I’ve gotten sooo many requests for an Athletic Greens review. But really, this is a complete greens powders review, since there’s so many of them out there.
People have been asking me about the benefits of greens powders for years, really.
Green juices and greens powders are super trendy, but they aren’t exactly new. Before Athletic Greens, we had wheatgrass juice, Greens+, and chlorophyll drops, and the trend just keeps on re-inventing itself.
What are greens powders?
Most greens powders are a mix of seaweed and spirulina, leafy greens, often some fruits such as berries, with sometimes with probiotics and adaptogens thrown in.
They’re used by being mixed into smoothies, oatmeal, or in pretty much any food people that can dissolve them into. Greens powders also come in caplets.
There’s this distinct health halo around everything green, and a lot of promises to go along with it. Below, I’ve listed some very real claims about greens powders, that I’ve pulled directly off of some websites.
Purported benefits of greens powders:
Alkalizes your body
Source of concentrated vitamins
Helps treat and prevent cancer
Helps with weight loss
Makes skin glow
Detoxes heavy metals
Is equal to eating fruits and vegetables, but easier
Greens powder brands
Everyone is getting in on the greens powder action! It’s like a party! Some of the most notable brands are:
Vital Proteins’ Collagen Beauty Greens, which contains Bovine Hide Collagen Peptides (aka collagen from cow skin), Organic Wheat Grass, Coconut Water Powder, Organic Alfalfa Leaf, Organic Kale, Organic Barley Grass, Vanilla Bean Powder, Organic Spinach.
From everybody’s favorite nutrition MLM (just kidding…check out my Arbonne review here), there’s Arbonne’s Be Well Superfood Greens, which contains fruits and vegetables in ‘proprietary blends,’ meaning that you’ll never know how much of these things are actually in the product. This is a red flag.
It also doesn’t contain very much of any particular vitamin or mineral.
Athletic Greens is also a proprietary formulation that contains an ‘alkaline, nutrient-dense, superfood formulation,’ adaptogens, digestive enzymes, and probiotics, among other things.
Their nutrition label shows that the product is heavy on vitamin E and the B vitamins, as well as zinc and chromium. Weirdly, iron is nonexistent on the label, and calcium is very low.
Are greens powders healthy?
Let’s take a look at the science.
Most of the research on greens powders has been sponsored by the companies that manufacture greens powders. So, we need to take results with a grain of salt.
For example, an article on a fairly popular website said this about the health benefits of greens powders: “in one small study, women who took one tablespoon of a specific greens powder along with green tea extract daily for 12 weeks had significant increases in self-reported energy when compared with placebo.”
It just makes me shake my head when people write stuff like this (and this author was an RD!). Clearly, the energy the participants were feeling may have come from not the greens powder, but the caffeine that was in the green tea extract. Hello, confounder!!
One 2009 study seems to show that a certain brand of greens powder can help to decrease blood pressure. Except the study methodology was horrible, and the research was sponsored by the same brand of powder. It was also published in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, draw your own conclusions.
A 2020 study on chlorella (a type of algae) in Nutrients drew links between algae and health, conditions, but concluded that trials are lacking in terms of evidence in humans.
As far as the weight loss claim, there’s no physiological reason why greens powders would ever be useful for that.
But that fact doesn’t stop one charlatan from making claims like this one:
“In addition to holding onto fat, fat cells have actually been shown to hold onto excess acid too. This mechanism keeps that extra acid from attacking other cells in your body and damaging your health.
When you neutralize the body’s pH by ingesting more alkaline-forming foods – like green powders – it finally allows your body to get rid of those pesky unwanted fat cells.”
Excuse me while I laugh…and then cry, because garbage like this is actually being published AND people are believing it.
As far as the other claims, the alkaline stuff is complete and utter nonsense – our body’s pH isn’t impacted by what we eat or drink. And the ‘skin glowing’ BS is just that. BS. Nourish your body properly, and your skin will look its best.
The hormone balancing claim, well…’hormone balancing’ is really trendy right now, but it’s often not legit. Nothing about a greens powder is going to significantly impact hormones…whichever ones they were talking about in that claim.
Greens powders aren’t magical.
They also can’t ‘detox’ heavy metals. Just because something works in a lab, doesn’t mean it works in humans. There’s this big ‘your body is contaminated by heavy metals’ push right now, and it’s nothing but a scare tactic to sell products.
If you have heavy metal poisoning, you’d know.
The fact that greens powders are a concentrated source of antioxidants leads to a lot of the predatory anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory claims.
We suspect that having lots of free radicals in our bodies increases risk for disease. Antioxidants are supposed to come and mop up those free radicals, but it’s more complicated than just taking a supplement.
I think it’s worth saying that 1. you CAN consume too many antioxidants, which can lead to other health problems and 2. actually greens that you chew aka whole greens, contain these same antioxidants, but they also have fibre and 3. there hasn’t been a lot of conclusive evidence that antioxidant supplements prevent disease.
We know that diets that are high in fruits and vegetables – antioxidant-rich foods – seem to help to prevent disease. But as is the case with a lot of nutrition research, nobody has actually pinpointed WHY these diets have the effects they do.
It may be the antioxidants, but it also may be multifactorial – these diets are also high in fibre, and people who eat the most fruits and vegetables also tend to have healthy lifestyles – not smoking, being active, etc.
Greens alone don’t prevent cancer. Greens don’t cure it, either. So if you see someone making claims about cancer prevention or cure while trying to sell you something, you need to turn around and run the other way.
A healthy diet is only ONE component in cancer prevention. But it certainly isn’t everything.
Greens powders can also be very high in certain fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, E, and K. And while you’ll probably never consume too much of these via foods, it’s a different story with supplements.
While Athletic Greens doesn’t have a ton of vitamin A and E, it and many other greens powders don’t list the amount of vitamin K in their products. For people with blood clotting disorders, this can be detrimental.
As far as the ‘X teaspoons of our greens powders = X servings of vegetables,’ this comparison is completely obtuse. You can’t compare an ultra processed supplement to whole foods.
One thing that always makes me laugh is that the same people who think processed foods are ‘toxic,’ will happily consume greens powder…which is also processed. And speaking of toxic, greens powders have had their share of issues with contaminants, like lead.
Here’s the thing with greens powders in general:
I’d much rather you eat actual greens. If you want to take a greens supplement, do it on top of the fruits and vegetables you’re already eating, not instead of them.
The claims are a bit ridiculous, but they fall squarely into the wellness industry’s zeitgeist. As in, ‘you’ll be healthier and better if you take this supplement, even though you probably don’t actually need 99% of what’s in it.’
Especially if you eat a halfway varied diet.
They’re expensive AF, too. This article in Bon Appetit shows what a couple of RDs deem to be the best greens powders as recommended by a couple of RDS.
Sure, I’ll spend $50 on a 120 gram bottle of powder that’s dehydrated carrots, leeks, kale, and swiss chard. But it’s ORGANIC!! But it’s from a family-run farm in San Francisco!!
It’s not that Athletic Greens and other greens powders can’t contribute to some peoples’ health, but the benefits of greens powders are a bit vague. It’s basically a matter of whether or not you really need them. If you think you’d like to try one, go right ahead. But don’t expect miracles.