Greens powders have become inescapable lately. Every scroll 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 dehydrated fruits and vegetables that have been turned into a powder to be taken as a supplement.
While greens powders have been on the market for years, they’ve experienced a recent boon due to collaborations with wellness influencers, massive amounts of venture-capital funding, and the rising popularity of doing stuff that seems healthy. Many of the options available on the market claim to boost energy, endurance, immunity, and circulation while reducing bloating and regulating hormones — all good things that someone interested in improving their well-being would want to hear.
But do they work, or is this just another wellness-industry marketing scam? Here’s what to know about greens powders and their supposed benefits.
It’s difficult to prove that they work.
“It’s very hard. I’ll say that,” says Evan Reister, a doctor of nutrition science at American University.
Most studies looking into the effectiveness of green-powder supplements have been a few months long with fewer than 100 participants, Reister explains. Those studies have 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 folate and certain antioxidants like beta keratine.
Since greens powders are a concentrated form of vegetables, it’s easy to want to connect them to the benefits of a diet rich in nutritious whole foods, such as a lower risk for heart disease and diabetes. But the research on actual food shouldn’t be extrapolated to the powders.
“Larger and longer studies are needed to determine the actual effectiveness of the greens powders, especially for things like heart disease, cancer — issues that take decades to test the effectiveness,” said Reister.
Their rising popularity is likely due to outstanding marketing.
Greens powders usually have aesthetic marketing campaigns that associate their products with being in good health, plus the rise of influencers willing to promote the products. Many creators in favor of the powders claim they help their skin glow, keep their stomachs flat, and make for an easier addition to a morning routine than chopping up some kale. The consumer’s desire for easy healthy options gives companies an open shot to enter the market.
When something is working well, supported by science, and delivers health benefits, that’s typically when companies come in to recreate it for profit, explained Camila Martin, a registered dietician nutritionist for UW Health Kids.
“This could be with very good intentions, like making the benefits of fruits and vegetables that we know are there more accessible, but a lot of it is trying to make money,” she said.
Nutritious whole foods are going to be the best option.
Research shows that a diet full of whole, nutritious foods high in fiber and naturally occurring vitamins and minerals is the healthiest choice. Some more popular greens-powder brands, like Bloom and Athletic Greens, have less than three grams of fiber per serving. So relying on them alone won’t meet the daily recommendations of 25 to 30 grams per day.
“When possible, we want to use these supplements to bolster the diet rather than to replace the diet,” said Reister.
Consuming something in a concentrated form, like a greens powder, could also increase the risk of getting excessive amounts of nutrients. Some powders on the market even contain ingredients known to promote bloating and gas in some people — like broccoli, mushrooms, garlic extracts, and chicory root — and when consumed excessively.
“I always encourage my patients to reach out to their health-care provider to review something before starting it to make sure that it’s not going to interfere with any other medications they’re taking,” said Martin. “With that being said, there can still be some good things in there if someone was using a powder to supplement their diet and not replace it.”
There are certain situations where greens powders may be the best and only option — like troops deployed for long periods or people who, for whatever reason, don’t consume a lot of fruits and vegetables. Some brands offer a blend of probiotics, enzymes, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
If you’re like me and still want to try a greens powder, choose a trustworthy brand over a cute one.
The Food and Drug Administration considers supplements to be food products, not drugs or biologics (like vaccines), making the regulation process much less rigorous and unstandardized — meaning the FDA isn’t required to verify what’s in the supplements. So 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 legwork when deciding on a product.
When searching for a brand, stick to ones with well-researched ingredients that you feel comfortable taking, which might mean choosing a more expensive product. (Remember that fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables are significantly more affordable.)
Reister advised looking for a greens-powder brand that has been third-party tested, a service provided by NSF International and U.S. Pharmacopeia￼ (USP). “When a supplement is certified by 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 labeling doesn’t indicate anything about the efficacy of the supplement. However, I would still be more comfortable choosing a supplement that has been given one of these labels.”
If a brand hasn’t acquired one of those certifications, think twice about choosing it.
“If I’m working with patients and recommending a certain vitamin or mineral, I’ll stick with bigger brands just because there are more eyes on them,” said Martin. “If there were an adverse reaction, it would be seen relatively quickly. If it’s a name that’s been around for a long enough time, then plenty of people have used them.”