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Recent studies show that people who eat the most fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens and other green vegetables, have a 30 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and other diseases. If your diet’s still short of the recommended 8 servings per day, change it fast with green foods powders. They’re concentrated, portable, and contain vegetables we don’t eat often enough (think broccoli), as well as those we rarely eat-such as seaweed or alfalfa. Most are also fortified with fruit antioxidants and other nutrients, including protein, fiber, probiotics, and superfoods.
When it comes to choosing the right powder, there’s no shortage of options. You can find dozens of varieties ranging from simple to complex. In general, though, most powders are made of a few basic components:
The top 7 green food ingredients
1. The Greens
These should make up the bulk of the blend, and may include anything from grasses to spinach, kale, and broccoli sprouts. Some of the best:
- Wheat grass is rich in superoxide dismutase (SOD), a potent heart-protective antioxidant that keeps blood vessels healthy. Studies also show that wheat grass can help ulcerative colitis and promote detoxification of bisphenol A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor.
- Barley grass, like wheat grass, contains SOD, and has anticancer, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory activity. It may also improve the health of people with diabetes.
- Oat grass, like other grasses, is high in nutrients, and may also support the growth of Lactobacillus, a beneficial type of bacteria that supports gut and immune health.
- Alfalfa contains phytoestrogens that help decrease hot flashes and reduce menopausal discomfort, as well as coumarin, an antiplatelet substance that can prevent blood clots and improve circulation. (Note: if you have lupus or another autoimmune disorder, check with your health care provider before using alfalfa.)
- Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and kale contain chemical compounds called diindolylmethane (DIM) and indole-3-carbinol, a potent cancer-preventive nutrient. Research shows that the latter slows the ability of cancer cells to grow and multiply, and helps precancerous cells from developing further.
- Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, are high in folate, carotenoids, and other compounds that reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and protect the eyes. All dark green vegetables have alkalizing properties and are rich in blood-cleansing and cancer-preventive chlorophyll.
You’ll find several varieties, including whey, hemp, rice, pea, and soy. These vary by quality-the extent to which the protein can be digested and used by the body. Protein needs vary widely, but 10-20 grams per serving is a good guideline. Advantages of each form:
- Whey protein, a by-product of cheese making, is one of the most easily digested and used forms of protein. Studies suggest whey can aid in weight loss, lower LDL and blood pressure, and reduce inflammation. It’s low in lactose, so suitable for most people who are lactose-intolerant.
- Hemp protein is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, in an ideal ratio of 3:1. It’s also rich in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a fatty acid that boosts brain and heart health.
- Rice protein is ideal for people with food allergies. It’s low in lysine, so look for it in combination with pea protein to create a full amino acid profile.
- Pea protein, concentrated from yellow peas, has a smooth texture and an amino acid profile similar to soy. But unlike soy, it’s nonallergenic and free of estrogenic compounds.
- Soy protein has one of the highest rates of absorption and availability, and may also lower cholesterol while protecting against certain cancers. However, it can be allergenic for some, and some studies have suggested that it can adversely impact estrogen levels in women with hormone-sensitive cancers.
It’s essential for heart health, cancer prevention, and maintaining a healthy body weight. In particular, fiber-rich foods stimulate cholecystokinin (CCK), a hormone that sends a message to your brain saying you’re full, which discourages overeating. Additionally, fiber helps to block the absorption of calories. In green foods powders, it’s usually in the form of seeds, such as chia and flax, but may also be derived from fruits and vegetables. Look for blends that contain somewhere in the range of 5-8 grams per serving.
4. Seaweeds and algae
These include spirulina, chlorella, blue-green algae, and sea vegetables such as dulse, wakame, kombu, and kelp, and are especially dense in nutrients. Chlorella in particular is high in chlorophyll, and can support immune function, protect against cancer and inflammation, and treat fibromyalgia, hypertension, and ulcerative colitis. Spirulina can help protect against neurodegenerative disorders and support immunity. And sea vegetables are rich in iodine, to support thyroid function. Look for blends that include a variety of seaweed and algae, with a total of at least 400 mg per serving.
5. Superfoods, fruits, and herbs
Because superfoods, fruits (especially berries), and herbs — milk thistle, astragalus root, and others — have very targeted uses, such as supporting immunity or cleansing the liver, it may be better to buy these in single supplements or condition-specific blends. Still, some-such as mushrooms or matcha-are adaptogens that can support general wellness.
These beneficial bacteria support gut health and overall immune function, reduce inflammation, prevent infection, and ease anxiety. Hundreds of species exist; look for a combination of different strains, including Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus brevis, Bifidobacterium lactis (B. animalis), and Bifidobacterium longum.
Plant-derived digestive enzymes break down food and allow the nutrients to be transported into the bloodstream and converted to energy-especially important when you’re including many different combinations of fruits, vegetables, and superfoods in a protein powder. You’ll see them listed as amylase, lipase, cellulase, lactase, phytase, and other types.
Green Food Recipes
So if you’re over smoothies, try incorporating green foods powders into your diet in other ways: Stir them into oatmeal or yogurt, sprinkle over cooked grains, or even add them to pancake batter. And try the recipes featured here for sneaky ways to eat more greens.