You likely know that fruits and vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet. But, as the saying goes, knowing and doing are not the same thing.
Only 12 percent of US adults eat enough fruit, and only 9 percent meet their daily quota for veggies.
Between busy schedules and flavor preferences, it's not a big surprise that you struggle to eat enough of the foods that your body craves the most. After all, fruits and vegetables are loaded with the essential vitamins and minerals that support your overall health.
Ideally, the solution would be to eat more of the foods you know are good for you.
But, if you struggle to eat enough fruits and vegetables, greens supplements can fill the gaps left by unbalanced diets. They also boast some health benefits, and many brands claim a tablespoon of their supplement can replace your daily intake of fruits and vegetables.
On busy days and weeks, a greens supplement can mean the difference between feeling fatigued or energetic. What’s more, greens supplements contain some nutrients that are hard to get in even the healthiest diets.
But, not all greens supplements are the same. Here's what you need to know before you add a greens supplement to your diet.
What’s Inside a Greens Supplement?
If you decide to use a greens supplement, you want to go with one that provides concentrated doses of essential nutrients that are hard to come by otherwise.
Always pay attention to the ingredients label, and remember, when it comes to greens supplements, less is more. You want a supplement with a high concentration of a few main ingredients, not tiny bits of 30+ compounds. Here are a few of the ingredients that are loaded with the nutrients you need.
Spirulina and chlorella are the most widely used and studied algae that get included in greens supplements.
Spirulina is considered one of the most nutritious foods on the planet, and even NASA suggested it should be grown in space. A tablespoon of spirulina contains 11% of your daily iron needs and 4 grams of protein that’s comparable in quality to protein from eggs. It also has plenty of magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
The primary active substance in spirulina is C-phycocyanin, a protein proven to have strong antioxidant properties (source). This makes spirulina a superfood when it comes to fighting oxidative stress.
When you exercise, oxidative damage can lead to feelings of fatigue. The antioxidative powers of spirulina have been proven to combat that and enhance endurance (source).
Another seaweed to consider here is chlorella. It’s composed of 60% complete protein (source) and plenty of minerals and vitamins. Some studies are also pointing to the fact that chlorella could have strong detoxifying qualities, due to its ability to bind heavy metals.
No greens supplement would be complete without the inclusion of powerhouse grasses such as wheatgrass, alfalfa grass, or barley grass. These grasses have a long-standing reputation as superfoods.
Alfalfa grass, for instance, contains 13% of your vitamin K daily needs. Wheatgrass has 17 amino acids and plenty of vitamins A, C, and E. Barley grass is filled to the brim with vitamins B.
These plants have been used to help support the general functioning of your immune system and improve overall health.
So you don’t like to eat kale? No worries! Most greens supplements these days contain leafy greens in powder form.
Kale is a well-known superfood, but many people find it way too bitter. If you’re among those, getting your kale in powder form to mix with coconut milk could be a preferable option.
Like all other leafy greens (spinach, collard greens, cabbage), kale is full of antioxidants and minerals. For those who are avoiding dairy products, kale and spinach are a powerful substitute as a source of calcium.
Roots and Herbs
You will often see herbs such as Rhodiola, milk thistle, or echinacea added to greens supplements.
Rhodiola, in particular, is worthy of note. Studies demonstrate that this plant extract has stress-protective qualities and that supplements containing it can help you stave off physical and behavioral stress.
This is excellent news for athletes and anyone engaged in high-level performance activities. Rhodiola also has potent anti-aging, anti-inflammation, and anti-cancer properties, in addition to being an immunity booster (source).
Matcha (and Green Tea)
Green tea is famous for its antioxidant properties, but did you know that matcha is even more nutritionally dense than green tea? Matcha is made from the whole leaves, which means that it has even more beneficial compounds than already incredibly useful green tea.
Because matcha and green tea help weight loss, reduce “bad” cholesterol, and fight oxidative stress, they are a vital ingredient of any good greens supplement. Plus, matcha can improve memory, concentration, and productivity (source).
Greens supplements can also contain chia seeds, mushrooms, and other veggies. When choosing a greens supplement, watch out for proprietary blends — you want to know what exactly goes into your supplement.
Greens supplements often have a bitter taste, so many brands opt to use sweeteners. These are completely fine, as they are usually natural and low in calories. Watch out for artificial sweeteners and flavors.
What Are the Benefits of a Greens Supplement?
The right greens supplement can have many proven health benefits. Here are the different reasons you might want to add a daily greens product to your diet.
Oversaturation of free radicals, which can be caused by stress, often leads to severe diseases (source). That’s why it’s essential to eat foods rich in antioxidants, as they are proven to prevent chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases (source).
To reap these benefits, look for greens supplements that primarily contain superfoods high in antioxidants, such as matcha, kale, and goji berries.
Can greens supplements boost your energy levels? It depends on whether they contain green tea extract or matcha. In this study, participants were taking a green tea extract supplement, and the test group reported higher vitality and better energy levels.
Plus, almost all greens supplements are high in vitamins and minerals, especially magnesium, zinc, and Vitamin D, which are necessary for our immune system to function well.
The words detox or cleanse are so overused at this point that many don’t believe the hype anymore. And while your body is perfectly capable of flushing the toxins itself, it doesn’t hurt to offer it some support.
Maintaining good health and wellbeing will help your liver, kidneys, and other organs expel toxins efficiently. In that sense, eating foods or taking supplements high in antioxidants and drinking plenty of water can help you detoxify.
Should Greens Supplements Replace Whole Vegetables in Your Diet?
Short answer — no. Whole vegetables contain a lot of water and fiber, plus they are a perfect vehicle for delivering essential minerals and vitamins because they contain other substances that aid the absorption process.
But, can greens supplements help you fill some nutritional holes? Most definitely. Greens supplements can be an occasional substitute for a serving of fruits and vegetables, and in some cases, greens supplements can deliver vitamins and minerals that are scarce in usual diets.
Not many people make a habit of eating broccoli sprouts of Rhodiola roots. These extracts can boost your health and wellbeing, so it’s not a bad idea to consider supplementing them. For athletes, spirulina can be a good choice as it boosts athletic performance.
Still, never forget the importance of a healthy and balanced diet, and always ask your doctor to help you choose the best supplement for you.
Greens Supplement FAQs
Do greens supplements contain probiotics?
Probiotics and digestive enzymes are sometimes added to some greens supplements blends. Probiotics are well-known as an aid in maintaining a healthy gut flora, so if that’s what you’re looking for, check the ingredients list to see if probiotics are included in a particular supplement.
Is it okay to use a greens powder in a smoothie or other mix? (Will that affect its efficacy at all?)
Greens supplements are usually dissolved in water or milk substitutes, but they can also be added to smoothies, acai bowls, or salads.
Are greens supplements vegan, non-GMO, and USDA Organic?
They usually are, but always check the label. FDA doesn’t control dietary supplements, so make sure that any supplement you choose has been lab-tested and certified by an organization such as NSF Certified for Sport.