Whole Foods vs. Greens Powders (and Other Supplements)

By Sharon Brock, MEd, MS

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Stanford Lifestyle Medicine’s nutrition experts, dietitians, and supplement researchers recommend getting nutrition from your food rather than a supplement as much as possible. For example, rather than drinking water with greens powder for lunch, eating a salad with a variety of vegetables is recommended to ensure that you’re getting the nutrition you need in a form that’s bioavailable (still useful) in the body.

“You can’t supplement your way out of a poor diet,” says Rachele Podjenic, PhD, Stanford nutrition and supplement researcher. “Even though fruits and vegetables are technically in many greens powders, since these whole foods are no longer in their original structure, we don’t really know if the nutrients are bioavailable once they are absorbed. There are a lot of claims being made, but almost no data to support them. In my opinion, greens powders are just a waste of money.”

If you’re eating healthy but want to be sure you’re covering all your nutritional bases, our experts recommend taking a multivitamin, and perhaps a couple other supplements (like vitamin D and B12) for healthy aging.  Dr. Podjenic says that it’s important that every supplement you take be third-party tested by organizations such as ConsumerLab, US Pharmacopeia, and NSF International. 

“We need to see supplements as a supplement in our already healthy diet, not as a substitute for eating well,” says Dr. Podjenic. “If you’re already eating healthy and a blood test shows you’re still deficient in a particular nutrient, that is where supplements come in.”

How do we get nutrition from our food?

Below is a graphic listing common supplements with their food equivalents. We aren’t suggesting you stop your supplements altogether (especially if your doctor or dietician recommends them), but to recognize that when we eat whole foods, we consume these nutrients in a more bioavailable form.