What are the health benefits of greens and whole foods supplements?Greens and whole food powders are made from dried vegetables, fruits, and types of algae (e.g., chlorella and spirulina) providing a variety of nutrients such as carotenoids, antioxidants, amino acids, enzymes, nucleic acids, fiber, vitamins and minerals that can have healthful benefits. For example, chlorella may help lower triglycerides and total cholesterol.
Plant-based greens and whole foods products tend to be high in fiber and low in fats, making them low in calories per gram. They also tend to be low in sodium. Some contain additional ingredients such as prebiotics, probiotics, digestive enzymes, or added fiber.
Although plant-based products typically provide little protein, algae-based products made mostly from chlorella or spirulina are rich in protein, which makes up about two-thirds of their weight. (For more about protein supplements, also see our Protein Powders Review).
Be aware that some of the uses for which greens and whole foods supplements are promoted are not backed by science. For example, claims of antioxidant activity and "alkalinizing" effects do not necessarily translate into proven health benefits; the evidence is weak regarding a blood sugar-lowering effect of spirulina; and a study of the systemic anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering effects of Juice Plus+ showed no significant benefits compared to placebo (see "What They Do").
What problems did ConsumerLab find with greens and whole foods products?ConsumerLab.com discovered lead contamination in two products, and it found that tablets of two other products would not properly break apart (i.e., disintegrate) (see "What CL Found"). Among products that were Approved for quality, CL selected Top Picks for the greens and whole foods categories of unsweetened powders, sweetened powders, and capsules, as well as chlorella-only and spirulina-only products based on their features, cost, and, for powders, taste.
How to Use?Products sold as powders are typically mixed with water or other liquids. Due to the somewhat unpleasant taste of chlorella and spirulina, it is recommended that those powders be mixed into more flavorful beverages or foods.
Cautions with Greens and Whole Foods Products:(see "Concerns and Cautions" for more details)
- While most of the food ingredients in greens products are generally safe, some products may contain herbal extracts, vitamins and minerals, and other ingredients that could potentially cause unexpected side-effects and/or interact with other nutrients and drugs.
- Chlorella may cause gastrointestinal side effects such as diarrhea or constipation. Allergic reactions and other adverse events have been associated with the use of spirulina.
- Greens and whole foods products should not be considered a substitute for a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, which may provide additional fiber, volatile oils, and other nutrients.
- Although many greens products contain a long list of ingredients, specific amounts for each ingredient are not always provided. If you are looking for a particular active ingredient and the amount is not listed, consider getting it from a separate supplement in which the amount is listed (see ConsumerTips).