Superfood powders are becoming more popular because of the widespread health benefits of their ingredients, but shopping for one can be a daunting task.
The ingredients are usually esoteric and the price can vary anywhere from $10-$150. And price doesn’t always equate to quality (although it usually does to some degree).
To my dismay, there’s not a good piece on the internet detailing how you ought to buy one, and which brands are the most reputable. Mike Adams wrote his opinion on a few superfood powders, but in my opinion that piece should be fleshed out a little bit.
So here’s my attempt to fill in the gaps.
What Should You Look For?
In general, there are three characteristics you’ll want to consider when buying one of these things:
- Nutritional quality
Obviously these will have differing levels of importance for everyone. I have a few customers who buy Incredible Greens solely because they like the taste. They travel a lot for work and just want an easy way to digest some greens. They know it’s good for them and honestly don’t care about the price all that much.
A seasoned raw-foodist will probably look more at nutrient density and will have a particular affinity for certain ingredients and not care much whether or not something is creamy or sweet.
It’s important to remember though that ALL these products are good for you and none of them are going to taste like chocolate milk or Kool-Aid.
With that said, the differences between the products can vary a lot and I think the following brands rank best for the following characteristics:
Price: Probably Amazing Grass. Their basic formula is inexpensive (about $30) and has very high quality ingredients.
Nutrients: Vitamineral Green. It’s been around for decades and is tried and true. It has a big following for a reason.
Taste: Incredible Greens. Obviously I’m a bit biased since I make it, but it has a refreshing taste plus a nice mix of rare/potent ingredients.
Understanding the Labels
Reading the label of a superfood powder can be confusing, to say the least.
However, the types of ingredients will usually consist of some of the following:
Base: Typically grasses (wheat, barley, alfalfa, dandelion) as well as lecithin (usually soy) and beta glucans.
Digestive Enzymes: These help with digestion and absorbance. These are imortant if you have sensitive digestion and improve the nutritional impact of the other ingredients.
Probiotics: Helpful bacteria that live within your body. In my opinion there’s no reason not to have these.
Fibers: They’re usually taken from fruits. In reasonable quantities fibers are good but I’d be wary of something that has more than 750 mg of fibers in one serving. Fibers are healthy because of their bulk but having too much can take away from other important nutrients.
Herbs: Generally the herbs will either improve your immune system or boost your energy, and in some cases both.
Mushrooms: They’re not found often, but are becoming more popular. In my opinion mushrooms are not necessary and the nutritional value of different mushrooms can vary wildly. Sometimes, but not always, they’re disguised filler.
Greens: Self explanatory. Spinach, kale, bok choy, and parsley are probably the most commonly used ingredients. Sometimes broccoli sprouts.
Seaweeds/Algae: These are very common, and very very healthy. I’d always recommend getting a powder with at least 300 mg of spirulina, chlorella, and some other seaweed.
To be honest, there’s no hard and fast rule about which ones are best and worst.
Furthermore, most of the manufacturers make it difficult because they don’t display the exact amount of each ingredient listed. This is a pain in the butt, and I personally have a preference for companies that clearly state how much of what is in each serving.
This makes it easy to do “ingredient stuffing” which is when someone adds a trivial amount of a whole bunch of stuff just so they can brag that they have “X amount of ingredients”, which overstates how nutritious the mixture really is.
With that said, let me give you my opinion on how to quickly judge the ingredients list.
Base: Grasses and Lecithin
Most superfood powders will consist primarily of grasses and lecithin. Wheat, barley, dandelion and alfalfa grass are all very good for you. They have slightly different health properties so I prefer one that has several instead of just one.
Lecithin is a contentious ingredient among superfood enthusiasts. It definitely helps to give the powders a smooth, creamy taste to them, and you can definitely tell the difference between powders that have lecithin and powders that don’t. Lecithin also has a variety of unique health benefits. It consists mostly of phosphatides and fatty acids which your body uses in the Central nervous system. A variety of studies show that lecithin helps improve memory, cognitive performance, and even longevity.
What’s more, the health benefits of other foods are often enhanced when taken in the presence of lecithin. For example, this paper published in Vaccine discusses how vaccinations given with lecithin have a greater ability to boost the immune system.
Another paper published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that reservatrol droplets have a greater stability and antioxidant activity when digested with lecithin. So lecithin, in addition to its health benefits also gives lots of other foods an “assist” in addition to helping the flavor of the mixture.
That said, it’s not the most nutrient dense compound, and some people don’t like lecithin in their superfood powders because they feel like it gets in the way of more important ingredients.
In my opinion if taste and mixability are important to you then look for something with lecithin. If you’re only about nutrient density then find something without it.
If you’re curious about the different health benefits of lecithin (or lack thereof) then I suggest you read my guide about the use of lecithin in superfood powders.
The list of potential ingredients is a long one and beyond the scope of one blog post. But I’ll try and do my best to give a brief run down of ingredients I like.
Algae and Seaweed: Spirulina and chlorella are a must, and pretty common. All seaweeds are good for you, but dulse is my favorite, especially dulse that comes from Nova Scotia. I have written previously about the health benefits of Nova Scotia Dulse.
Herbs/Berries/Extracts: It gets complicated here due to sheer volume and diversity, but here are my favorites:
- Licorice Root – Nature’s chemotherapy agent
- Royal Jelly and Bee Pollen – Super nutrients that fuel bee hives
- Acerola Berry – Like Acai, only better
- Pine Bark Extract
- Nopal Cactus
- Milk Thistle – powerful immune booster
- Eleuthero Root - improves all aspects of physical performance with no adverse side effects
- Green Tea Catechins – catechins prevent cancer, extend life, and boost your energy
Greens – Greens vary less in their health benefits than herbs, and thus a greater variety isn’t as important. Collectively I would look for at least 200 mg from the following:
- broccoli sprouts
Enzymes and Probiotics -Like I said before, I like these a lot and prefer to have both in my superfood powder. I don’t have a strong preference for one particular enzyme or another, just a nice mix.
I especially recommend digestive enzymes if you have a sensitive stomach.
Other Points To Consider:
I’d also advise keeping the following ideas at the front of your head when buying one of these products:
- I believe the value added by superfood powders is extremely high, but I wouldn’t recommend spending more than $70
- Don’t judge quality simply by the number of ingredients. Some brands put in miniscule amounts of a bunch of stuff to inflate the number, and not all ingredients are created equal
- In general focus on having large amounts of a variety of high quality ingredients.
- It’s often a good idea to AVOID retail stores. They’ll have a higher markup and many of the best brands avoid them altogether.
So with that said, let me give a few products that I like and don’t like.
For the best combination of cost/value go with Amazing Grass.
The most nutritious ones are really good for you, but for many people there’s a tradeoff between taste and nutrient density. Of course they’re all very good for you and taste is in the eye of the beholder, so it’s up to you to decide where you fall on the continuum.
In addition to the Health Kismet company blog, I’d also recommend the following resources if you’re interested in these drinks:
The Green Superfood Picker: This is a piece of software I wrote as a result of this blog. It provides dynamically generated “info sheets” on the products reviewed here and a customized supplement analyzer that makes recommendations based on your preferences.
Green Drink Reviews: Exactly what it says. It reviews all the different green drinks. Keep in mind that the author has been drinking these things for years and in my opinion his tastes are very different than the typical newcomer. Still a great resource though.
Antioxidant-fruits.com: Regularly does product reviews and giveaways on superfood powders and similar products. I’ve worked with the site owner in the past and can personally vouch for her integrity.
Lunch box bunch: A well maintained website that reviews a variety of superfood related products.
Hope this helps. Now do yourself and try one of these wonderful products!