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 contain 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 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 Less 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 less micronutrients and phytonutrients than the 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 world 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 a 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 the 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 the heart palpitations. Since it’s also a whole food, greens powder can help with fatigue and hormone balance without the 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 vegetable 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 confirm 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.
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).
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.
I’ve tried and liked this three grass blend.
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 been using fermented kale and while it has a strong taste, I really like 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:
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.
What’s your experience with green superfood powder supplements? Please share in the comments!