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You can’t out-supplement a poor diet (or poor sleep or high stress either). But even with a perfect diet and great sleep, it is still possible to experience nutrient deficiencies because modern foods can be deficient in certain essential nutrients. To ensure we get enough, I make homemade herbal teas (packed with micronutrients) and rotate various green superfood powders.
What Is a Green Superfood Powder?
In short, a green superfood powder contains many servings of vegetables and superfoods in a scoop of water-soluble powder. In addition to veggies and superfoods, the powder may also contain other health-supporting ingredients like probiotics and immune-supporting herbs.
Why a Greens Supplement?
An ancestral and whole-foods diet may be a significant step up from the Standard American Diet that has a lot of grains, vegetable oil, and processed ingredients. However, there are many reasons even the seemingly healthy diet alone might still not provide enough micronutrients and antioxidants.
Depleted Soil With Fewer Minerals and Good Bacteria
Over the last 100 years, industrial farming has depleted the most nutritious topsoil from important minerals and beneficial soil bacteria that would grow the healthiest foods. As a result, the vegetables in our food supplies also have less mineral density. The reduction of minerals in our foods, as well as the fertilizers and pesticides, may be a contributor to diseases of civilization.
Reduced Food Diversity and Wild Varieties
On Chris Kresser’s podcast, Dr. Thomas Cowan, MD said that healthy hunter-gatherer humans ate a much wider variety of vegetables than we do today — up to 20 species per day and 100 species throughout the year! The supermarket vegetables we normally eat have been bred to have more uniform shapes and sizes, with higher sugar content and less bitterness, which also means fewer micronutrients and phytonutrients than wild vegetables.
Think about it — is your family consuming 20 different types of vegetables (or herbs) per day? Our family usually hits that mark, but only through using herbal and adaptogenic teas and green powders.
Reduced Nutrient Density in Vegetables
Grocery store veggies may have been harvested weeks before and traveled thousands of miles to reach your table. This means that they don’t have the nutrient density of a freshly harvested vegetable at the peak of its growth.
Modern Lifestyle Depletes Vitamins and Minerals
The modern lifestyle, with chronic stressors and pollutions all around us, increases our needs for micronutrients. We need more B vitamins and magnesium to deal with stress. We also need more B vitamins, selenium, and antioxidants to remove the chemicals that we are exposed to.
In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the leading nutrition researcher Dr. Bruce Ames wrote that low micronutrient status can lead to metabolic disruption, mitochondrial decay, cellular aging, and increased DNA mutation. These can lead to fatigue, hormone imbalances, poor immune function, weight gain, and increased risks of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.
Therefore, supplementation with a multivitamin and mineral is recommended as a cost-effective way to prevent nutrient deficiencies.
Greens Powder vs. Vitamins
As a general rule, it is better to get micronutrients from whole foods than from synthetic or isolated vitamins unless there is an underlying issue or if working with a doctor.
First, nutrients that are present together in whole food sources often work in synergy. Vitamin C and bioflavonoids in fruits or vitamins A and D in egg yolks, cod liver oil, and butter work together for better absorption. Second, micronutrients in whole foods are generally more bioavailable than synthetic forms. Third, there are still important nutrients and phytochemicals in plants that we have yet to discover.
Because a greens supplement provides vitamins from nutrient-dense whole food sources, it is a great way to ensure that you get sufficient amounts of micronutrients and antioxidants. The soil may be depleted from minerals, but the sea is not. Therefore, you want to get a greens supplement that includes some marine sources of nutrients.
Most vitamins, especially B vitamins, are stimulants. Many people find B vitamins so stimulating that it causes heart palpitations and anxiety. Whereas, vitamins from whole food sources, with the natural nutrient forms and synergies, are less likely to cause this problem. You may have eaten foods high in B vitamins like vegetables or liver without heart palpitations. Since it’s also a whole food, greens powder can help with fatigue and hormone balance without excess stimulation.
Harmful Ingredients in Some Green Powders
There are a LOT of greens powders out there, but not all are created equal. In general, there are some important things to watch out for when choosing a powder.
Hidden Sweeteners, Gums, and Artificial Colors
Vegetables, especially the more nutrient-dense ones, are good for you. Unfortunately, it’s hard to make vegetables taste good, especially when you try to condense as many as 12 servings of vegetables into a single scoop.
In order to make the green powders taste palatable, many manufacturers use potentially harmful ingredients, such as:
- artificial sweeteners
- emulsifiers or thickeners to maintain texture for mouthfeel
- artificial colors
- non-organic or GMO ingredients
Watch out for these and avoid powders (or anything) that contains them.
Creating a greens superfood powder is technologically difficult because many vitamins and phytochemicals are very sensitive to heat, light, and certain forms of chemical processing. The vegetables in the greens powder have to be gently freeze-dried into water-soluble powders in order to preserve the nutrients. Whereas, in order to make use of single-celled algae, the manufacturer may need to harshly crack the cell walls of these algae to make nutrients inside the cells available.
Therefore, you want to make sure that you purchase the greens powder from a reputable company that understands the biology of the superfoods they include in their products and confirms the presence of intact nutrients in the final products. (See the ones I’ve tested and like below.)
Types of Greens & Their Benefits
Not all greens are created equal either! The best greens powder for you will depend on what you are looking for in your greens. Many are a good source of micronutrients, but there is a lot of difference in the type and what they do in the body. These all get lumped in as a “green superfood powder” though they have some key differences:
Marine (water based) sources of greens include spirulina and chlorella. (And phytoplankton, though that is a different type and is not powdered). These types of green powders are very nutrient dense and often used supplementally for their benefits.
Spirulina, for instance, contains amino acids, calcium, potassium, b-vitamins, and iron. Chlorella is a great source of protein, magnesium, B-vitamins and zinc.
Marine powders are available on their own, but they don’t taste great. I prefer them in combination powders like this Aquatic Greens Blend or in Energy Bits (small caplets of chlorella and spirulina that can be taken as a snack or to boost nutrients). Find these links below.
Moringa has an excellent nutrient profile and it is often added to greens powders for this reason. It can be consumed alone or in tea form, but I prefer to mix it into green drinks.
Grasses (Alfalfa, Wheat, Barley)
The traditional “green powders” are what most people think when they think of greens. Alfalfa, wheatgrass, and barley grass contain dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium. Alfalfa is rich in vitamin K, zinc, copper, magnesium, and vitamin C.
Worried about gluten? I asked world-renowned expert on gluten sensitivity, Dr. Tom O’Bryan, if wheatgrass contains gluten and is a concern. He explained that in the first 11 days of growth, it does not and is considered safe. He even consumes wheatgrass if he can verify it is less than 11 days old. (At 11 days, the plant starts to get the traditional proteins found in wheat and is problematic.)
Most green powders do not list the age of the wheatgrass, so those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance should probably err on the side of caution and avoid. This without severe issues who avoid refined grains will likely do fine with wheat grass powders.
Fermented Greens (Like Kale)
These greens are newer to the market in powdered form and I’m enjoying them. Of course, people have been fermenting vegetables for ages, but the powdered form provides a unique benefit of being shelf stable, easy to travel with, and more nutrient dense than traditional greens. Just like fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, these have a higher nutrient availability and increased probiotics. I’ve tried fermented broccoli sprouts and liked it.
Green Superfood Powder Blends
These are my favorite because they pack the nutritional punch of some or all of the above greens. They also contain a wider variety of micronutrients so they provide a bigger nutritional punch in a single serving. Blends include powders like Organic Greens Superfood Blend and Organic Traditions Superfood Greens with Turmeric in the list below.
Green Superfood Powder Facts and Myths
It’s easy to get excited and want to start drinking all the green powders, but first, we must understand some of the facts and myths surrounding superfood green powders.
They Can Replace Multivitamins (Myth)
Greens are very nutrient dense but they don’t contain a complete array of vitamins and minerals. Supplementing with only greens or eating too high of a concentration can actually lead to imbalances of other nutrients. Since most of us aren’t getting enough greens to begin with, they’re a good thing to add, but they don’t replace a healthy diet or a well-rounded multi.
It Can Make the Body More Alkaline (Fact and Myth)
The theory goes that our body wants to be more alkaline but foods like meat and dairy are acidic and make us acidic. Therefore, proponents of this theory suggest eating foods that are alkaline in nature, especially veggies and greens to alkalize the body.
I don’t buy into this theory and Chris Kresser has an in-depth post that explains the scientific flaws in this theory if you’re interested. The basic explanation is this — foods can change urine pH, and vegetables and greens do make the urine more alkaline. They don’t seem to change the blood pH and the body naturally maintains a blood pH of around 7.4 unless there is a serious medical issue.
Bottom line: vegetables and greens are beneficial for many reasons and we should all be consuming them, but not to alkalize our blood.
Good Source of Micronutrients (Fact)
Greens are a great source of a variety of nutrients and micronutrients. Since many of us aren’t getting enough of these, greens powders can be a good way to get small amounts of a variety of nutrients in a single serving.
High in Antioxidants and ORAC Score (Fact-ish)
Greens do naturally contain a lot of antioxidants and have a high ORAC score. But the ORAC score should not be part of our purchasing decision. The USDA recently removed ORAC score as a metric in its database after recent research found that it isn’t as relevant as once thought and was mostly used in shady marketing.
The Green Superfood Powders I Use
I’ve experimented with dozens of these over the years and currently have and rotate:
- Organifi Green Juice (with chlorella, spirulina, beets, turmeric, and more… use code wellnessmama for 15% off)
- Organic Greens Superfood Blend
- Probiotic Super Greens with Turmeric
- Energy Bits Caplets (spirulina and/or chlorella in an easy-to-take form… use the code wellnessmama for 20% off)
- Perfect Supplements Fermented Kale (only high quality fermented one I’ve found)
NOTE: If you want to try any of the Perfect Supplements, use the code wellnessmama10 to save 10%. You also get discounts of 25-30% for buying more than one supplement (you can mix and match) and you can stack the discount. Here’s the link to grab the discount.
This article was medically reviewed by Cynthia Thurlow, NP, the CEO and founder of the Everyday Wellness Project, nurse practitioner, international speaker, and globally recognized expert in intermittent fasting and nutritional health. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
What’s your experience with green superfood powder supplements? Please share in the comments!
Discussion (92 Comments)
Thank you for this useful and detailed article!
I collect and dry dandelion leaves I let grow in my garden, all summer long and powder them up. I also use them fresh in my green smoothies. Same with plantain and the French Sorrel I always have in my herb garden. Kale, collard greens, watercress (which I planted once and now it grows everywhere, even in the lawn! I know it is good for you so I let it!) broccoli and cauliflower leaves all get used when I have them as well
Otherwise I try to stick to the human food chain and so avoid algeas when I am shopping for green powders.
Katie - Wellness Mama
Wow! I want to come live at your house… that sounds amazing!
There are things mentioned in the article that are not fact-based, or, leave out crucial information.
“I don’t buy into the (alkalizing) theory”
This is not a theory. It’s scientifically proven that diets rich in alkalinity are more healthful. Cancer, as one example, needs an acidic environment in order to thrive. This is one reason why most anti-cancer diets are plant-based. It has also been scientifically proven that those on plant-based diets (e.g., higher alkalinity) have overall lower cancer rates.
The article only mentions gluten in grasses, as being a concern. But, the most significant health concern in cereal grasses (wheatgrass, barley, oat, rye, etc.) is, while they are fine for cows to digest (they have four stomachs and a special digestive process), they are difficult for humans to digest. Cereal grasses also contain lectins, known to be inflammatory.
Many are drawn to green drinks specifically to get digestive help and immune support. Yet, cereal greens work at cross purposes on both counts.
The issue is not whether or not cereal grasses are nutritional. The issue is poor uptake, and, the load it places on digestive systems attempting to metabolize. The other issue is the inflammatory response it creates.
The main reason they’re in most green drinks? They’re cheap ingredients.
The article mentioned artificial sweeteners, but nothing about stimulants. The question is…. what is a stimulant doing in a green drink?
The answer is, because it gives a false sense of energy coming from the greens; instead of from stimulants such as Maca and Ginseng, that also interfere with hormones; or Matcha green tea, which is in one of the recommended green drinks (Organifi Green Juice), that also contains Ashwagandha, something most Naturopathic Doctors recommend only taking occasionally.
The other downside of stimulants is, they can interfere with sleep. Even if only consumed in the morning. Not convinced? Go completely caffeine-free for a week and see how that affects sleep quality.
Many green drinks also contain energy-boosting adaptogens, such as Rhodiola, Cordyceps, etc. Just like stimulants, adaptogens can give the false impression the new energy is coming from greens.
Besides, the recommendation as shown on supplement bottles, and coming from most Naturopathic Doctors, is to take consistent breaks from adaptogens.
Green drinks can be a healthy addition, but it requires diligence to select a formula that relies solely on greens to provide increased energy, immune and digestive support.
Truly ‘clean’ green drinks are those that are gently freeze-dried, contain no stimulants, sweeteners, cereal grasses, or adaptogens, and have stated concentrations, versus formulas that hide behind ‘proprietary blend.’
The market is flooded with green powders with questionable nutritional value, based on how it’s processed, concentration of greens, or how digestible it is. And, the greens may or may not be organic. The majority of powders add stimulants, energy-boosting adaptogens, sweeteners, cereal grasses, and other ingredients that aren’t easily digested and/or should not be used regularly, or, simply have no business being in a green drink. The green drinks recommended in the article contain some of these ingredients.
The point of a green drink is sustained energy from greens, with no negative side effects. Versus an unsustaining energy boost from Matcha, Maca or Ginseng, all of which can have sleep, blood sugar and hormonal impacts.
The best green powder is one that you make yourself, from organic vegetables, either dried in the oven at the lowest temperature, or in a dehydrator, and then gently blended to preserve nutrients. This is the only way to ensure a high quality green powder. “The Purposeful Pantry” has a nice article on how to make and store your own green powder.
Medical Medium opposes to what you just explained as he is all abt Hawaiian Spirulina. He is very interesting. He is not a fan of high fat diets due to the liver issues. What’s your take? Mary
Katie - Wellness Mama
Hawaiian Spirulina is great, but it isn’t the only green powder that an be beneficial. I think the amount of fat consumed if a largely personal issue that seems to vary based on genes, gut health, enzyme production and a lot of other factors. In general, some fats, like vegetable oils and margarine are definitely harmful and should be avoided in any amount, but the body needs some fat in order to make hormones and for a variety of other important reactions.
I have been using Dr. Berg’s Raw Wheatgrass Powder. It is listed as organic and raw. It has a tiny amount of lemon and natural sweetener. It comes with a plastic shaker glass, which is nice because you don’t have much to clean up after. My naturalpath also told me I needed to eat gelatin for my joints, so I am mixing the wheatgrass powder and the gelatin (which is hard to take on its own) together. 1 teaspoon of each in a bit of water each morning. What do you think of Dr. Berg’s products.
Katie - Wellness Mama
I’ve never tried them personally but know that he has a good reputation and his products do as well.
I have had an excellent experience with paradise greens. I was feeling pretty tired and I’m always on the search for things to cut down inflammation to address some health issues. I felt a difference in energy in a couple days of going on this product. I would be curious to hear what you think of this product.
Katie - Wellness Mama
I don’t have any personal experience with them. The products look pretty good and if you feel great on them, that is probably the best metric. My only concern is that they seem to focus a lot on ORAC score in their marketing and that is not a useful metric.
Do you have to worry about heavy metals in greens?
I’ve been reading your blog for many years and I always felt you had really done your homework and I could trust your information But!
You have really improved and stepped up your blog! I love it. I’ve always followed Christa Orecchio and was glad to see you team up with her. Plus even though I don’t read every word you write (time) but its always something I’m interested in for our health.
Also, I trust the brand’s you choose, I am an intense label reader but I don’t always know what something is, but U DO!
So thank you for all you DO! God bless you!
Katie - Wellness Mama
Thank you so much for the kind words and thanks for being part of this community over the years! <3
Hi Katie! Do you find that super greens help with detoxing, especially as it relates to MTHFR? My 6-year-old daughter has the MTHFR gene mutation and catches colds a lot despite a healthy diet, so we’re looking for a safe option to get more nutrients into her, to boost her immunity and help with detoxification. We already do Epsom salt baths. Thanks!
Katie - Wellness Mama
They can. It really seems to vary from individual to individual based on a lot of factors, but in general, I’ve seen positive results from greens powders (I also have MTHFR mutations). Since many with those mutations have trouble getting enough folate, leafy greens are a good natural source.
Have you ever tried any powdered super-greens-foods-available through mass market? I have passed on them myself, as I use Amazing Grass products. It all just starts costing too much, for so many of us.
Katie - Wellness Mama
I haven’t tried those, so I’m not sure about their quality.
When I hit the link for the superfood powders you use nothing comes up. Are these specific blends that I can buy?
Katie - Wellness Mama
Which link are you trying to click on? I just checked and they all seem to be working for me?
ANA MARIA CAPUTO
Hi Kate! Happy New Year and thank you for this very informative post! You hit all the key points and frequently asked thoughts about supergreens! Do you have recipes on how to incorporate these into smoothies? Also, How do you feel about the brand Amazing Grass?
Katie - Wellness Mama
I haven’t tried Amazing Grass, but their ingredients look good. I like to either drink greens in just water (and get it over with) 😉 or mix into a smoothie with almond milk and berries.
Can these be taken during pregnancy, Katie?
Katie - Wellness Mama
Most can, but I’d check with a doc or midwife to be sure before taking anything new.