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.)
…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?
“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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