Green is the new black, at least in terms of health. Most of us can benefit from adding more green produce to our diet. We can also enjoy eating other colorful produce, including fruits and vegetables in shades of red, orange, yellow, red, and purple. In other words, eat the rainbow! You can do this by consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
Why eat more fruits and veggies? Research shows that a diet that contains a variety of plant-based foods may lower the risk of a number of health problems. As Harvard Health points out, eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some types of cancer. In addition, carotenoids in many fruits and vegetables may lower the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, two common eye diseases that lead to visual problems in older people.
How closely are people following this advice? Despite the abundance of evidence that fruits and vegetables are good for us, most people don’t get 5 or more servings daily, the amount that experts recommend for good health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only one in ten adults meets this recommendation. Women are more likely to meet the recommendation than men.
Why does vegetable and fruit consumption fall short? Some people don’t like veggies and others say they lack the time to prepare them. Whenever people cite a lack of time as a reason, the food industry tries to step in with a solution. That’s where a trendy solution comes in – green powders. Makers of these powders claim that it’s a way to get veggies without cooking and preparing them. They often emphasize the superfood properties of these powders, but how much of the benefits of green powders is a reality and how much is hype?
What Are Green Powders?
Green powders are a mixture of dried plant-based foods that are ground into a fine powder. The vegetables you might find in a commercial green powder include broccoli, kale, wheat grass, kelp, beets, watercress, and green tea powder. Manufacturers dry the vegetables and grind it into a fine powder. Then, they place the powder into convenient packages so you can scoop out a few spoonfuls to add to your meals. Other ingredients you might find in green powders include plant-based digestive enzymes, herbs, synthetic fiber, and sugar or sugar substitutes.
One of the most popular ways people use green powder is to add a spoonful or two to smoothies. Plus, you can add green powder to soups, stews, and other foods that are liquid. Sounds convenient, but could it be that easy? Can you ditch whole fruits and vegetables and use green powder instead?
The Pros and Cons of Green Powders
Manufacturers of green powders often cite studies that support the health benefits of green powders. For example, one study challenged ten individuals to consume two tablespoons of green powder each day. The study showed those who consumed green powder each day had lower levels of damaged proteins damaged by oxidative stress in their bloodstream. That’s good news, but you would get similar benefits by eating whole fruits and vegetables without the high price tag. Plus, the quality and make-up of green powders varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. It’s hard to generalize from powder to powder. Another way this study falls short is its size–only ten participants.
Another study found that healthy college students who consumed a fruit and vegetable powder for 90 days experienced a drop in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, although they didn’t lose weight. That’s significant because one reason people buy green powders is to help with weight loss.
Ask most dietitians and they’ll tell you that green powders are an addition to but not a substitute for eating whole fruits and vegetables. How do they fall short? It’s hard to package all the beneficial compounds in fruits and vegetables into a single product. Plus, manufacturers of these powders may add fillers that whole fruits and vegetables lack.
Another con of green powders is consuming your vegetables this way provides less satisfaction. The physical act of chewing is more satisfying and satiating and powders don’t give you that experience. Plus, manufacturers sometimes add synthetic fiber to green powders, but they don’t contain the quantity of fiber that whole vegetables do.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Another drawback to some commercial green powders is they may contain mega-doses of certain vitamins. More isn’t always better. For example, there are drawbacks to getting too much of some nutrients, such as beta-carotene. Another concern is the quantity of vitamin K in some powders. If you’re taking a blood thinner, the vitamin K in some green powders can reduce the effectiveness of the medication. When you eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, you get a balanced array of nutrients and you won’t typically get concerning levels of any one nutrient.
The Risk of Contamination
One of the biggest concerns about green powders is the potential for contamination with heavy metals. One independent test of popular green powders found that almost a third contained heavy metal contaminants, including lead and cadmium. Consuming powders containing heavy metals would be particularly harmful to children and pregnant women.
The Bottom Line
The upside of green powder is that you’ll get some of the benefits of eating vegetables such as vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. The downside is you won’t get as much fiber and you could get a dose of heavy metals if you buy the wrong brand. Do your research if you buy one! Choose one that was independently tested and has no heavy metal contamination. Also, avoid ones that have added fillers, sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Also, don’t make green powders your only source of produce. The components in whole fruits and vegetables are synergistic when you eat them in their whole, unprocessed state. There’s no guarantee that a green powder captures the full essence of the vegetables they’re made from. Your best bet is still to eat a whole food diet with lots of fruits and vegetables in their unaltered state. If you still want green powder for your smoothie, research well before buying one and use it in moderation.
- Int J Mol Sci. 2011;12(8):4896-908. doi: 10.3390/ijms12084896. Epub 2011
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Only 1 in 10 Adults Get Enough Fruits or Vegetables”
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Fruits and Vegetables”
- J Chiropr Med. 2009 Sep; 8(3): 101–106. doi: 10.1016/j.jcm.2008.09.004.