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You’ve heard this countless times: You have to eat your veggies. But ask yourself this: Are you really getting enough vegetables in your diet? Do you think you could improve your intake? That’s pretty much what green powders were invented for. But do they replace the need for fruits and veggies, or do they simply compliment your vegetable intake to add more key nutrients, vitamins and minerals? In this post, we’ll check out the difference between greens powder vs vegetables, see if they really have any health benefits, or if you’re better off eating fresh produce. As an accredited practicing dietitian, I always like my readers to be well informed, especially when it comes to nutritional supplements.
So, what are green powders?
Green powders are dietary supplements designed to help you reach your daily recommended vegetable intake. All you do is mix them into water and other liquids. The formulations are often vegan, as well as non-genetically-modified and organic—but always check the product label for these details.
For the record, the USDA, through choosemyplate.gov, recommends that adults eat from 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruits and from 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day.
These greens supplements are a combination of plants and other “superfoods” that have been dried and blended into a powder form. Most commonly provide good amounts of vitamin A, C, E, K, B6, and B12. They also contain certain dubbed “superfoods” such as:
- Barley grass, wheatgrass, oat grass, alfalfa grass
- High antioxidant fruits (berries, acai, goji)
- Vegetables and leafy green vegetables
- Herbs and nutritional extracts (green tea, basil, echinacea)
- Plant based digestive enzymes and probiotics
- Additional fiber such as rice bran, inulin, and apple fiber
I know what you’re thinking. By taking greens supplements, you’ll never have to eat your leafy greens kale and spinach again. And it sounds like a great idea right? Getting most of your nutrient intake in one simple scoop of powder? Well, not so fast. Let’s jump right in the battle of greens powder vs vegetables, and see if they can really replace eating vegetables (and if they’re actually worth the hype).
Super greens powder benefits
Most of the labels on these products claim that greens powders can support your body’s immune system, energy levels, “detoxification” (ugh!) and more. But are these purported benefits for real? Here’s what the evidence has to say on greens powder vs vegetables.
Green supplements may help protect heart health
As an example, this research paper found that after the subjects took a green powder for 90 days, “both the systolic and diastolic BPs [blood pressure] were reduced in the study”. Indeed, a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables has been associated with a decreased risk of incident hypertension. However, we can’t jump to conclusions with the greens powders yet, since the first study I cited was not a blinded study, and only lasted 3 months. A larger population is also necessary in this case.
Powdered greens may have antioxidant properties
In this additional study, the results suggest that a greens supplement “might play a role in reducing the risk of chronic diseases involving a burden of oxidative damage”. Dietary antioxidants play an important role against oxidative stress, an underlying mechanism in the incidence of chronic disease such as heart disease, certain types of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, to name a few. Foods such as fruits and vegetables which are high in antioxidant compounds are one of the best ways to help keep oxidation and inflammation in the body at bay.
Greens powders may help promote gut health
Many of these supplements also include probiotics and digestive enzymes in their formulations. Probiotics can seemingly promote gut health via “direct interaction with the gut microbiota, interaction with the mucosal immune system and immune signalling to a variety of organs and systems”. Digestive enzymes are able to break down proteins and carbohydrates and lipids, and their supplementation may play a role in the management of digestive disorders, from lactose intolerance to cystic fibrosis.
However, the evidence as to how effective added dietary enzymes are for digestive health is still inconclusive.
Do you need greens powder?
If you consistently consume at least 10 servings of fruits and veggies per day, then supplementing with a greens product will likely be unnecessary. However, if you’re falling short in your daily intake, a greens powder can help tide you over. But always check with your healthcare provider first, especially with a registered dietitian, who can help you find ways to include more of these foods in your diet. Supplements should not take the place of real foods.
Are powdered greens as good as fresh?
Continuing with our exploration of greens powder vs vegetables, we can agree that green leafy vegetables are a rich source of a number of micronutrients and other phytochemicals having antioxidant properties.
It has been reported that consuming green leafy vegetables in the raw state has significantly higher antioxidant values than the cooked state (check out my post on kale and spinach nutrition for more information on this). Following this association, powdered greens (which are not cooked) could be an alternative to fresh greens, in case the latter are not available. However, the particular mechanism of the beneficial effects of taking a green vegetable supplement has not been well established.
Additionally, any food in its whole, natural form will contain more of a specific nutrient. Although greens powders do still contain plenty of nutrients, some are lost during the processing. As we’ll see later on, whole, fresh greens will trump powders any day, although the latter can be helpful in some cases.
Can greens powder replace vegetables?
In my professional opinion, there’s no substitute for whole, unprocessed foods. So no, these supplements can’t replace “real vegetables”. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also a great source of fiber, whereas greens powders are low in fiber, typically only providing 1–2 grams per serving (although sometimes extra fiber is added, as I mentioned above). In their whole form, vegetables also give you the satisfaction of chewing and are high in water, which may help satisfy hunger and promote fullness.
Vegetables in their whole, natural state also provide a complete matrix of vitamins, minerals and plant-based nutrients that all work together to promote health and wellbeing.
Green powders are still a supplement product. Supplements help assist a balanced diet, but are not a substitute for real foods.
However, a greens supplements can help augment a diet that is low in fruits and vegetables. In the case that you don’t like how they taste and/or are still learning to include more of these foods into your diet, greens powders may help bridge your nutrient intake.
They can also be helpful for traveling and days when whole fruits and vegetables aren’t available.Since they’re portable and convenient (no rinsing, chopping or cooking required), it’s just a matter of mixing in with your favorite beverage and you’re good to go.
Always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider before taking any new supplement — even greens powders.
What do you mix green powder with?
Super greens powders are usually mixed with water, juice or into smoothies. However, they incorporate well into other foods such as:
- Milk, or plant based alternatives
- In a veggie or bean dip
- Sprinkled over a salad
- In a salad dressing
- With fruit sauces (applesauce, pear sauce)
- In overnight oats
While you definitely can use them in soups, sauces, eggs or cooked vegetables, the heat may destroy some of the vitamin C content and probiotics in these supplements. I recommend they be consumed without any exposure to heat for maximum nutrient retention.
A word of advise: Most green powders are not exactly what you’d call mouthwatering delicious. My first experience with them made me feel like I was drinking freshly mowed grass (jarring, to say the least!). However, I’ll leave some recommendations below for better tasting alternatives. Or you can always just blend them into juice or a healthy smoothie.
How many times a day can you drink super greens?
While a study like this one, which evaluated one particular greens powder, found in their results that “these observations suggest no adverse effects of ingesting greens+ even up to six teaspoons per day for four weeks”, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Servings may depend on the recommended amounts suggested on the particular product, and on individual factors such as:
- Nutritional needs
- Eating patterns
- Use of certain medications (some of these supplements can result in food-drug interactions, especially between Warfarin and Vitamin K)
- Presence of any underlying medical condition or pregnancy/ lactation status
As I mentioned before, ALWAYS consult with your healthcare provider before starting any nutritional supplement. And although I am a dietitian, I’m not your dietitian 😉
When should I drink my greens?
It really doesn’t matter. They can be taken at any time of the day, with or without meals.
We all have different schedules and habits. The important thing is (if you’re planning on supplementing with greens) to use them when they’re more convenient for you. Rushing during the morning? Blend them into a smoothie and go. Need a relaxing bedtime snack? Add them to a glass of milk or plant based alternative.
Just like what I teach with intuitive eating: listen to your body and what it needs. It will not steer you wrong.
5 of the best greens powders on the market
Here are 5 of my top picks for greens powders, since these choices are free of additives, dyes and colorings, things to always watch out for in processed products.
- FNX Rebalance Super Greens: My personal favorite, this is the best tasting greens powder I’ve ever had. With zero sugar! It comes in different flavors such as: Strawberry Dragonfruit, Citrus Blast, Unicorn Punch and Tropical Blast. It also has antioxidants, probiotics and raw ingredients like barley, alfalfa, kamut, oat & wheat grass. And my readers can use cupon code FNXshCW for 15% off your total purchase.
- Nested Naturals Super Greens: High in antioxidant vitamin C and vitamin K for bone health, this greens powder is also free of artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners. The taste is more on the “green” side, if you know what I mean, but blended into your favorite foods can help.
- Amazing Grass Green Superfood Multivitamin: 1 scoop provides more than 15 vitamins and minerals (including B12, which is necessary in vegan diets). It’s also free of added sugars, and has some fiber (2 grams per scoop).
- Nature’s Plus Ultra Juice Green Powder: This powder offers the same amount of nutrients as approximately six servings of green vegetables,with 14 essential vitamins and minerals, as well as digestive enzymes and probiotics.
- Garden of Life Raw Organic Perfect Food Green Superfood Juiced Greens Powder: This chocolate flavored (ok, more like chocolatey grass, but whatevs!) greens powder is full of antioxidants with 34 raw superfoods, and it also contains prebiotics and probiotics.
Conclusion: Are green superfood powders worth it, or are green powders a waste of money?
OK, let’s recap: In terms of greens powder vs vegetables, vegetables are the preferred choice. However, greens supplements may be a useful alternative for when you don’t have access to real foods (such as when you’re too busy to sit down for a meal or when traveling), or when your diet is deficient in these foods. Nevertheless, superfood powders may lull us into a false sense of security, and make us think that it’s okay if we don’t eat our vegetables. But, as we’ve just seen, these powders are no substitute.
Also remember: Not all greens supplements are created equal. Each greens product has a unique makeup. Read the labels to be sure you’re getting what you want, and that there are no additives, such as added sugars, dyes, colorings . If you see any mention of “proprietary blend” on the label, run! I’m not kidding: FDA regulations require manufacturers to list out all of the ingredients in a given product, but the “proprietary blend” loophole doesn’t require the company to list out the amount of said ingredient. This means you may have a vague sense of what you’re putting into your body, but no idea as to how much.
My biggest concern with greens powders is that they have been tested in a few small studies, and that results can vary by brand and supplement formulation.
Additionally, product manufacturers typically fund these studies, which increases the risk of bias. Therefore, it’s best to keep a healthy degree of skepticism with regards to green powders, as well as any other nutritional supplement.
As this paper states, “much remains to be done to ensure that the DSs [Dietary Supplements] reaching US consumers are safe, efficacious, high in quality, and reasonable in cost so that they contribute positively to the public’s health.” So always check the label, and make sure to choose from reputable sources.
Now on to you: what do you think of the difference between greens powder vs vegetables? Have you tried them before? Do you think they can help improve fruit and veggie intake? Let me know your thoughts and questions below in the comments section.
Hi! I’m Melissa, Registered Dietitian and mother of two dragons. When I’m not talking nutrition you can find me rolling around the floor with my kids, sewing, crafting, cooking or missing the 90s (seriously, music just isn’t the same). Read More…