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Do you ever feel like you can’t eat enough fruits and vegetables in a day? If so, you’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 12.3% of American adults met fruit intake recommendations, and 10% met vegetable intake recommendations in 2019.
With those low numbers in mind, it’s no surprise that a new trend has emerged in recent years: powdered greens. But are powdered greens good for you, and do they actually work? We asked Elizabeth Holmes, a senior dietician and certified specialist in obesity and weight management at Mission Health, for her expert opinion. Here’s what you need to know about these supplements.
What are powdered greens?
Although the makeup of powdered greens may vary by brand, in general, they’re vegetables that have been dehydrated and turned into a powder. Powdered greens usually include:
- Leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach
- Seaweed and other sea vegetables
- Herbal extracts
- Grasses, such as wheatgrass
- Antioxidant blends
You can mix the powder into water, juice or smoothies for an extra boost of vitamins and minerals. The powder may taste grassy or earthy. You can sweeten the taste with honey, agave, stevia or other natural sugar substitutes.
Powdered greens are a dietary supplement, meaning they’re meant to add to or supplement a person’s diet. This is an important distinction. Dietary supplements can help you get the right amount of nutrients, but they aren’t a replacement for a healthy diet. You should still get your nutrients from fruits and vegetables whenever possible.
Are powdered greens good for you?
“In general, supplements such as powdered greens are neither good nor bad,” said Holmes. “They are meant to supplement a healthy diet. I would say they are not necessary if you are eating whole foods, varying the fruits and veggies that you eat and minimizing processed foods.”
“That being said, it can be helpful to supplement your intake with vitamins and minerals to cover any nutritional gaps,” Holmes continued. “It’s cheaper to just add a multivitamin than buy expensive powders.”
What are the benefits of dietary supplements?
Dietary supplements can help manage certain health conditions and improve overall health. For example, people who are pregnant should consume folic acid to reduce the risk of birth defects like spina bifida. In addition to supplements, folic acid can be found in fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and pasta.
Dietary supplements can also help make up for deficiencies in your diet. For example, if you don’t consume dairy, you may not get enough calcium or vitamin D. A supplement can help you reach your recommended daily amount.
“Some people may justify using products such as powdered greens because they don’t like or don’t want to eat veggies,” Holmes explained. “These products do give you similar micronutrients (vitamins/minerals) as whole food veggies, but they can miss out on giving you fiber and other very important nutrients such as phytochemicals from the whole food.”
Another aspect to consider is that unlike medicines, supplements don’t need to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Instead, the supplement company is responsible for ensuring its product is safe and the label claims are truthful and not misleading. The FDA also recommends talking to your doctor about the risks and benefits of supplements before taking them. Some ingredients can interact with prescription medications or have strong effects on the body. You’re more likely to have side effects from supplements if you take them in place of prescribed medications or in high doses. You may also have side effects if you take many different supplements.
Are certain supplements more effective than others?
Besides powders, dietary supplements can come in other forms, such as liquids, gummies or pills. Gummies are a good choice for young children or people who have trouble swallowing pills. However, taking too many can have a negative effect, so consult with a doctor before taking gummy vitamins. Gummies also tend to be high in sugar, so you might want to consider sugar-free gummies if that’s a concern. Plus, gummies have a shorter shelf life than pills and can lose their potency over time.
Pills, including tablets and capsules, are the most common type of supplement and are considered to be effective. The body can quickly absorb them, and they may be time-released to delay absorption. However, they may be difficult to swallow.
Powdered greens are easy for the body to break down and absorb. They usually mix well in liquids, although some might have a chalky texture. They’re also a good option for people who have trouble swallowing pills or are unable to chew. Powdered greens are often nutrient-dense, but, again, make sure you don’t overdo it. You’ll still get vitamins and minerals from the food you eat, and some can be toxic or have side effects in large amounts. For example, too much vitamin C can lead to diarrhea and stomach cramping. Too much vitamin A or vitamin D can cause long-term complications, such as kidney or liver problems.
How and when should you take supplements?
Read the label and directions when you take a new supplement. It will tell you if it should be taken with food or on an empty stomach. Some vitamins, such as vitamins A and D, are fat-soluble and are better absorbed when taken with meals that contain fat. Taking supplements with food can also reduce potential side effects like an upset stomach. Depending on how often the supplement needs to be taken, such as twice or three times daily, taking them at mealtimes can be convenient.
Some people prefer to take supplements first thing in the morning, while others might prefer to take them before bed. However, digestion slows down during sleep, so taking supplements before bed may not allow for maximum absorption. No matter how often you decide to take your supplements, try to stick with a consistent schedule so you don’t forget to take them.
So are powdered greens good for you or not? While they can certainly help you reach your daily recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals, you should use them as a supplement and not a replacement for fruits and vegetables. If you already eat enough fruits and vegetables, you probably don’t need powdered greens. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your diet or health and whether powdered greens are right for you.
What are some healthy recommendations for someone trying to get their daily intake of greens?
“Try to find a few veggies that you like or at least don’t hate,” Holmes suggested. “You don’t need to eat a huge variety; you just need to eat them daily.”
Holmes often tells her patients, “You don’t have to love veggies; you just have to eat them. Often, the foods that we “love” are the foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar. They have the most rewarding values in our brains. Meaning, they give our brains more dopamine and serotonin. Veggies are not high in fat, salt, or sugar and are not going “feel” as good as other foods. Part of being an adult is parenting ourselves. As a good parent, it can help to tell yourself, “When you eat your veggies, then you can eat the other food.” This means, try eating the veggies first, then move on to the more tasty foods that you like more. Also, try cooking your veggies in fun ways such as air frying or adding different spices.”
Holmes’ final advice: Ultimately, there is no way to “powder” your way out of eating veggies. Just eat the veggies!