New powder supplements claim to boost your health, but not all of them live up to the promise.
Are Powders Actually Worth It?
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Suddenly, supplements made from ground plants, vegetables, and algae are taking over store shelves and giving protein powder some competition. (If you are looking for a protein powder guide, here's your go-to.) "Whether it's a formula with key nutrients that aren't in our diets or one that provides an extra serving of vegetables, more and more people are buying these products," says Brian Tanzer, manager of scientific affairs and a staff nutritionist for the Vitamin Shoppe.
Potentially, they're the newest weapon in your health arsenal—the trick is to figure out which powders actually work. While some of them have proven benefits, a number are ineffective or loaded with sugar or sodium, says Mark Moyad, M.D., the Jenkins director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center.
Shape investigated to find the powders you should be taking. The five featured here have solid research to back up their claims.
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Made from a green African fruit, this superpowder delivers six grams of fiber per two-tablespoon serving—about a quarter of the 25 grams you need daily—Dr. Moyad says. Even better, it contains both soluble and insoluble fiber; nearly all other fiber supplements have mostly soluble, the kind that flushes excess cholesterol out of the body and controls blood sugar for steadier energy. But insoluble fiber is what makes you feel full for longer and encourages food to pass through the intestines smoothly, factors that are key to weight loss.
Baobab also contains about a quarter of your daily requirement for vitamin C, an antioxidant that strengthens the immune system and may also help boost your performance at the gym. In a recent study from the University of Thessaly in Greece, people with a low vitamin C level also had a lower V02 max, or aerobic capacity, than those with higher levels of the vitamin. Their fitness improved when they started supplementing with C. Baobab powder has a mild taste; stir it into water or add it to your favorite muffin or smoothie recipe. (Or try making a baobab spiked ice cream sandwich.)
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You know it as an ingredient in skin-care products, but nutritional collagen powder has plenty of perks too. A form of this protein known as collagen hydrolysate or hydrolyzed collagen may also repair the cartilage in your joints, protecting them from stress and strain, says Kris Clark, Ph.D., R.D.N., the director of sports nutrition at Penn State University. Athletes who had joint pain from exercise or past injuries experienced significantly fewer aches after taking collagen hydrolysate for 24 weeks, according to a study in the journal Current Medical Research and Opinion.
An amino acid in collagen called glycine also helps digestion by improving stomach acid production and rebuilds the stomach lining, both of which prevent heart- burn, constipation, and other GI issues, says Nicole Holovach, R.D.N., a dietitian in Frederick, Maryland. Another perk of collagen powder, she adds: It has a calming effect on the brain, reducing stress and improving sleep. To get collagen powder's benefits, stir it into smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal, or coffee. (Or try this crazy cool gin that's distilled with pure collagen.)
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Made from the radish-like root of a plant that's native to Peru, maca powder is packed with iron, calcium, and protein. What's most remarkable about it, however, is a set of compounds it contains called macamides that improve circulation, Dr. Moyad says. That increased blood flow delivers more nutrients and oxygen to your muscles, which can fight fatigue and help you go harder for longer in the gym, he says. Macamides can even boost your sex drive.
A study in the journal CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics found that women taking anti-depressants, a leading cause of low libido, who added maca to their diet had more frequent and enjoyable sex than women taking a placebo. Maca may have the same effect for all women, according to Dr. Moyad. (Here's more on the benefits of maca.) The powder has a chalky taste, so blend it into a fruit and vegetable smoothie to mask the flavor.
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Unlike many powders, which are made from a single pulverized ingredient, the green kind can contain any number of dried and ground vegetables like kale, broccoli, and spinach, as well as grasses, tea leaves, and even fruits. Although they're sometimes referred to as green-juice powders, they're better for you than the drink. (Here's more on the difference between green juice and green powder.)
The powders are made from whole veggies and retain some of their fiber content as well as disease-fighting nutrients like iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin A, and vitamin C, says Ann Meyer, R.D.N., a dietitian in New York City. They also have less sugar than juice. While anyone can benefit from the extra dose of vitamins and minerals in green powders, Meyer says they're especially beneficial whenever you fall short of the recommended five to nine servings of produce a day. They come in different flavors so just stir them into water.
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This powder is made from freshwater algae that are microscopic in size but pack a major nutritional punch. One tablespoon has four grams of protein, as well as iron for energy; beta-carotene, a potent antioxidant; and phycocyanin, a protein with anti-inflammatory effects. (It's just one of 14 amazing nutritional boosters for your smoothie.)
Adding spirulina powder to your post-gym protein shake will disguise the shy taste and may also help improve your muscle strength, according to researchers in India. They found that the protein in spirulina helps build muscle, while anti-inflammatory com- pounds protect muscles from exercise-related damage. Other studies have indicated that the powder may help increase exercise endurance as well. You can even take spirulina for allergy relief. "Certain compounds in it appear to reduce allergy symptoms with- out the side effects of meds, such as drowsiness," Dr. Moyad says.
How to Choose a Good Powder
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Choose one with an endorsement: The FDA doesn't test most powders, so look for a formula with a third-party certification stamp, like a seal from ConsumerLab.com, NSF (National Science Foundation), or USP (U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention), which indicates that it was tested by an independent quality-assurance group. This helps ensure that the powder is safe and pure, says Tod Cooperman, M.D., the president of ConsumerLab.com.
Don't be influenced by buzzwords: "Ignore labels like 'superfood,' and 'ORAC value'—a measure of antioxidant levels—which are meaningless," Dr. Moyad says. And while organic ingredients are important if you're trying to avoid pesticides, they don't necessarily mean the product is of higher quality or more nutritious, Dr. Cooperman says. (Speaking of buzzwords; you really don't need to buy these 10 superfoods.)
Watch for these ingredients: Skip any powder that contains gums, carrageenan, or artificial sweeteners, flavoring agents that have been linked to stomach issues, says Nicole Holovach, R.D.N. Also be wary of cocoa: A ConsumerLab.com study found that most cocoa powders have high concentrations of the metal cadmium, which can damage your kidneys. Dr. Cooperman suggests limiting your intake to no more than one tablespoon per day. The best powders have a short ingredients list and feature the main one first—like maca in maca powder.