Will Superfood Powders Really Make You Healthier?

You’ve probably noticed ads for these superfood powders dotted around social media or your favorite podcast.

Athletic Greens, Daily Greens, Supergreens Mix just one scoop of these multivitamin powders into a glass of water or a smoothie, their marketing typically says, and you can get all the vitamins and minerals you need for the day, plus greater health benefits such as a stronger immune system, less stress, better digestion and more energy.

These green powders, or superfood powders, as they’re sometimes called, usually contain a medley of vitamins and minerals, plus other trendy ingredients like probiotics, shredded kale, chia seeds, and ashwagandha.

But are they really a shortcut to better health?

They’re so tempting, said Dr. Marion Nestle, professor emeritus of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. You think, Oh, this is going to be so easy.

But as with most things related to nutrition, you’ll likely need more than a scoop of the powder to improve your overall well-being, she said.

The ingredient lists on websites and on the packaging of the powders can read like a word salad of wellness buzzwords.

You’ll typically find the usual list of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins E and C (which are antioxidants), biotin (or vitamin B7, which helps you metabolize food), and vitamin B12 (which is essential for body health). blood and nerve cells).

Many superfood powders also contain plant proteins (such as pea protein or brown rice protein powder); grind fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and kale; and supplemental probiotics (gut microbes) and prebiotics (which act as food for probiotics).

You may also find a group of botanicals including ashwagandha, reishi, ginseng and rhodiola, which are called adaptogens and are purported to help with a number of ailments, including stress relief and energy production, and dandelion root, rose hip and extract of milk thistle seeds.

This is like throwing dust down the kitchen sink, said Dr. Pieter Cohen, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who studies supplements.

If you’re already eating a reasonably balanced diet and aren’t deficient in vitamins or minerals, you probably don’t need to take multivitamin supplements like these, experts said.

Superfood powders often contain far more than the recommended daily amount of many vitamins and minerals in one serving of AG1. Powder made by Athletic Greens, for example, provides more than 550 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin E and 1,100 percent of the daily amount. recommended dose of biotin.

For the most part, your body can handle these excess nutrients, said Dr. Gerard Mullin, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Medicine who specializes in gastroenterology. Your kidneys will break down and take out most of it, he said. But some vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E and K, can cause harmful effects if they reach high enough levels, he added, though that’s rare.

As for supplemental probiotics, there’s no strong evidence that already healthy people will get healthier by taking them regularly, said Dr. Nestle. And prebiotic supplements might encourage regular bowel movements and promote gut health, he added, but equally, the science about their need for most people is far from established.

Many adaptogens such as ashwagandha and ginseng have been used for centuries in Eastern medicine, in part for their purported stress-relieving properties. But there’s a lack of high-quality evidence that they can do things like stabilize your mood or ease anxiety, Dr. Cohen said.

There have been no clinical trials showing how effective they are, just commercials, Dr. Mullin added.

Representatives from Athletic Greens and Huel (which makes the Daily Greens blend) said that while some scientific studies have found links between the individual ingredients in their products and some health benefits, no rigorous, independent studies have evaluated the health benefits. health of the products themselves.

When manufacturers grind greens like broccoli or spinach into supplements or powders, some of the vitamins and other beneficial components are lost in the process, Dr. Nestle said, including some of their fiber, which is essential for regulating digestion and keeping the body healthy. intestine. .

It’s best to get your nutrients by eating whole, unprocessed foods straight, Dr. Mullin said.

And many of these powders can come with a hefty price tag: A 30-serving supply from Athletic Greens starts at $79, while the Huels Daily Greens version costs $45, and Enso Superfoods Supergreens powder is $59.99.

Why not just eat some spinach? said Doctor Nestle. I really don’t understand.

As with all supplements, the Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated these green powders for safety or efficacy, so you can’t always be sure what is listed on the label is what is in the package or that you will get the benefits. advertised.

When shopping for supplements, it’s important to look for the seals of reputable third-party certification programs, such as the US Pharmacopeia or NSF, on their labels, said Dr. Cohen, which guarantees the quality of the ingredients.

Experts say these powders probably don’t pose a major risk to the average person, but they also might not do much good.

If you want to get them, get them, Dr Nestle said. But it won’t solve the nutritional problems.

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