With the rise of celebrity-endorsed powders such as AG1, super greens are trending again. But what is merely hype and what is actually healthy? Nutritionists tell us which ones they rate for immunity, hormone balance and energy

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You’re best friends with the rocket selection in Sainsbury’s, there’s always a head of broccoli in your veg drawer and you know that ‘the rainbow’ is something that you eat. So why would you need a greens powder? Surely these popular smoothie additions, made mainstream by Elle Macpherson (who launched the Welleco Super Elixir daily greens in 2014, when everyone thought she was crazy - but has since been much copied) are for retired supermodels and lazy salad swervers? You may have to think again.

These days most of us, without knowing it, are prey to the ‘nutrition gap’, defined as the discrepancy between the nutrients the average person on a reasonable Western diet gets from food, and the levels needed for optimal health. “It’s also called ‘hidden hunger’,” says nutritional therapist Ify Apuaka.

A number of factors are to blame, including the lower nutrient content in our intensively farmed soil, poor gut health (meaning we can’t absorb as much from our food), plus stress, smoking and medication which all place higher nutrient demands on the body than 50 years ago. Also, we’re more sedentary: “Our ancestors with their active lifestyles ate 4000 calories a day, enjoying all the micronutrients that this delivered – we eat 2000 calories or less, and increasingly these come from ultra-processed foods,” says Akpuaka.  

So even the most rainbow-munching of us might need an easy and effective way to top up our daily intake of essentials in smoothies, soups and plain water, alongside enjoying the benefits of all the other nutrients often added to greens powders, such as probiotics, adaptogens and functional mushrooms.

Greens powders are becoming ever more visible in the hands of celebs such as Victoria Beckham, who, on Instagram, “styled up” her green juice in a wine glass alongside a vase of peonies and a sachet of Athletic Greens AG1, £79. The most ubiquitous of greens brands, they are all over social thanks to getting their products into the hands of celebs, athletes, climbers and fitness and wellness pros such as podcaster neuroscientist Dr Andrew Huberman and Instagram PT sensation Caroline Idiens aka Caroline’s Circuits

Another high-profile contender is  Huel, whose Daily Greens costs £45 per month on subscription has 91 vitamins and minerals and is favoured by entrepreneur and Dragon's Den investor Stephen Bartlett, who is on the board of directors. But there are plenty of other good greens powders, all with their unique blend of nutrients, and our best greens powder list below side-steps the marketing hype to comprise those that national therapists recommend.

Image: instagram @victoriabeckham

What exactly is a super greens powder?

Greens powders, which are basically a heap of veg and grasses in powder form, are a convenient way to get a decent and varied dose of phytonutrients (plant compounds) and health-protecting antioxidants – so crucial for staving off diseases – into our system. Many are marketed as antioxidant and immune support.

Typically, you’ll find things like barley grass, wheat grass, spirulina, chlorella, spinach and broccoli. “You want to ensure a wide selection of greens which include land greens (your kale and broccoli) and sea greens, such as chlorella,” says Akpuaka.

They aren’t called ‘super greens’ for nothing – they are among the foods richest in phytonutrients, which help maintain and modulate immunity and can help prevent specific diseases including, research shows, "heart disease and cancers" says Akpuaka.

Spirulina (a blue-green algae) is something of a superstar for hormones, energy and more.  It alone, “contains essential nutrients, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties that can help manage hormonal imbalances, helping regulate menstrual cycles, reduce PMS symptoms, improve energy levels, reduce acne, manage weight, improve mood, boost immunity, and reduce inflammation,” says functional nutrition and weight loss practitioner Pippa Campbell.

But you won’t find many people wanting to chomp on wheat grass and chlorella for lunch as they aren’t the tastiest – and there are those who have an aversion to dark green leafy veg as well, omitting it from their diets. So a greens powder is the easiest way not to miss out on all this goodness entirely, says Akupaka, although it should never be used as a substitute for fruit and veg, only to supplement a shortfall.

And your greens don’t have to be all green. Akpuaka recommends looking for low-sugar fruits in the mix, such as acerola cherry, acai berry, and blueberries, to help boost nutrients like vitamin C. Crucially, fruits also make the mix taste a bit better – not everyone is keen on a that ‘liquid grass’ flavour so typical of many of these powders. You might also find additional ‘good stuff’, such as probiotics, vitamins and powdered functional mushrooms in your super greens too. 

However sometimes simpler is better. “If a greens powder packs in everything but the kitchen sink (think multivitamins, probiotics, adaptogens) it can dilute the impact of each nutrient,” says Akpuaka. Plus, if there are added vitamins, “you must ensure you don’t overdose on certain ones, like vitamin A,” she says. “Always check what else you are taking.”

How much should you take?

Depending on the brand, your daily dose of super greens is one-to-three heaped teaspoons of powder, which ideally should contain “at least 5000mg (or 5g) of concentrated greens,” says Akpuaka. Unfortunately, most powders don’t state the actual amounts of greens, listing instead the levels of any added vitamins and minerals.

It’s an amount that a brand would struggle to get into a capsule or even a few caps, hence powders are the way to go, she explains, adding that “they’re also more easily absorbed by the body than capsules or pills.”

Your greens powder might contain other things such as adaptogens like ashwagandha or added fibre and these “can be beneficial depending on your health goals”, says O’Shaughnessy.

So what qualifies something that looks like a swamp as a really good greens powder? With or without the addition of fruit, can it ever taste good? How do you go beyond the hype of a good influencer marketing campaign? Here, the experts weigh up the benefits and potential issues and select some good powdered greens to buy.

Benefits of taking a greens powder

  • To future-proof your health

“Because mineral content in fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy has significantly decreased since the 1940s as well as the factors we’ve already mentioned at some level, we’re all affected by the nutrition gap,” says Akpuaka.

It’s thought that this gap is partly responsible for the rise in chronic degenerative disease seen in the Western world over the past 40 years, with sufferers barely aware they are afflicted. When micronutrients are in short supply, it’s likely the body uses them up for short-term survival, leaving nothing for long-term health. The nutrition gap could be a ticking time bomb for many of us.

  • To up your veg count and support your immune system

“These powders are a quick and convenient way to reap the immune-boosting benefits of many vegetables, fruits and superfoods,” says Akpuaka. But they can’t by any means replace a balanced diet and you shouldn’t see them as a substitute for eating fruit and veg either, she cautions. Fellow nutritional therapist Charlotte Faure Green agrees: “It’s worth noting that the health benefits of whole fruits and vegetables come from their combined nutrients and fibre content – and these may be lacking in isolated nutrient supplements.”

  • To support your liver and help you detox

Often an over-used marketing term, ‘detox’ in a nutritional sense refers to the body’s continuous and essential process of eliminating or neutralising toxins such as heavy metals, chemicals and waste products through the liver, kidneys, and other organs. “Symptoms of sluggish liver may be constant tiredness, PMS symptoms, itchy skin, and mood changes,” says Akpuaka.

Sulphur (in cruciferous vegetables such as kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts) is just one  compound that enhances the liver's ability to detoxify harmful substances,” says Akpuaka. Chlorophyll, abundant in dark green leafy veg, “helps neutralise toxins, heavy metals, and chemicals.” Plenty of other nutrients in greens protect organs and dampen inflammation, improving their overall function.

  • To get more fibre for gut health and better bowel movements

“Fibre-rich greens such as wheatgrass and kale can support digestive health by promoting regular bowel movements and feeding the beneficial gut bacteria,” says Akpuaka.

  • To support hormone balance

We love oestrogen as it’s so important for overall health, “but if there is too much in your system, which can happen if the body doesn’t efficiently recycle or ‘detox’ it, this can lead to problems such as PMS, heavy bleeds, fibroids and migraines,” says Pippa Campbell. “It needs to be cleared through the liver and the gut. Carrot fibres, flax seeds and cruciferous veg such as broccoli are great for this.”

Spirulina can help with hormonal imbalances and PMS, while dark green leafy veg such as kale is rich in magnesium and folate which is essential for supporting and regulating hormones, insulin levels, thyroid function and the nervous system, and kelp supports thyroid hormones, “which is something many women I see in my clinic need,” says Campbell.

What should you be wary of in a greens powder?

As with any trendy supplement, greens powders aren’t necessarily clean supplements and can contain junk ingredients, so check the label for added sugar, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, synthetic dyes, emulsifiers, thickeners or fillers, and read our guide to dejunking your supplements).

In such concentrated products, you also want to avoid pesticides, heavy metals and other contaminants from heavily polluted areas. “Sea greens can often be quite polluted,” says nutritionist Daniel O’Shaughnessy, who recommends looking for organic supplements and brands that test for and disclose levels of heavy metals.

Greens powders can be more potent than you think, which is why you should seek medical advice if you have a health condition. For example, greens such as kelp are high in iodine which can interfere with thyroid medications, while high levels of potassium and sodium in some powders can be dangerous for those with kidney disease. Greens powders can also clash with meds like blood thinners and immunosuppressants. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, check with your healthcare provider as well.

Are greens powders good for weight loss? 

Be careful of greens powders claiming to be a ‘weight-loss solution’, says Akpuaka, as they are not a magic bullet. “Green powders can be a part of a healthy weight loss plan; however, they are not a magic solution and should be combined with a balanced diet and exercise,” she says.

The best greens powders as chosen by nutritionists

Best for the whole family: Cytoplan Organic Super Greens + Immunity, £45 for 30 servings

Chosen by nutritional therapist Ify Akpuaka

“What sets this apart is its simplicity: just six pure ingredients (organic kale, broccoli, acerola cherry, spinach, spirulina and chlorella) and nothing else. Cytoplan keeps it straightforward, making this a perfect complement to their multivitamin formulas. It’s also suitable for children aged four and up. Plus, I like that the brand conducts extensive testing and analysis to ensure each ingredient is pure and free from contaminants. You only need 5g per day, which can be easily added to water, juices, smoothies, or even soups to provide a significant boost of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibre.”

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The celebrity favourite: Athletic Greens AG1 Comprehensive Convenient Daily Nutrition, £79 for 30 servings

Chosen by nutritional therapist Daniel O’Shaughnessy

“This is a truly comprehensive formula with liver support – it has everything from sea and land greens (wheat grass, chlorella, alfalfa, beetroot etc) to pea protein to fruit powders and fruit enzymes, vitamins, minerals, herbs, functional mushrooms, and live bacteria too. And it’s tasty enough to just mix with water.”

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The one for hormone balance and immunity: Pippa Campbell Health Super Greens, £30.95 for 20 servings

Chosen by functional nutrition and weight loss practitioner Pippa Campbell

“I recommend my own powder as it teams a wide range of organic greens, fruits and superfoods to deliver a spectrum of essential vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids and enzymes. Flaxseeds and carrot fibres are really good for ‘detoxing’, or getting rid of, used-up oestrogen from your system, spirulina can help with hormonal imbalances and PMS, and kelp supports thyroid hormones, which is something many women I see in my clinic need. So overall, this is a great way to top up your nutrients for everyone but particularly for women.”

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The gluten-free one that supports the nervous system: Free Soul Greens, £30 for 30 servings

Chosen by nutritional therapist Charlotte Faure Green

“I like this for those days when your nutrient intake needs a boost. Benefits include, the price point, no added synthetic vitamins, tastes good and is verified gluten-free. It has spinach, flaxseeds, alfalfa and more, is flavoured with apple and pineapple powder and has added ashwagandha to support the nervous system.”

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The tablet one: Solgar Earthsource Multi-Nutrient Tablets, £17.99 for 20 servings

Chosen by nutrition therapist and health writer Ian Marber

“I think greens powders are pretty vile - they taste like drinking a cold meadow. I prefer to take the very same thing in tablet form so I like these. In effect it’s a greens powder featuring wheatgrass, chlorella, spirulina, wheatgrass flaxseed and more pressed into a tablet so you get none of the mess and mixing and mucky taste!”

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The pregnancy-safe one: Nuzest Good Green Vitality, £32 for 12 servings

Chosen by fertility and IVF nutritionist Charlotte Grand

“Greens powders often either have a bitter taste or are overly sweet. This one tastes good, mixes well and works both as an addition to smoothies or on its own mixed with plain water. It's a great all-in-one greens powder that's fortified with 24 vitamins and minerals in their most absorbable forms, delivered in one daily serve.” Grand (who is pregnant) and Nuzest deem this powder pregnancy-safe, but still recommend you check with your doctor.

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The multivitamin substitute: Vibrant Health Green Vibrance, £49.75 for 30 servings

Chosen by personal trainer, nutrionist and NHS diabetes expert Adam Enaz

“This offers a comprehensive array of nutrients, making it a worthy substitute for a multivitamin. While it may come with a slightly higher price tag, its added vitamins, including B12 and D, can significantly contribute to meeting daily requirements. Additionally, it boasts a lower concentration of lead compared to some organic products, making it a safer choice, especially for children and pregnant women.” Do still check with your doctor whether this is safe for you if you are pregnant.

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The one with functional mushrooms: Wild Nutrition Food-Grown Organic Protein and Superfood Powder, £42 for 14 servings

Chosen by nutritionist Lola Ross

“I make sure I eat plenty of fresh leafy greens and home-grown sprouts, but the additional dose of concentrated greens in here helps boost my detoxification pathways to support my overall health. The blend of greens has wheatgrass, barley grass, spirulina and chlorella, and it’s teamed with a complex of seven functional mushrooms and pea protein for complete nutrient replenishment. I also love the use of coconut sugar and beetroot powder for sweetness-with-benefits.”

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