We all know we should be eating our greens—and yet we could probably all benefit from a little more of that green goodness. Enter greens powders, which have become a super-popular and convenient way to get the vitamins and minerals you may otherwise be coming up short on in your diet.
These trendy drink mixes have earned the hype, too; even the pros are pretty keen on them. “Many of the ingredients used in greens powder formulas are nutrient-dense superfoods that provide essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, probiotics, and digestive enzymes,” explains Lori Walker, R.D., with Easy Kitchen Guide.
While every formula out there is a little different (and there are a lot of them these days), there are definitely a few all-star ingredients you’ll find on many an ingredients list. Here, nutrition experts break down seven of the most popular greens powder ingredients and share why they’re considered go-to’s.
- ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Lori Walker, R.D., is a dietitian with Easy Kitchen Guide. Kim Yawitz, R.D., is a dietitian and the owner of Two Six Fitness in St. Louis, MO. Mary Sabat, M.S., R.D.N., L.D., is a dietitian.
Many greens powders contain spirulina, a type of microscopic algae that’s a great source of protein, amino acids, iron, copper, and B vitamins, says dietitian Kim Yawitz, R.D., owner of Two Six Fitness in St. Louis, MO.
“Spirulina gets its distinctive blue-green hue from a pigment called phycocyanin, which has powerful antioxidant properties,” she says. In case you need a refresher, antioxidants are like superheroes working to defend your body. They fight off free radicals, which are known to cause oxidative stress, a condition that could play a role in the development of all sorts of health issues. Although more research is needed, some studies suggest that regular use of spirulina may help improve cholesterol and insulin sensitivity in adults with obesity, Yawitz points out.
To make sure spirulina is grown in a safe environment, look for a product that’s organic, says nutritionist Mary Sabat, M.S., R.D.N., L.D. (Fun fact: Most of the spirulina you’ll find in the United States is lab-grown.)
Wheatgrass refers to the young, blade-shaped leaves of wheat plants—and it’s a good source of iron and vitamins C and E, Yawitz says. You may see it advertised as a health shot in your local juice shop, but it’s also commonly dried and used in supplements. Wheatgrass, Yawitz says, is one of our best sources of antioxidant-rich chlorophyll.
Alfalfa is a nutrient-dense plant that’s part of the legume family. It’s naturally high in fiber, which explains why it’s suggested to be a good thing for (surprise, surprise) cholesterol and blood sugar, Yawitz says.
Alfalfa is also a great source of vitamin K, which supports bone, cognitive, and heart health, Yawitz says. However, it can possibly be too much of a good thing for people who take blood-thinning medications, she warns. Make sure to consult with a healthcare professional before supplementing with alfalfa if you take medication.
4. Cracked-wall Chlorella
Ever seen this ingredient on a greens powder label and wondered what the heck? Cracked-wall chlorella (also sometimes called broken-wall chlorella) is a type of microalgae that has undergone a specialized process to break its tough cell wall, which then makes its nutrients more bioavailable and easily digestible, Yawitz says.
Chlorella is rich in nutrients—particularly protein, the macronutrient that’s important for carrying out a number of our body’s functions, such as regulating hormones, promoting bone health, and supporting healthy muscle mass and body weight management.
Chlorella also showed some promise when it comes to cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar, but more research is needed to understand its benefits.
Kale is a “nutrient powerhouse,” containing vitamins A, C, and K, as well as minerals like calcium and magnesium, Sabat says. Kale also contains the potent antioxidants quercetin and kaempferol, both of which have been recognized for supporting health outcomes, she adds.
Since conventional kale is often exposed to pesticides, Sabat recommends opting for a greens powder that contains organically-grown leafy greens.
6. Dandelion Greens
Yep, those little flowers people call weeds are actually chock-full of nutrition. Dandelion greens are packed with vitamins A, C, and K, plus minerals such as iron and calcium, Sabat explains. They also include antioxidants like luteolin, which research has shown to be neuroprotective and good for heart health, and beta-carotene, an impressive free-radical scavenger.
Not to mention, dandelion greens could also support liver function, according to Sabat, which is why you’ll often see them in greens powders specially formulated to support the body’s detoxification pathways.
7. Barley Grass
Like some of the other greens and grasses on this list, barley grass is a source of vitamins A, C, and K, according to Sabat. It’s also packed with minerals, such as calcium (which is important for bone health) and iron (which helps your body make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells).
Quick Tips For Greens Powder Shopping
Chances are, any greens powder you pick up in the store or add to your cart online will have at least one of these ingredients in it. Whatever kind of formula you’re looking for, though, keep a few best practices in mind to ensure it’s high quality.
A few criteria Walker suggests generally indicate a solid product: organic ingredients and zero additives, fillers, binders, or artificial sweeteners. It’s also always a good sign when a brand puts its products through independent, third-party testing, which confirms that you’re getting a safe and effective product.
Other nice-to-knows touch on the age and processing of various ingredients. Many greens, such as barley grass, for example, are most nutritious when they’re young and tender, shares Sabat. So any brand that offers additional details about when they harvest various ingredients is a good one. Ideally, you also want a product made with freeze-dried ingredients, since this method of processing preserves the most nutrients, she adds. In general, the lower the drying temperature, the better.