You have probably seen the latest trend and all the hype around greens powders, or supplemental vegetable powders. There are many popular brands out there and they all claim to help reach your daily vegetable and fruit intake. Too good to be true? Let’s take a closer look.
What are they?
There are endless brands of these green powders on the market currently. Some contain probiotics/prebiotics, vitamins and minerals, and phytonutrients. The ingredients vary from brand to brand however, the majority include Vitamins A, C, E, Riboflavin (B2), Thiamin (B1), Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Biotin, Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Copper, and more. Some contain superfood blends, antioxidant blends, and mushroom complexes as well. Others may include digestive enzymes and fiber, too.
Can this replace my vegetable intake?
NO! These powders are great for increasing total consumption of vitamins and minerals however, they do not replace vegetable intake. Aside from vitamins and minerals, vegetables provide FIBER. Fiber is extremely important for satiety, keeping bowel movements regular, stabilizing blood sugar levels, reducing cholesterol levels, and preventing diseases such as heart or colon diseases.
A variety of vegetables in a diet increases the types of fiber consumed. Fiber acts as a prebiotic, or the food for the bacteria (probiotics), in our microbiome. The bacteria, or probiotics, ferment fiber into short chain fatty acids. Short chain fatty acids, such as butyrate, are food for the cells lining our GI tract. Having a healthy microbiome with a balance of fed good bacteria and short chain fatty acids, helps to reduce inflammation.
Another benefit of fiber is the relationship between bowel movement regularity and the decrease of colon cancer. The two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, each play different roles in the GI tract. From bulking stool to attracting water to prevent constipation and diarrhea, fiber will help to keep you regular. The American Heart Association recommends at least 5 servings of vegetables per day and the average serving size is ½-1 cup depending on the vegetable. You are not going to get all of this from a greens powder.
*Stay tuned for more to come on fiber in a future blog*
Everyone has different needs and vitamin and mineral recommendations should be specific to the person. Taking any supplement can become dangerous when certain levels are exceeded. For example, fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K can become toxic at certain levels. Be sure to check your vitamin/mineral levels and speak to your health care provider before beginning any supplement because “more” is not always better. On the other hand, some powders may not include many nutrients at all and may not even serve a purpose as a supplement in your diet. It may be better to supplement with only the vitamins/minerals your body is lacking rather than take an all-inclusive approach.
Something to also keep in mind is that herbal supplements have the possibility of interacting with medications. When brands use proprietary blends, it is difficult as a consumer to identify all ingredients. This can increase your risk of complications with medications if taken unknowingly.
Be sure you trust the brand you choose!
Most supplements are not regulated and the quality from brand to brand varies. It is important you choose a reliable and researched brand to ensure the ingredients are what they say they are. Look for brands that use third-party testing to validate their ingredients and quality.
Avoid Added Sugars
If your greens powder supplement includes excess grams of added sugar, this may not be the best product.. Think back to the reason why you may use a greens powder in the first place, to help supplement vegetable intake, right? Well, do whole vegetables include added sugars? NO. If you can choose a powder supplement with no added sugars, this will help to avoid excess daily sugar intake and help avoid a spike in blood sugar levels. Natural sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit are better alternatives. If a green powder has an artificial sweetener or sugar alcohol like sucralose or erythritol, this may upset your gut more than it may help. Those with gut sensitivities are more likely to be sensitive to artificial sweeteners/sugar alcohols as well.
With all of that being said, a greens powder supplement can be beneficial when taken under the supervision of a medical professional. If you struggle with reaching your daily vegetable intake, a supplement may help to get you there. It is important to keep in mind though, fiber is crucial and total vegetable intake should not depend on a supplement. Be sure to consult with a nutrition professional before taking any supplement to be sure you choose a quality brand and you do not take anything that may interfere with the medication you are taking. It is important to have a food first approach. Aim to consume the recommended amount of vegetables per day before running to a supplement.
Some brands I would recommend as a dietetic-intern include:
Disclaimer: I am not sponsored or affiliated with any of the listed brands and companies in this article
Fruits and Vegetables Serving Sizes Infographic | American Heart Association