Greens powders are having a moment in the spotlight.
Maybe you’ve come across them on the wellness aisle, heard them promoted on a podcast or watched an influencer blend them into a glass of water.
No matter how greens powders caught your attention, you probably have a few questions: What are these products? What are their benefits? Should I be taking them?
We called on wellness dietitian Lindsey Wohlford to answer these questions and more.
What are greens powders?
Greens powders are supplements that can be mixed into beverages.
Ingredients vary by brand, but these powders often get their signature green color from algae, such as spirulina or chlorella, or plants such as kale, spinach, barley sprouts or wheatgrass. They may also include other ingredients such as nutrients, vitamins, minerals, superfoods, adaptogens and probiotics.
These powders can be expensive, with some costing over $75 for a month’s supply.
Do greens powders work?
Each brand of greens powder lists its own health benefits. Some claim to increase energy, decrease stress, boost immunity and improve gut health.
Wohlford says that it is important to remember that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate dietary supplements. This means companies don’t have to prove whether the health benefits of greens powders are true.
“Watch out for products with too-good-to-be-true sounding claims and products that contain everything but the kitchen sink. If it was truly a ‘must-have’ supplement, you would be hearing about it from your doctor, dietitians or other members of your care team,” Wohlford says.
Are greens powders safe?
Wohlford says greens powders don’t pose a big threat to healthy individuals and could even help some people, such as athletes, meet increased nutritional needs. However, she says there haven’t been enough large, long-term studies assessing their safety and efficacy.
“Their purported benefits are mostly testimonials. This is not to say they are not helpful; we simply aren’t sure yet,” Wohlford says.
Wohlford also notes greens powders can pose health risks, such as heavy metal contamination and more nutrients than the body can safely use.
“Not all nutrients can be consumed safely in any amount," she says.
Wohlford recommends talking to your care team about any supplements you are considering so they can determine if there are any side effects or medication interactions.
What should cancer patients know about greens powders?
Cancer patients should avoid taking greens powders. Wohlford says the most important reason for this is that they may interfere with cancer treatment and medication.
Wohlford encourages cancer patients who are struggling with nutrition to reach out to their care team to find an appropriate solution.
Do greens powders provide benefits we can't get through diet?
The potential benefits greens powders provide can be achieved through a healthy diet, Wohlford says.
MD Anderson recommends a diet rich in healthy, nutritious foods. Two-thirds of what you eat should be vegetables, whole grains, beans, fruits, nuts and seeds. The remaining third can be lean protein like chicken, fish or tofu.
Wohlford says greens powders can lack some of the benefits whole foods provide. For example, whole foods contain fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients which may potentially reduce cancer risk. Additionally, the fiber in whole foods supports blood sugar, heart health and gut health.
“A supplement will never be more optimal than real, whole foods,” she says.