Can bright green ‘super powders’ really make you healthy? – BBC.com

4 minutes, 47 seconds Read

By Annabel RackhamHealth reporter

Getty Images Picture of someone with a green drinkGetty Images
The powdered supplements often appear green when diluted with water.

Companies selling super green supplements claim a scoop of their magic powder, mixed with water, is all you need to improve your health.

Many promise a long list of potential benefits, such as stronger hair and nails, increased energy and decreased bloating.

The clean, often green packaging advertises a list of ingredients such as pre and probiotics, antioxidants and vitamins.

But experts have told the BBC there are easier and cheaper ways to get these nutrients into our diets.

Tamsin Hill, a registered dietitian for the NHS, says she first came across them through targeted social media advertising and, because of her job, looked into what they were offering.

She looked at the market leader, Athletic Greens, which was last valued at £945m ($1.2bn), and claims that taking its superfood powder AG1 made users feel more energetic, have clearer skin and less cravings.

“I looked on the back of the packet at the ingredients and thought they weren’t likely to improve your health in a significant way,” she tells the BBC.

imageGetty Images Super green supplementsGetty Images
These supplements claim they will help improve skin, hair and nails and also reduce bloating.

Another company, Rheal Superfoods, which was featured on BBC programme Dragon’s Den in 2021, claims its daily super greens blend supports digestive health, immune system and “overall wellness from within”.

Free Soul’s FS Greens blend also makes similar claims, promising to offer digestion and immunity support through key ingredients such as ashwagandha, golden kiwi and maca.

A spokesperson for Athletic Greens told the BBC: “Our team of scientists and researchers have reviewed thousands of studies as part of the formulation and continuous improvement process for AG1.”

The Free Soul team also told us their product “includes clinically studied and patented ingredients”.

Rheal Superfoods, which was also contacted by the BBC, does not make any scientific claims in its online marketing.

These products have also been approved to be sold in the UK by the Food Standards Association, the regulator which monitors food safety.

‘Playing on our health anxieties’

Miss Hill says analysing these three products in particular: “If we look at the research, these claims aren’t backed up by scientific evidence and the evidence that we do have is very poor quality.”

She adds: “It has very few people in the studies and lots of them are only in a petri dish, so fairly unreliable.”

imageGetty Images Someone preparing a healthy mealGetty Images
Companies are trying to target people who are interested in healthy eating

Miss Hill says she feels that these products, which count as ultra-processed because they have a complicated manufacturing process, “are playing on our health anxieties”.

She says from her experience as a dietitian that “younger generations are becoming increasingly health-conscious” but is concerned “people are being misled into spending money for a perceived health benefit that’s not really there”.

Registered nutritionist and author Jenna Hope says she thought super green products initially had a niche appeal, but says the huge number of products available on the market “suggests that people are buying them”.

One industry estimate suggests the green powder market will double from £220m in 2023 to nearly £395m by 2030.

“There’s lots of misleading information – these brands make you think you need these products to be healthy and support your cognitive function, your gut health, energy and sleep,” Ms Hope tells the BBC.

“But actually we know that if you focus on having a healthy and balanced diet, you can get those benefits as well and don’t need to consume these elite green powders,” she adds.

‘It’s the weekly budget of a food shop’

Super green powder supplements vary in price, but cost about £1 to £4 per day depending on which one you choose.

“For some people that can be the weekly budget of a food shop,” Ms Hope says.

“So if we instead focus on consuming lots of fruits and vegetables, even things like frozen spinach, greens, beans and pulses like lentils and whole grains, that’s really affordable,” she adds.

Ms Hope emphasises that even reducing your intake of refined sugars, artificial sweeteners and ultra-processed foods will have a really positive effect on your health.

imageGetty Images Picture of colourful fruit and vegetablesGetty Images
A diet of wholefoods is better than supplements according to experts

‘There really isn’t a one size fits all’

Miss Hill says that while these supplements may not have the science behind them to back up their claims, “they’re not harmful, so people can try them if they want to”.

There is also another aspect that Ms Hope considers, that “for some people, they can put you in a healthy mindset”.

“So if you start your day with these greens, you may feel more confident to make healthier choices later on in the day, even if they don’t necessarily make you healthier,” she adds.

Ms Hope also considers that for people who are perhaps time-poor, there might be a benefit.

“There really isn’t a one size fits all – if you take an individual with a highly stressful job, this could help them get closer to an adequate amount of nutrients,” she adds.

She says they can also help people with dietary restrictions that prevent them from consuming some types of fruit and vegetables.

Tips for a healthy diet

Nichola Ludlam-Raine, who represents the British Dietetic Association, tells the BBC “whole foods should always be the first choice for nutrition”.

“Green supplements are certainly not necessary for health or a healthy diet, and in addition they do not count towards your five-a-day,” she adds.

She recommends that people should focus on eating 30 different plant-based foods a week, such as whole grains, to increase fibre intake and adds that anyone who wants to take a green supplement should first consult a dietitian or registered nutritionist.

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