Greens powders have become unavoidable lately. Every swipe through Instagram or TikTok is guaranteed to show a video of a beautiful person mixing a very ugly substance into a freshly poured glass of water. The products are dried fruits and vegetables that have been made into a powder that is taken as a dietary supplement.
While greens powders have been on the market for years, they have fallen out of favor recently due to collaborations with health influencers, massive amounts of venture capital funding, and the growing popularity of doing things that sound healthy. Many of the options on the market claim to boost energy, stamina, immunity, and circulation while reducing bloating and regulating hormones—all good things a person interested in improving their well-being wants to hear.
But do they work, or is this just another health and wellness marketing scam? Here’s what you should know about greens powders and their supposed benefits.
It is difficult to prove that it works.
“It’s very difficult. I will say that,” says Evan Riester, PhD, a nutritional science professor at American University.
Riester explained that most studies looking at the effectiveness of green powder supplements have been a few months long with fewer than 100 participants. These studies found that greens powders may help lower high blood pressure. Greens powders may also increase levels of vitamins C and E in the bloodstream, as well as folic acid and certain antioxidants such as beta-keratin.
Because greens powders are a concentrated form of greens, they are easy to correlate with the benefits of a diet rich in nutritious whole foods, such as a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes. But actual foraging should not be extrapolated to powders.
“Larger and longer studies are needed to determine the actual efficacy of greens powders, especially for things like heart disease and cancer — issues that take decades to test for efficacy,” Riester said.
Its increasing popularity is likely due to its premium marketing.
Greens powders typically have beauty marketing campaigns associating their products with good health, as well as appearances by influencers willing to promote the products. Many creators of the powders claim it helps their skin glow, keeps their stomachs flat, and is an easier addition to their morning routine than chopping up some kale. The consumer’s desire for easy, healthy options gives companies an open door to enter the market.
Camilla Martin, a registered dietitian with UW Health Kids, explained that when something works well, is backed by science, and offers health benefits, it’s usually when companies come in to recreate it for profit.
“This can be very well intentioned, like making the benefits of fruits and vegetables that we know are more available, but many of them are just trying to make money,” she said.
Nutritious whole foods would be the best choice.
Research shows that a diet full of whole, nutritious foods rich in fiber and natural vitamins and minerals is the healthiest choice. Some of the most popular brands of green powders, such as Bloom and Athletic Greens, contain less than three grams of fiber per serving. So relying on it alone will not meet the daily recommendations of 25 to 30 grams per day.
“When possible, we want to use these supplements to enhance the diet rather than replace it,” Riester said.
Consuming something in a concentrated form, such as a greens powder, can increase your risk of getting excessive amounts of the nutrient. Some powders on the market contain ingredients known to promote bloating and gas in some people — such as broccoli, mushrooms, garlic extracts, and dandelion root — and when taken in excess.
“I always encourage my patients to reach out to their healthcare provider to review something before they start it to make sure it won’t interfere with any other medications they’re taking,” Martin said. “With that being said, there is still some good stuff out there if someone is using a powder to supplement their diet, not replace it.”
There are some situations in which greens powders may be the best and only option – such as troops deployed for extended periods or people who, for whatever reason, do not consume a lot of fruits and vegetables. Some brands offer a blend of probiotics, enzymes, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
If you are like me and still want to try a greens powder, choose a trustworthy brand rather than a bland brand.
The FDA considers dietary supplements to be food products rather than drugs or biologics (like vaccines), which makes the regulation process less rigorous and non-normative—meaning that the FDA is not required to check the contents of supplements. As long as the claims on the label aren’t ridiculous, brands can say whatever they want. No research or science is required, leaving the consumer with some legal action when deciding on a product.
When looking for a brand, stick with well-researched ingredients that you feel comfortable consuming, which may mean choosing a more expensive product. (Remember, fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables are much more affordable.)
Look for a third-party tested greens powder brand, Reister advised, which is serviced by NSF International and US Pharmacopeia￼ (USP). “When a supplement is certified by the NSF or USP, it means that the supplement does not contain harmful levels of certain contaminants and that it contains the ingredients listed on the label in the correct amounts,” he said. “This label does not say anything about the effectiveness of the supplement. However, I would still be more comfortable choosing a supplement that was given one of these labels.”
If a brand doesn’t have one of those certifications, think twice about choosing it.
“If I were working with patients and recommending a specific vitamin or mineral, I would stick with bigger brands just because there are more eyes on them,” Martin said. “If there is a negative reaction, it will be seen relatively quickly. If the name has been around long enough, a lot of people have used it.”