Green super foods are a dietary supplement category that sells fairly well in the marketplace. But what exactly are green super foods, what contribution are they supposed to make to human health, and do they have any real science to back them up? These are the questions I will attempt to answer in this article.
What are They?
There are a plethora of powdered green super food drink mixes available. Most of these drink mixes contain dozens of nutraceuticals, including green super foods. For the purposes of this discussion, green super foods will be defined as algae (chlorella, spirulina, etc.), grasses (alfalfa, barley grass, wheat grass, etc.), common green vegetables (broccoli, spinach, etc.), and sprouted versions of grass and green vegetables. Powdered green super food drink mixes may also contain other nutraceuticals such as fruit powders, herbs, micronutrients, enzymes and pre- and probiotics. While clearly not green super foods, these other nutraceuticals may or may not provide benefits depending upon the forms and amounts of each present in the product.
What are They Supposed to do?
Generally, people use powdered green super food drink mixes with the expectation that it is going to provide them with one or more of the following benefits:
• Compensate for a lack of vegetables/leafy green vegetables in their diet,
• Support and/or promote some aspect of the body’s detoxification process,
• Add an alkalizing component to their diet to help prevent disease,
• And/or promote some other aspect of human health.
Compensating for a lack of vegetables
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has indicated that Americans are getting about 40 percent less of the recommended servings of vegetables,1 and specifically 60 percent less of the recommended servings as green vegetables.2,3 But is it realistic to expect that supplementing with a green super food drink mix will truly compensate for a lack of sufficient vegetable intake? The answer is not exactly, but there are still benefit to be had. While it is not a substitute for eating vegetables, the green super food drink mix may be able to provide some of the antioxidant power of vegetables, and provide the other contributions to health. For example, a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine4 found that 1 g/day of wheat grass powder significantly:
• Reduced blood malondialdehyde (marker of oxidative stress)
• Increased total antioxidant status
• Increased vitamin C levels
• Increased superoxide dismutase (SOD)
Likewise, research published in other scientific journals5,6 demonstrated that 5-10 g/day of broccoli sprouts significantly:
• Reduced blood malondialdehyde
• Increased HDL cholesterol
• Reduced oxidized LDL cholesterol
• Reduced oxidative stress index
• Increased total antioxidant capacity
Another study from the Journal of Medicinal Food7 found that 2 g/day of spirulina significantly:
• Reduced blood glucose levels
• Reduced triglyceride levels
• Reduced apolipoprotein B levels
Approximately 3.97 billion pounds of toxic chemicals are disposed of or otherwise released to the environment annually,8 which supports a statement made by Rachel Carson in her 1962 groundbreaking book Silent Spring: “For the first time in the history of the world every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death.” The good news is that the body was designed to process and excrete many toxins. The bad news is our bodies may not always be equipped to handle the volume of modern environmental pollutants and toxic substances. However, there are quite a number of nutraceuticals that can help support and promote the detoxification process. With regard to green super foods, unpublished research demonstrated that 3 g/day of a proprietary blend of broccoli, Daikon radish, and red radish spouted seed concentrates significantly:
• Increased paraoxonase 1, a detoxification enzyme,9
• Increased quinone reductase, a detoxification enzyme.10
Another study11 found that 100 ml/day of wheat grass juice promoted the detoxification bisphenol A (BPA) in young women.
Alkalizing the diet
The concept that eating a diet that produces a more acidic pH systemically (i.e. emphasis on meat and dairy) is conducive to promoting a disease state, while eating a diet that produces a more alkaline or base pH (i.e. emphasis on vegetables and fruit) is more likely to help prevent disease, is fairly well-known. This has led to attempts to “alkalize” the diet with the consumption of specific dietary supplement and even alkaline water. While the value of this supplemental approach to alkalizing the diet had probably been overstated, not to mention lacking in research to support it, there is a least one study I have seen showing a benefit.
A small study12 was conducted on 3 g/day of pH 7.5, a proprietary blend of vegetables, vegetable sprouts, grain sprouts and a few other nutraceuticals. The results were that all participants responded to treatment with an increase in alkaline pH in the morning after the first dose.
Other health benefits
In addition to those previously listed, specific green super foods have been shown to have other health benefits in human research (See figure 1).
Conclusion and Words of Advice
Green super food drink mixes may not always provide the expected benefits for which they are being used, but research does suggest that they have distinct benefits to offer nonetheless. That assumes, of course, the product provides clinically relevant doses of the key green super foods. Unfortunately, the formulation philosophy for many green super food drink mixes seems to be “everything but the kitchen sink.” While I have nothing against the inclusion of a broad spectrum of nutraceuticals, the actual amount of each green super food is not identified in the supplement facts box of many super food drink mixes. Rather, it is frequently included as part of a proprietary blend—and it is the proprietary blend that is given a milligram/gram amount. The problem with this is that it is impossible to know if there is a relevant dose of any of the green super foods in the product. One way around this is to use products that specifically identify the exact amount of each green super food it provides. VR
1 U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2010.
2 Diet Quality of Americans in 2001-02 and 2007-08 as Measured by the Healthy Eating Index-2010. Nutrition Insight 51. USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. April 2013.
3 Guenther PM, Casavale KO, Reedy J, et al. Healthy Eating Index. Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. CNPP Fact Sheet No. 2 February 2013. 4 Shyam R, et al. Wheat grass supplementation decreases oxidative stress in healthy subjects: A comparative study with spirulina. J Altern Complement Med. 2007;13(8):789-91.
5 Bahadoran Z, et al. Broccoli sprouts powder could improve serum triglyceride and oxidized LDL/LDL-cholesterol ratio in type 2 diabetic patients: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2012 Jun;96(3):348-54.
6 Bahadoran Z, et al. Broccoli sprouts reduce oxidative stress in type 2 diabetes: a randomized double-blind clinical trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2011 Aug;65(8):972-7.
7 Parikh P, et al. Role of Spirulina in the Control of Glycemia and Lipidemia in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. J Med Food. 2001 Winter;4(4):193-199. 8 United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2010. Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis Overview. Washington DC.
9 Research Report: SproutGarden (#1) increases paraoxonase 1 in human blood. Acute effect case studies. VDF Futureceuticals.
10 Research Report: SproutGarden™ #1 stimulates activity of Quinone Reductase in human peripheral blood cells in-vivo. Acute effect case study. VDF Futureceuticals.
11 Yi B, Kasai H, Lee HS, Kang Y, Park JY, Yang M. Inhibition by wheat sprout (Triticum aestivum) juice of bisphenol A-induced oxidative stress in young women. Mutat Res. 2011 Sep 18;724(1-2):64-8.
12 pH7.5™ increases systemic pH value in Clinico. Unpublished report. VDF FutureCeuticals, Inc. R&D Department, Momence, IL 60954.
13 Cingi C, Conk-Dalay M, Cakli H, Bal C. The effects of spirulina on allergic rhinitis. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol 2008;265:1219-23.
14 Kalafati M, Jamurtas AZ, Nikolaidis MG, et al. Ergogenic and antioxidant effects of spirulina supplementation in humans. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2010;42:142-51.
15 Genazzani AD, Chierchia E, Lanzoni C, et al. [Effects of Klamath Algae extract on psychological disorders and depression in menopausal women: a pilot study]. Minerva Ginecol 2010;62:381-8.
16 Marawaha, R. K., Bansal, D., Kaur, S., and Trehan, A. Wheat grass juice reduces transfusion requirement in patients with thalassemia major: a pilot study. Indian Pediatr. 2004;41(7):716-720.
17 Ben-Arye E, Golden E, Wengrower D, et al. Wheat grass juice in the treatment of active distal ulcerative colitis a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Scand J Gastroenterol 2002;4:444-9.
Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, the dean of academics for Huntington College of Health Sciences, is a nutritionist, herbalist, writer and educator. For more than 30 years he has educated and trained natural product retailers and health care professionals, has researched and formulated natural products for dozens of dietary supplement companies, and has written articles on nutrition, herbal medicine, nutraceuticals and integrative health issues for trade, consumer magazines and peer-reviewed publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.