it means that I have to get my nutrients from more convenient and/or socially acceptable sources of food.
That’s where low-carb fruits and non-starchy vegetables come into the picture.
But as I mentioned above, the nutrients in plants are notoriously hard to absorb. And unlike gorillas, who spend half of their day gathering and eating plants, I have neither the time nor the desire to chew plants all day to get the nutrients I need.
In my opinion, that’s the gap green powders can fill by providing a convenient delivery mechanism of micronutrients. Just don’t view such products as a shortcut to adopting an otherwise healthy (dietary) lifestyle.
What’s your take on such greens supplements? Do you use them? And, if so, what’s your favorite brand? Let me know by leaving a comment below.