What Are Drinkable Greens and Are They As Healthy As the Real Thing?
In a pinch, turn to drinkable greens to get a day's worth of nutrients in a single glass.
If you step into any vitamin or supplement store, you'll likely notice a growing section of drinkable greens. They're marketed as a way to get in the majority of daily nutrients your body requires in one simple step, adding to the ever-growing (and confusing) list of supplements you don't know if you ~really~ need.
While these drinks sound healthy, in theory, at a basic level, they're still a processed version of the real, whole foods. But do drinkable green powdered have health benefits? Are they necessary? Or are they just another "convenience item" you don't really need?
What Are Drinkable Greens?
These products are made from freeze-drying juiced ingredients such as wheat and barley grass and leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables to turn them into a green powder that you mix with water. The powders usually come in tubs, similar to protein powder, or resealable bags that require refrigeration after opening.
Some powders have dozens of ingredients. For example, Athletic Greens has a whopping 75 ingredients: things like organic apple powder, artichoke leaf extract and dandelion root extract for digestion support; pea protein isolate, organic spirulina and chlorella powder to support healthy aging; and a bunch of root extracts you've probably never heard of that claim to support your endocrine system. Other brands have nutrition labels with wide-ranging "superfood blends" in addition to all the greens. The greens-only powders usually add a few grams of plant-based protein per scoop (Athletic Greens adds three grams, for example), and there are others marketed as actual "greens-based protein powder" that have as much protein as other protein-specific powders (20 or so grams per scoop). Some other drinkable greens have supplemental fiber to help with motility.
So, what do these drinkable greens even taste like? Well, depending on your taste for other powdered mixes (think: collagen, protein powder), they can be a bit chalky or pulp-like or have a strong grassiness. Most mix relatively well with water if you toss a scoop into a shaker bottle or use a whisk to mix in a glass (a spoon won't cut it, though). An easy fix: Blend them into your morning smoothie as you would protein powder. For that matter, you can add both powdered greens and powdered protein to your smoothie, unless your greens or other smoothie ingredients offer up sufficient protein.
Are There Health Benefits to Drinkable Greens?
Many companies that produce these nutrient-dense powders, such as Athletic Greens, say that drinkable greens are easier for your body to break down and absorb than consuming the green ingredients in their raw, plant form. In addition, other common health claims are that powdered, drinkable greens can support your nervous and immune systems, help with digestion, increase your energy levels, and promote healthy aging, among numerous other claims mentioned above.
One note: Athletic Greens was the only brand we came across that gave high detailed information on its ingredients and their purported health benefits. Others don't offer much of an explanation for why you should be ingesting their products. What's more, because these greens fall into the category of dietary supplements, which are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you can't even be entirely certain what ingredients are in these products let alone the supposed health benefits. (Related: Are Dietary Supplements Really Safe?)
How Drinkable Greens Compare to Whole Foods
Starting your morning with a glass of greens on an empty stomach—which may promote better nutrient absorption—can feel virtuous, like you're setting yourself up for a day of healthful choices. While there's nothing wrong with that, some nutrition experts aren't convinced these powders are worth the money. (By the way, these are the best times to take dietary supplements.)
"I always tell my clients that chewing is better than drinking," says Brigitte Zeitlin, R.D., owner of Manhattan-based BZ Nutrition. "You get so much more nutritional bang for your buck by eating produce rather than drinking supplements."
For one, Zeitlin says, dietary supplements aren't regulated by the FDA, so there's no real way of knowing if you're actually getting all of the nutrition listed on the package in every scoop. Conversely, when you eat a cup of spinach, for example, you know exactly how much iron, calcium, fiber, and vitamins you're getting. Second, your body is more satisfied by chewing than drinking, so you obviously end up feeling fuller and more satiated from eating a big green salad instead of drinking one, says Zeitlin.
When You Might Want to Reach for Drinkable Greens
There are a few instances where these drinkable greens come in handy though. If you're unable to chew (say, you recently had a root canal)—then drinking your greens might be a great way to get in all your proper nutrients, says Zeitlin. Second, since vitamins and minerals play a big role in your immunity, especially when you're traveling, drinking your greens could help you fend off illness when you're on the go (then again, so can not touching those gross airplane trays). Finally, green powders can also come in handy when you have limited access to healthy, whole foods—or simply don't get enough fruits and vegetables in your daily diet, period. In fact, only one in 10 adults consumes the recommended amount of fruits (two cups per day) and vegetables (two to three cups per day), according to the CDC.
Though Zeitlin says she would never recommend green powders instead of eating fresh produce, they're not going to cause harm. "If people are using them and liking them and feeling good, then that's great—they don't have to stop," she says.
Want to give green powders a go? Here are five to try:
Organic Vegan Greens & Reds Superfoods
With 2,000 milligrams of organic prebiotic fiber added to the greens, this powder is meant to be taken first thing in the morning to help keep things moving along.
Buy It, $55, 1upnutrition.com
Athletic Greens Ultimate Daily
This product, developed in New Zealand, is the result of 10 years of research and development, according to the company. It comes in a resealable bag or single-serving packets perfect for travel.
Buy It, $97-$107, amazon.com
Bone Broth Protein Greens in Pineapple
Made with organic alfalfa and oat grass juices, which support bone and cardiovascular health in particular, this protein powder also contains beef collagen, giving it 20 grams of protein per scoop. (Related: 8 Bone Broth Benefits That Will Convince You to Try the Trend)
Buy It, $43, amazon.com
Green SuperFood Drink Powder
Refrigeration after opening is recommended for this powder, which also contains added fiber made from flax seed powder and apple pectin, as well as a pre- and probiotic blend.
Buy It, $38, puritan.com
Earth Grown Nutrients All-in-One Greens Mix
This powder's blend of organic wheat grass, kale, barley grass, oat grass, and kelp comes in two flavors that are easy to mix into smoothies: black cherry and lemon mint. (Related: How to Cook with Seaweed That Has Nothing to Do with Sushi)
Buy It, $40, amazon.com