The Do Greens Powders Actually Do Anything? । greens powders
Green powders are promoted as an easy way to include a day’s worth of nutrients from fruits and vegetables in a single drink. How do the claims stack up against the research? Can they really replace fruits and vegetables when you’re on the go and unable to pack fresh produce? Can a single supplement really focus on digestion, immunity, performance, recovery, and all at once?
What is green powder?
Greens powders are supplements that often contain dehydrated fruit, grain, and grass powders and a mixture of probiotics and digestive enzymes. They usually include added vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, plant extracts, fiber, and occasionally caffeine. Plants contain polyphenols, which protect against cardiometabolic disease, cancer, and other health concerns.
In some cases, these supplements contain proprietary blends or collections of ingredients that are unique to the company. The amount of each ingredient in a proprietary blend is not required to be listed on the Supplement Facts label, so they are essentially confidential to the consumer.
Supplements have the potential to improve a solid nutritional base, and it’s reasonable to conclude that a powdered mix can work similarly to a smoothie—a hydrated, high-volume cousin to green powder. Research on green powders is lacking, but studies on similar products, such as powdered fruit and veggie mixes or fruit and veggie concentrate, may provide insight into the potential of green powders to improve health.
Possible Benefits of Greens Powder
Manufacturers typically claim that green powders provide nutrients or antioxidant activity equivalent to multiple servings of fruits and vegetables, resulting in numerous health benefits. Nutrients are absorbed, potentially affecting things like oxidative stress, immune function, or cardiovascular health.
They are organically available
Powdered fruit and vegetable concentrates contain absorbable nutrients, which can be measured in the bloodstream after supplementation. Participants in this study experienced reliably higher concentrations of carotenoids, lutein, lycopene, folate, and vitamins C and E in their blood.
They may improve some biomarkers
Supplements often result in higher concentrations of vitamins C and E, which act as antioxidants. Some studies have also observed reductions in protein carbonyl and oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) concentrations, which may indicate reduced oxidative stress.
Some studies have also reported a decrease in the inflammatory marker tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-ɑ), but a decrease in C-reactive protein (CRP) is less consistent.
A high concentration of homocysteine is considered a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and supplementation with fruit and veggie concentrates may reduce homocysteine concentrations somewhat due to their high folate content. (6) One study observed elevated plasma concentrations of dopamine, but this was not replicated. The authors concluded that this could translate into improved focus and cognitive function, but this was not confirmed.
Possible Disadvantages of Greens Powder
It is a common assumption that ingredients such as herbs and plant extracts are safe because they are found in nature and can be purchased without a prescription, but this is not always the case. Greens powders are regulated like other supplements, making them susceptible to contamination and completely ineffective.
Even when you’re using a product that’s been tested for purity and backed by solid evidence, you need to be aware of potential drug interactions that are common with some herbal ingredients.
Metabolism, immune function, and inflammation
In a randomized, placebo-controlled trial, overweight women consumed a powdered fruit and vegetable concentrate for 16 weeks, followed by a similar meal replacement shake instead of their usual breakfast for four weeks.
At the end of the trial, women who traded their habitual breakfast for a shake had higher fasting glucose which may indicate worse insulin sensitivity, and none experienced improvements in markers of metabolic or immune function. (10) Not worth it, however, this study is at odds with most other studies that observe improvements in these areas.
Lipid and DNA oxidation markers of oxidative stress are often measured with conflicting results. Sometimes these markers remained unchanged after supplementation, but in other cases, improvements were observed in both the treatment and placebo groups. Although vitamins C and E improved after supplementation, total antioxidant capacity was rarely improved.
Performance and recovery
A meta-analysis evaluated the effects of polyphenol-rich foods, juices, and concentrates on exercise recovery and muscle loss and noted that the data were of moderate or very low quality due to the risk of bias in the studies. The diets had no effect on general markers of inflammation or muscle damage and provided only modest improvements in muscle soreness and recovery as assessed by muscle contraction and lower body strength.
There is no evidence that green powders will directly improve performance, nor should they be universally recommended to athletes.
Digestion and gut health
If you are lactose intolerant, you may get some benefits from using the lactase enzyme when you eat dairy. Other enzymes have limited application, both due to a lack of qualitative studies and a narrow window in which they retain their specific function. Some intriguing evidence suggests that certain enzymes may reduce osteoarthritis pain, but more research is needed, and claims about digestive health are not well supported.
The effects of probiotics are strain-specific, and they exert a fairly narrow set of well-researched benefits. In other words: if you’re taking a random mix of probiotics, you’re not using one that will be effective for your specific gut health goals. Even if you use the right strain, you may not get an adequate dose or formulation that is cross-coated to survive your stomach acid and passage through the unpredictable small intestine.
The breakfast meal replacement shake mentioned above contains a mixture of soluble and insoluble fiber intended to serve as a prebiotic and microbe-accessible carbohydrate source. Although the meal replacement shakes increased fecal butyrate, a beneficial fatty acid, this was likely due to the added prebiotic fiber, not the specific shake. There was no change in the gut microbiome.
Pollution and power
Unlike prescription or over-the-counter drugs, supplements are not required to be tested for safety, efficacy, or purity by the FDA before reaching the market. (4)
Hepatotoxicity, or liver damage, has been reported after use (or overuse, in some cases) of several supplement mixes sold as weight loss and nutritional aids. In other cases, manufacturers have added ingredients banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) without disclosing them to the ingredients.
Although very high levels of vitamins or minerals may not be considered contamination, it is also important to remember that more is not always better when it comes to micronutrients. Consuming too much vitamin C can cause something unpleasant, such as diarrhea, but habitually exceeding the safe upper limit of iron or vitamin A can cause serious health problems. (2) On the other hand, because proprietary blend formulations are not disclosed on the label, supplements may contain ingredients in doses too low to be effective.
Prescription drug interactions
An estimated 20% to 25% of people in the United States take supplements along with prescription drugs. Some supplements affect the absorption, excretion, or activity of prescription drugs, with potentially serious consequences. (16)
Human studies and clinical reports indicate a high risk of interference from goldenseal and St. John’s wort. Other herbs such as black cohosh, cranberry, ginkgo Biloba, ginseng, milk thistle, saw palmetto, and valerian may also interact with some prescriptions, although the risk is lower. It’s important to let your doctor and pharmacist know what supplements you’re using and check for potential interactions.
What to consider before buying green powder
If you’re thinking about buying greens powder or any supplement here are some additional points to consider and know when choosing a brand.
Although supplement claims may not include statements about disease prevention, treatment, or cure, they may imply that ingredients support human body functions such as digestion or the immune system. (4) For example, you’ll often see claims that green powder supports digestion because it contains probiotics, or supports immunity because it’s a source of vitamin C.
Supplement manufacturers are not required to submit evidence for their claims to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but the FDA recommends that claims be based on relevant human studies. It is intended to provide some protection for consumers against dishonest or inaccurate statements.
In 2012, however, the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General analyzed 378 claims from 127 common nutritional supplements and found that less than half were based on data from human studies; Of these, none of them met the FDA’s recommendations for relevance or quality.
Less than 15% of human studies were randomized, double-blind, parallel-group, placebo-controlled trials, and 49% were conducted in special populations that would not translate to the general population. Surprisingly, of the 557 human studies used as evidence, only two used actual supplements in question. (4)
This is not to say that all manufacturers are intentionally misleading consumers with dishonest marketing tactics, but it’s something to keep in mind if claims seem a little too good to be true.
What will you gain (and spend)?
Assuming a single serving of a green powder has its apparent health benefits, it can be compared to the cost of an effective serving of fruits and vegetables although these supplements cannot actually replace whole foods.
WHO recommends consuming at least 400 grams of fruits and vegetables per day. According to a 2017 dose-response analysis of the protective effects of fruits and vegetables, every 200-gram serving, up to 800 grams per day, significantly reduced chronic disease risk. (1)
If you meet these recommendations in your regular diet, you are unlikely to benefit from supplementing with additional plant matter. Several studies have noted very small (or no) improvement in biomarkers after supplementation in people who already ate fruits and vegetables even at levels below WHO recommendations.
Indeed, one limitation cited in the study is an insufficient ‘washout’ period prior to supplementation; In other words, they required participants to stop eating fruits and vegetables for a long period of time before the study began to see benefits from the supplement.
On the other hand, if you’re not eating enough fruits or vegetables, you may benefit from adding greens powder. However, keep in mind that green powders are more expensive on a gram-per-gram basis in terms of the nutrients you’re after. Some fruit and veggie mixes cost less than $1 USD per serving, while others cost more than $3.00 USD per serving. On the other hand, a 200-gram serving of an apple costs about 22 cents. (17)
Choosing a Sports-Safe Supplement
Some manufacturers volunteer for third-party testing to establish the purity of their products, which can prevent you from inadvertently consuming a prohibited or potentially toxic substance. This includes the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention and NSF International, whose labels (USP and NSF respectively) are added to the tested products. (16)
These labels don’t guarantee that products will meet their claims, but they can be especially important for people concerned about contaminants, such as athletes competing in drug-tested events and people taking prescription drugs.
Powdered fruit and veggie mixes can improve nutrition for certain populations who don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, but they can’t replace whole meals. Since most of the available research has focused on one particular brand of powdered fruits and vegetables, it remains to be seen whether other blends will have similar effects.
If you don’t meet the recommendations for fruits and vegetables, consuming green leafy vegetable powder may benefit you, but eating more fruits and vegetables will have the same effect, perhaps at a lower cost. Added proprietary blends may not provide any additional benefits while increasing the cost of the item, and if you’re using a product that hasn’t been third-party tested for purity, you may be taking something you can’t see on the label.
Green powders work in a few ways and can be helpful if you don’t have access to fresh produce. That said, if you want to choose the most evidence-based and possibly cost-effective intervention with the best risk-to-benefit ratio, you might want to start with an apple a day.
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