Greens Powder? What’s In It, What’s Not…

A one-ounce shot of wheat grass juice – $3. A bundle of mustard greens and Red Russian kale – $6. The concern that my greens had wilted when I left them under my desk all day – high. Alternatively I could have been spared the wilting issue and bought the increasingly popular “greens powder”.

But first back to the wheat grass. Every Wednesday and Saturday at my farmers market I do a shot of wheat grass from the wheat grass “bar”. It’s handed to me in a shot-cup, by a man who sells his young green shoots from an old yellow school bus. (I imagine his flats of wheat grass bouncing along on the seats like children on their way to school.)  “This is how wheat begins,” he says, cutting a swath of the two inch-long greens and feeding it into the mouth of the hand-crank juicer. A river of chlorophyll flows out the other end. I toss my head back and down the liquid, licking the inside of the cup to claim the thin layer of expensive foam.

The other greens eventually make their way home and into a bowl where I tear up the mustard greens and pluck the Red Russian kale from its stalk. To it I add Pecorino Romano and a light vinaigrette.

So the powder…here’s my problem with the powder – two problems – actually three: 1) There’s not nearly the vitamin levels you get with fresh, 2) There are a lot of “other” ingredients, 3) The actual volume of “greens” can be low (See Problem 2.)

Vitamins May Not Be High

Vitamin A (beta carotene) is one of the most abundant vitamins in fresh greens.  A cup of cooked spinach has 240% of the RDA (recommended daily allowance). Vitamin C is another big one-kale delivers 170% in one cup.  Mixed salad greens (if they’re dark green) are also high in Vitamin A and C.  Some of the powders offer upward of 80% RDA of each, but often, at least with Vitamin C, it’s coming from non-green ingredients such as fruit powder.

Some greens powder have levels of Vitamin A and C well under 10% RDA – which should immediately be a deal breaker.   If a powder has say 10% Vitamin A, assuming you mix 1 tbsp of powder in a cup of water, you would have to drink over 20 cups of the liquid to get the same amount as in one cup of spinach.  Or put another way, 2 spinach leaves have the same amount of Vitamin A as a tbsp of this powder.

Spinach and kale are also high in calcium. Many of the powders have minute levels.

Then there’s chlorophyll (the green pigment that bring along high levels of magnesium among other good things).  It oxidizes (damages) easily.  You know when you over-cook greens and they turn a faded muddy green – that’s what dead chlorophyll looks like. Even just exposure to air can do this, as can freezing and dehydrating. (It’s why vegetable juice should be drunk within 30 minutes of juicing.)

Paler, staler…

…and won’t hold up in a salad.

The Greens Are Not Alone

What you’ll often see along with the dried “greens” is: Fiber (fresh greens bring their own but in powder it’s usually in the form of fruit pectin), Flour and/or Soy Lecithin (fillers and helps emulsify with water), Barley Malt or Malodextrin (sweeteners as well as thickeners), Herbs (some of them may be green but many are non-green herbs, not bad for you, just not “green”), Antioxidant Blends (nothing wrong here, but often the blends are “proprietary” so you have no idea what’s actually in them), Natural Flavors (added because powder in water will never taste like a bowl of fresh kale tossed with sauteed onions.)

These “Guests” May Outweigh Their Green Host

The range I’ve seen of green ingredients to non-green ingredients is a low of 1:3 (meaning the volume of non green ingredients is 3x as large as the “greens”) all the way to 3:1 (the greens outweigh the non-greens 3 to 1). The brand Amazing Grass “Original Green Super Food”, hits this high.

If Powder Is The Only Option

Greens powders are definitely not the cheap alternative to fresh (about $35 for a one tbsp/day supply). In fact on a pure nutrient level, you might be paying more for powder  than fresh.

But if you’re convinced powder’s your thing, look for:

  • Minimum 80% RDA Vitamin A and C (Especially the A; usually a sign of higher levels of greens)
  • High ratio of greens to non greens (Most packages show the breakdown in milligrams)
  • Minimal fiber, fillers, flours, sweeteners
  • No “natural flavors” (Those that don’t use them generally have better tasting ingredients to begin with, though if you’re choosing “berry” flavor, it will have “flavors”.)

Ever do powders?  Thoughts?  Favorite ways to eat greens in their non-powdered form?

Related Posts
“Green on Green” Salad (The one referenced above)
Ask Not What You Can Do For Your Kale (Kale’s credentials and how to get the most out of it)
Are Your Vegetables Nutritionally Impotent? (What we are doing to our vegetables to kill them)

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  • http://www.honeybeenutrition.com Julie @ Honey B.

    I like HealthForce Vitamineral Green but only as a supplement to real greens! I usually add it to my green smoothie. It doesn’t have any of that extra non-food junk. Thanks for all the research you do and info you share!! x

    • pwc

      Vitamineral Green is the only powder I’ll use. No filler- all green with an amazing variety of ingredients. Even easier to take now as available in capsules if desired.

  • http://www.jonathandavidtaylor.com Jonathan David Taylor

    My wife and I are avid green smoothie connoisseurs. Our most beloved recipe came from one of my favorite musicians, jónsi, who is a raw foods devotee. The recipe goes something like: 2 cups of pure cold water, a pear or apple (I prefer pear), 1.5 cups of frozen berries (we prefer a mix of organic blueberries and strawberries) and four handfuls of fresh spinach (I typically stuff as much as will fit into the blender). You can also substitute Swiss chard or kale, though spinach blends best.

    • Michelle

      So you dont juice the spinach fist — just toss it into the blender raw. And the apple too? How does a chopped up apple blend??? I’m envisioning massive chunks of apple and pear …

      • http://www.jonathandavidtaylor.com Jonathan David Taylor

        No juicing required. The spinach blends wonderfully. And I core the apple or pear, but leave on skin and all. The wonderful thing is that without the added sugars of a juice base, you get a healthy flavorful smoothie, with sugars coming from only real fruit and vegetables. Try it at least once, you will be amazed.

        • Ginny

          I do this too! If you want the peak of deliciousness, add in half an avocado. But really, all vegetables and fruits blend down just great (ESPECIALLY in a Vita-Mix) with the right amount of liquid. I generally just use water, unless I’ve got a fresh young coconut, in which case I use coconut water. SUPER yum.

          • Cheryl

            Daily green smoothies are the way to go. My favourite is very simple – a few handfuls of spinach, a mango and water. If it’s too thick, add more water. Yummy !

      • Michelle

        Sold! I will report back …

        • jenny

          such a great post jonathan. love him too + had no idea he was a raw foodie. just found this wonderful gift of recipes: http://jonsiandalex.com/recipes
          thanks. xx

    • http://www.jonathandavidtaylor.com Jonathan David Taylor

      I completely forgot an essential ingredient: one fresh banana (peeled is best). Sorry for that…

      • Michelle

        Glad you clarified the peel-part or your cred would have severely plummetted.

        • Stella

          Powders, blech! But you certainly need a Vitamix for wonderful easy to make green smoothies. A Vitamix will blend just about anything (even a whole chicken…bones and all…but that’s another story)! My favorite green smoothie is 1/2 lightly peeled cucumber, 1 frozen peeled banana, as much spinach as you can stuff in the blender, 16 oz of water plus hemp or chia depending on what I feel like that day. I like chia better because its tasteless. All organic ingredients, of course. Yum, yum, yum or slurp, slurp, slurp! :)

          • Michelle

            My current blender can barely handle chick peas!! Clearly time for an upgrade …

  • http://thegfpseudovegan.blogspot.com/ Kate @ the pseudovegan

    your posts are SO informative, I love them!!

    • Michelle

      Thanks Kate!

  • Karla

    I just bought a Vitamix 5200 and I’m in heaven. I can throw in a few grapes, 1/2 an apple, 1/2 a frozen banana, a couple pineapple chunks, a carrot, fistfulls of spinach and kale, several ice cubes and it blends to a perfect slush in seconds. I’ve never had such a great blender. My boyfriend won’t eat kale, but now he loves it.

    • Michelle

      So you just toss in whole raw kale and it’s mixes it to a slushy slur – so this is no ordinary blender?!

      • Karla

        Yes, a yummy slushy slur. This is no ordinary blender. It was pricey, but well worth it.

  • oksana

    like jonathan, i,too, make a smoothie with the same fruit/vegies in a blender – it’s wonderful

  • Steve

    Hey Michelle,
    I make a green smoothie 5 to 6 days a week. Just an Osterizer blender with 2 speeds, (low, which you have to hold on and high which stays on). Typical smoothie consists of: small handful each of spinach, kale, cilantro, arugula, 2 tbl. of chia seeds, 1 tbl. of hemp seeds, 1 tbl. of raw coconut butter, 1/4 cup blue berries, 1 date, 1 orange, 2 dashes cinnamon, 2-3 dashes of cayenne pepper and 1 3/4 cup water. BTW all the produce is organic and the seeds raw as well. Blend for 1 1/2 to 2 min. and there is not a trace of anything but deep green color. slight sweet/heat and a little body. Yum! Thanks for all the work you do. Always interesting and engaging. Look forward to the pictures as well.

  • Kim

    Interesting post! I have been enjoying a smoothie every morning for the past few months (my new years resolution was to eat more spinach/greens) and I have been adding a powder as well. My usual recipe: half bannana, handful spinach, tbs ground flax seed, half serving of green protein powder, 6 frozen strawberries, 1/4 frozen blueberries, 1 cup unsweetened soy milk. Although sometimes I sub baby bok choy for spinach and other fruit subs. Check out the powder (Amazing Meal Original) that I use, I would be interested in your feedback!
    http://www.amazinggrass.com/amazingmealoriginal.html

  • http://www.machadofarms.com Rick Machado

    Interesting you should write about this Michelle.

    Our farm has been selling a product called Salad Flakes for many years. It’s a combination of greens, maybe 30-40 different types, ranging from several types of kale to carrot tops, to several types of spinach, to alfalfa, clovers, grasses, broccoli leaves, asian greens, lettuces, early spring “weeds”, like dandelion, malva and fillareee, cabbages, bean leaves, tree leaves, basically anything green and edible. There are several plants out there that are edible and healthy, just not palatable. We balance out the greens so there is not as much oxalic acid. We wash and mix these greens, and dry them in a huge dehydrator at 100f for 4 days, and then reduce them to a “crumble”, not a powder. No fillers, nothing but only the greens we grow. Nothing bought somewhere else. You sprinkle the flakes on top of any meal, as well as put it in a smoothie. one tablespoon = a huge bowl of salad, with some pretty serious greens.

    It’s not just a way to develop a new product, but a way to recycle large green bio-mass from our plant breeding program. You and I won’t eat a huge broccoli leaf, or a pile of bitter weeds, but they are very healthy, and in a dried form you never even taste them.

    We have never checked the Vit A content but did send it out for an ORAC test, and it came back with the highest score they had ever had (at that time).

    It can be very healthy and handy. But yes, it can also be a marketing scheme when you add other crap to it.

    http://www.machadofarms.com/garden-salad-flakes.php

    Good article yet again Michelle.

  • heide

    My very favorite way to eat kale…massaged kale salad. So quick and delicious. Stem and finely slice a large bunch of kale. Sprinkle 1 tsp salt-I like coarse- over the kale and massage for 2-3 min. Add 1/2 cup diced apple, 1/3 cup toasted sunflower seeds, 1/3 cup currants, 1/4 cup diced red onion. Mix 1/4 cup olive oil(or flax seed oil) and 2 TBS apple cider vinegar. Pour over and mix. The measurements are really guesses as I just sort of toss it all in w/o measuring..its not a science for sure. I can eat the whole bowl in a sitting if not restrained.

    • Michelle

      It’s interesting that you say that it’s the salt that softens it – I had always dressed my kale, let it sit and thought it was the acidic+oil that was softening it, never thought about first starting with a salt rub … must try it …

  • Theresa

    I make green smoothies in my cuisinart blender. Start by pureeing whole fruit (cored or peeled as appropriate), water, then add greens to taste. Greek yogurt and/or flax seeds if you want to up protein or omega-3′s. Great ideas here: http://www.rawfamily.com/recipes
    Just be sure to “rotate” your greens each week, to avoid too much of any one mineral.
    I swear these have been a huge immune boost and appetite suppressant for me!

  • http://putafonit.com Laura

    I don’t know how many bottles of green powder I’ve purchased over the years. Each time I’m so optimistic that I’ll be able to ‘take’ it, and each time I end up throwing it out. Bleck! Eck! Haha, I just can’t get used to the taste. Fresh just has to be better, taste-wise and health-wise. Really interesting, though, that you did some actual, valuable research. Cool!

  • http://www.greenandplenty.blogspot.com Heather

    Awesome post, as usual! Such a vivid and fact based report demonstrating that the real thing is best!

    Heather

    • Michelle

      Thanks Heather! I knew I could never be a convert to the powder but it WAS interesting to dig in deeper and see just what IS in these so-called “green” powders …

  • http://www.anaturalway.org Fred

    Another nice article….thanks! I love steamed, organic greens and just bought some kale today and had collards last week. But, occasionally I hold my nose and swig down a quality green powdered drink to balance things out because they, if you get the right one(s), are nutritionally awesome.

    I use Amazing Grass Organic Wheat grass and they don’t mess around….an honest, above board company that gives you/me probably more than we pay for. You get the 3800 IUs of Vit A (80% RDA) and oodles of other nutritional goodies missing from the cooked stuff……espescially “live” enzymes and quite a few other interesting items. And, it’s organic…..no GMO crap….and no sleezy fillers!

    $24.99 for 30 servings ain’t bad……….probably the best deal around these days!

    • Michelle

      Ya, from all the looking around I did, they definitely came out ahead of most … there are many that should not even be allowed to USE the word “green” on their label!

  • Melanie

    Great article and great comments! I had been using Reliv but you can only buy it through a distributor. So I have looking lately for another great product, found it! Just ordered amazing grass – it looks great! Fresh is best but I need something I can mix up at work :)

    • Michelle

      How did you find Reliv compares to Amazing Grass? (From an ingredients standpoint?)

  • dawn

    I began drinking green smoothies probably about 6 months ago. It started as part of a detox program designed to cleanse your body of the bad stuff (a.k.a.refined sugars, alcohol, caffeine, gluten. etc…) These items tend to stick around and have after effects in your system longer than you would think. Anyway, My smoothies have been made with fresh greens and fresh organic fruit… Apples do blend up nicely believe it or not – you just need a little extra water. 50% fruit and 50% juice.. I was looking into using the powders but i chose to stay fresh for the fiber… Thanks for the info. I appreciate your detective work….. Dawn

  • Melanie

    @Michelle – I just ordered it/amazing grass last night (realized after looking at the website I can buy it at whole foods, henrys or mothers) But it should be here in few days. What I liked about Reliv was (the two products i used together) had vitamins, herbs, soy protein, minerals, and 10 grams of fiber (2 scoops). After looking at amazing grass ingredients it looks like it may even be better in providing all those things!

  • http://jeremyandkathleen.blogspot.com Kathleen

    Hello! I just discovered your blog (after doing a post about beets on mine) and I’m loving it! I can’t wait to devour the archives (see what I did there!?).

    • Michelle

      Come and devour!!! Welcome!! Just out of curiosity, what exactly was the path to stumbling upon TSB after writing your post? Via Google?

      • http://jeremyandkathleen.blogspot.com Kathleen

        Right after I published my post on beets you started following me on Twitter. So I followed that link here. :)

        • Michelle

          Cool! Gotta love the serendipity of links :)

  • http://www.planithealthier.com Deirdre Holmes

    I have a wheat grass question I wonder if you know the answer to: how to people with wheat allergies do with wheat grass? Does it contain gluten?

    • Michelle

      The simple answer is it does not, b/c the young grass has not yet had a chance to form the gluten. This wheat grass site explains the “why” very thoroughly…. http://www.dynamicgreens.com/wheatgrass-faq.html Scroll down to the very LAST question on their FAQ page and look for “Areas of Caution”, where he addresses this in detail

  • http://www.pamelasalzman.com Pamela

    I must agree you with you, Michelle — much prefer fresh to powder for all the reasons you listed. I looove greens. Spring is the best time to load up on fresh greens as they are Nature’s natural detoxifiers (get rid of all that build-up from the winter) and are in abundance right now. I am juicing kale and parsley with apple, celery, carrot, ginger and lemon. Yum! I just pureed a ton of lightly steamed spinach and stirred it into a risotto. The fiber from the spinach offsets the refined arborio rice, right?? ;)

  • Lornna

    l am wondering if anyone knows about liquid chlorophyll and whether that oxidizes in it’s bottle-especially if left in a sunny window? Should it be kept in a fridge?

    • Michelle

      Chlorophyll oxidizes rapidly with oxygen and light, so for SURE move it from the window! Even IN it’s bottle IN the fridge (or in a dk place), it will oxidize once it’s opened. So I would be a bit wary of getting your chlorophyll in this form.

  • ben

    I drink vegetable powders with my water bottle at work, *ALL* the time!!

    The way I evaluate the green powders, and believe me, I’ve probably tried 99% of them out there… is quality of ingredients. If a product has real vegetables as the first ingredients listed (i.e. kale/spinach/broccoli) then I’m in! No offense to anyone who likes to eat grass, but I’ll choose a vegetable over grass any day of the week!

    My top picks:
    New Chapter Berry Green,
    Lane Labs My Daily Veggies,
    Greens First Berry,
    NewGreens Berry Fusion,
    MacroLife Miracle Reds,
    E7 seven essential dutch chocolate (use w/milk and a banana)
    Sky Island Naturals Supremix

    • Michelle

      Thanks for this list! I am a HUGE fan of the brand New Chapter and though I’ve never tried the product you mention I think the co has enormous integrity around quality of ingredients and processes. They tend to be one of the more expensive brands but I do think the premium is worth it.

  • Maija

    I too am happy with my plain ordinary blender.
    I throw in whatever I have on hand. During the spring/summer/fall I have been known to throw in young dandelion leaves from my unpoisoned back yard. A little goes a long way… unless bitter is a flavour you like!
    Great timing for this article ~ as Care2 just posted one on the glories of using powders. I thought it sounded rather odd. I’d sooner go fresh any day!
    Thank you!

  • http://twitter.com/MaryRambin Mary

     I’m with you.  I prefer fresh for the EXACT three reasons you listed.  I can’t stand all the crap they add in the powder.

  • http://twitter.com/MaryRambin Mary

     I’m with you.  I always choose fresh greens – never the powder.  I can’t stand all the crap they add in!

  • maddy

    I do the same thing as Julie@honey B., supplement with Healthforce Vitamineral Green.  It’s a great healthy pick me up anytime of dayI believe the ingredients are top notch.  Curious if you have tried this brand Michelle or if you know anything about them?  You have super informative site, thanks!