Greens Powders vs. Whole Greens

January 5, 2024
| Created by Heather Lieber, MS, RDN, CD

The Appeal of Greens Powders

It is recommended that adults eat 2-3 cups of vegetables a day. We know that only about 1 in 10 U.S. adults meet these recommendations. Most of us know that eating vegetables is good, but 90% of us still don’t eat enough. What gives? A lot of factors in our day-to-day lives get in the way of actually making adequate veggie intake happen. We may be short on time, motivation, or simply not like the taste of vegetables. Enter: greens powders. With their long shelf life, packability, and ease of preparation, they seem like the cure-all for us slacking in the veggie department. But are they really equivalent to whole greens and veggies? Are they better? Worse? 

Greens powders continue to grow in popularity, but does the nutritional value live up to the hype? Let’s take a closer look. 

The Scoop on Supplements

You’ll notice that greens powders have “Supplement Facts” on the backSupplements aren’t regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) like products with “Nutrition Facts” panels are. Any claims or statements of benefits on the package have not been reviewed or regulated, and should be taken with a grain of salt (figuratively of course…you don’t actually need to add salt). As with any supplement, it is best to look for a third-party certification to ensure what is listed is what you’re actually getting. Learn more about reputable third-party certifications here 

Powder vs. Whole

Some research suggests that whole foods are more satisfying and curb our appetites more than liquid foods. With greens powders, we may be missing some fullness that we could get from whole vegetables (green, or any other color). If we’re not getting full from vegetables, we will likely turn to less nutrient-dense foods to get full. 

Powder Add-Ins

Most greens powders are not only greens.  Add-ins may include additional fruit or vegetable extracts, herbal supplements, enzymes, caffeine, protein powder, and sweeteners. For this reason, different brands of greens powders serve different purposes. Check the ingredient lists and do your research (or even better, chat with a dietitian) on the functionality of each ingredient. It’s also important to talk to your doctor before starting to take any supplement for possible side effects or interactions with medications. 

Many greens powders feature ingredients that we wouldn’t consume whole, such as spirulina and chlorella, two types of algae. This may be beneficial for increasing variety in our diet. However, while these two algae have some research on their functionality and benefits, many powders have them in a small enough amount that we don’t know if those benefits remain. 

The functionality of ingredients in our bodies is difficult to determine for a few reasons: 

  • Dosage: different studies experiment with different serving sizes of the ingredient/supplement in question. Every greens powder carries a different dosage of each ingredient, and oftentimes is listed under a “blend” meaning that the amount of the nutrient is unknown to the consumer.  
  • Bioavailability: The amount a nutrient utilized and absorbed depends on factors such as our bodies’ preexisting levels of that nutrient, what other nutrients we consume at the same time, and in what form we consume the nutrient.  

Most greens powder brands do not have validated research to determine the exact function or magnitude of benefit in that particular formulation and combination of ingredients. Functionality may also be affected by what is mixed with the powder, or what meal is consumed with it. 

With all that being said, most greens powders are likely safe to consume and may have some benefits. However, the extent to which those benefits match the claims that are marketed is hard to legitimize. The verdict is also still out as to if greens powders benefits can replicate or exceed benefits of whole greens. This is due to the lack of research and the many factors that would need to be controlled for to produce evidence. 

Consider the Taste

Unsweetened greens powders taste about how you would imagine…earthy and sometimes bitter. Many powders have sweeteners to counteract the bitterness such as stevia and monk fruit extract, to name a few. Checking for these ingredients will help you to know if it will taste sweet or not. Other ways to alter the flavor include mixing powder into fruit smoothies, juice, or milk/milk alternatives.  

The taste of whole greens is obviously widely variable depending on how you prepare them. If you don’t like raw kale, try massaging it with lemon juice and salt before adding to a salad.  If you don’t like raw broccoli, try oven roasting with oil, salt, pepper, and parmesan. If you don’t like raw spinach, try blending into smoothies or wilting into soups and stews.  

Whether you’re eating whole greens or drinking greens powders, there are options to cater the flavor to your preferred taste. If we enjoy the taste, we’re more likely to incorporate nutrient-rich foods consistently. 

The Bottom Line

Greens powders offer vitamins, minerals, some fiber, and some antioxidants. The easy storage, long shelf life, and quick prep time are hard to beat. Many turn to greens powders to reach their quota in the vegetable category. However, these products should first and foremost be considered a supplement. As such, they should supplement efforts to eat a well-rounded healthy diet from whole foods. Are greens powders better than no vegetables at all? Probably. However, it’s also important to consider what greens powders may be compensating for. Are we too busy to prepare well balanced meals? Do we have a lack of knowledge on how to prepare vegetables? Are we choosing a greens powder for its claims on increased energy or improved circulation, when a better first intervention is more sleep and exercise? These are all questions to consider if greens powders are right for you, or if your overall wellness could benefit from a lifestyle shift in another arena.  

To work with a dietitian on increasing vegetable intake or any other nutrition concerns, contact our team at dietitian@harmonsgrocery.com.