Green Drinks, A Great Way To Get Your Greens
The Immune System, and Nutritional Greens
By Decker Weiss, NMD.
So far, green drink mixes have enjoyed a fairly narrow niche of fans. Those that like them, cite the incredible ounce-for-ounce nutritional value green drink mixes can provide, the convenience, and the feeling they are doing something superior for their health when they drink one of these products. Green drink mix loyalists also like the connection to the earth, when they drink something so basic and close to Nature. Those that don’t, simply cite green drink mix’s Yuck Factor (some powdered green drink mixes feature a strong taste, unpalatable texture, and uncertain ingredients) as reason enough to stay away.
However, good food doesn’t have to taste bad. Admittedly, the taste of some green drink mixes is a bit, well… earthy. Fortunately, there are high-quality powdered green drink mixes available with great flavors and plentiful nutrients without the "full of chlorophyll" taste.
This article attempts to cover everything you need to know when buying a powdered green drink mix product:
- What to look for on the label
- How to determine the nutritional values provided
- How to steer clear of those products filled with empty promises
And maybe we’ll even make a few "green drink mix" lovers out of skeptics
Why are green drink mixes so popular?
You just can’t deny the convenience of getting a large part of your vitamins and minerals in the form that Nature intended – as a complete food – with the ease of a daily drink. Even the most devoted vegetarian can find it hard some days to get the recommended 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables.
In fact, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently determined that:
- 87% of US families
- 78% of singles
- 73% of American empty-nesters and
- 61% of our nation’s elderly,
don’t get the fruits and vegetables we need to stay healthy.
When it comes to fiber, we are really failing to get what our body needs. Most Americans only consume 15 grams of fiber per day, less than half the 35 grams that health and nutrition experts, including the NCI, know we need to prevent heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. 1 The most nutritious green drink mixes contain almost 6 grams of fiber in one single serving.
I’ve heard that most green drink mixes don’t really contain fiber. Some have as little as one gram per serving. Why can’t green drink mixes contain adequate fiber?
They can. However, making juice/liquid out of greens removes most of their fibers, and as a result, most green drink mixes are low in this nutrient. 2
The highest quality green drink mixes contain inulin and oligofructose (OF) two soluble dietary fibers packed with nutritional goodness. Inulin (not to be confused with insulin) and OF are naturally occurring dietary fibers that come from chicory root. Like all fibers, they cannot be absorbed. So they stay in the colon until they are excreted out with stool. While they’re hanging out in the colon, they are busy doing all sorts of healthful activities, like increasing the numbers of friendly bacteria, (the normal intestinal flora that are vital to our health) by providing the nutrients they need to multiply, scrubbing your intestinal walls of unwanted waste, and soaking up toxins. 3
Both fibers have a unique partnership with calcium, too, making them even more beneficial. While some fibers inhibit mineral absorption, inulin and OF actually improve the ability of calcium to be absorbed. Our bones are constantly forming and breaking down. Ideally, these two processes should balance each other or perhaps favor bone production. Inulin and OF slow the rate of bone breakdown and slightly increase the rate of bone formation. 3
Why do green drink’s contain grasses? I thought humans couldn’t eat grass?
Humans can indeed eat grass, just as we can eat lettuce, spinach, or other greens. However, we cannot fully digest grass because we can’t digest the compounds that grasses and other plants use to maintain their structure - fibers.
Almost all green drink mixes contain grasses because they are super-rich in antioxidants, nutrients that scavenge free-radicals. Damage from free-radicals is considered the number-one cause of aging and may lead to heart disease and cancer. The antioxidants in barley, wheat, and oat grass are known to have anticancer activities. 2
Barley grass (Horedum vulgare) contains several antioxidants that may help us fight cancer and boost our immunity. It’s also the epitome of the phrase nutrient-dense. For example, green drink mixes that contain organic barley grass provide the equivalent of about 2 servings of leafy green vegetables – just from this single ingredient. 4,5 Another common green drink mix ingredient is radish sprouts (Raphamus sativus). Compared to eight other common food vegetables, radish sprouts have superior antioxidant action. They also contain vitamins A and C, folate, calcium, and potassium. It’s almost a little hard to believe that all this nutrition comes from a tiny radish sprout. 6
But, probably the best reason grasses are the backbone of green drink mixes is chlorophyll, the green pigment of plants.
Why is chlorophyll important?
Chlorophyll takes sunshine and through the "magic" of photosynthesis turns it into chemical energy that drives the biochemical reactions in nearly all living organisms. Carbon dioxide in the air is absorbed through small holes (stomates) in the plant’s leaves, while the plant’s roots absorb water from the soil. Sunlight strikes the surface of the leaf where chlorophyll traps its energy. Some of the water is changed to hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen joins with the carbon dioxide to make food for the plant. And the oxygen gas is released from the plant through the stomates. Chlorophyll is the key to the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber in superior green drink mix products. It’s the connection between the Earth’s greens and human health. 7
All grasses, spinach, and other greens are high in chlorophyll. And because the center of the chlorophyll molecule contains magnesium, these plants are also very high in this mighty mineral. Magnesium is vital for muscle contraction and the conduction of nerves. It’s crucial in maintaining heart and blood pressure health. 7 Since 70 to 80% of all American adults don’t get the amount of green vegetables they need, most of us probably aren’t getting the magnesium we need, either.
If a powdered GDM contains wheat grass does it also contain gluten?
No, wheat grass is gluten free. It’s also full of valuable nutrients, including beta-carotene, riboflavin, folic acid and the amino acids tyrosine, aspartic and glutamic acid. 1
OK, then what nutrients, greens, and vegetables should be in a high quality GDM product that’s made by a reputable and honest company?
Good question. Start by looking for the grasses we talked about. Make sure it also contains vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, carrot, etc), leafy greens (spinach and kale) and other nutrients like blue green algae.
Who do you think can benefit the most from GDM?
Green Drinks can give anyone an energy boost. But I have found that people with the following illnesses really benefit from including Green Drinks as part of their daily diet:
- Leaky Gut Syndrome - The vitamins and minerals in greens are naturally metabolized, which makes them perfect for people with leaky gut syndrome. Typically, individuals with this condition are deficient in essential vitamins, minerals and enzymes because of the permeability of the gut wall. GDM’s are a soothing, natural way to introduce these vitamins and minerals back into the system, plus, the vegetable enzymes in the barley, oat and wheat grasses are suited for a wide variety of pH levels.
- Autoimmune Diseases - Some of the ingredients in high quality GDM’s have vegetables rich in carotenoids. Supplemental use of these vegetables, such as carrots with beta-carotene and tomatoes with lycopene, show encouraging results for immunomodulating effects in recent research. 8,9
- Cancer - Green drink mix’s have plenty of cancer-fighting whole foods, including cabbage, inulin and oligofructose, radish, tomato and kelp.
Research shows that cabbage contains cancer inhibiting compounds. 10 Kelp may have anti tumor and anticoagulant activities, making it beneficial for anyone with cardiovascular problems as well. 11,12 Inulin and oligofructose, so beneficial for proper digestion, may inhibit colon cancer and tumor cell growth. 13 And, scientific studies show that the spicy Daikon radish may have properties that help ward off cancer. 14
One nutrient that is "hot" right now is the carotenoid, lycopene, and with good reason. Clinical studies show it may reduce risk of prostate tumor cell growth. In one clinical study, PSA (prostate specific antigen—a marker for prostate cancer) levels decreased by 18% in the lycopene group. Clinical studies also show that high intakes of lycopene and tomato products are associated with a 30% - 40% reduced risk of prostate cancer. 16
Heart disease - Many of the whole foods components in a high quality powdered GDM such as green tea, broccoli, cabbage and carrots have cardio protective effects. For instance, green tea, which is well known for it’s antioxidant abilities, is associated with lower rates of coronary artery disease. 17
Broccoli, and its close cousin, cabbage, have many compounds associated with good health. A randomized, double-blind clinical study found that a broccoli and cabbage combination reduced LDL cholesterol by 8.5% in participants after 9 weeks of use. 18 However, many people just can’t stomach the taste or smell of either of these foods—another case for a good tasting, high quality green drink mix.
Carrots, long associated with beneficial effects for eye health, have cardiovascular protecting abilities too, as a great source of beta-carotene. In a scientific study, beta-carotene decreased cholesterol levels in the liver by 44% and reduced liver triglycerides by 40%. 19
Osteoporosis - most people think of dairy products when they think about calcium and bone health. Proving that it’s never too late to start eating right, clinical studies show that diets rich in vegetables containing bone-building calcium, magnesium and potassium help keep bones strong—even in older individuals. 20,21
Of course, one of the best ways to avoid osteoporosis is by ensuring a healthy calcium intake right now. Calcium isn’t the only important nutrient for helping prevent osteoporosis. Getting enough magnesium and potassium is vitally important for healthy bones, too. Plus, the fiber found in high quality green drink mixes helps the body better absorb calcium and magnesium as well.
How can someone who hates the taste of those vegetables and leafy greens become a GDM lover?
Well, you’re right to ask—some green drink mixes actually taste more intense than plain old vegetables. However, there are high quality green drink mixes, with fresh-tasting, fruit (and even mint) flavors, that will remove the doubts from most peoples’ minds. Plus, the benefit of drinking your greens is the almost instant intake of chlorophyll, magnesium, antioxidants, plant enzymes and fiber.
What does the research state about the nutrition green drink mixes provide?
Besides the antioxidants in barley grass and radish sprouts, there are numerous nutrients in green drink mix vegetables with significant health benefits. As mentioned earlier, the "hot" nutrient in the world of research is lycopene, the pigment that makes tomatoes red. Lycopene is a carotenoid, a plant-based antioxidant compound that may protect against cancer and heart disease. Lycopene is more powerful than beta-carotene, the best known carotenoid. 24
More than 70 studies have examined the link between lycopene and cancer. So far, there is strong evidence that lycopene can protect against prostate, lung, and stomach cancers. There is some support that lycopene also affords protection against cancers of the cervix, colon, rectum, esophagus, mouth, and pancreas. Lycopene may fight heart disease, prevent congestive heart failure, and lower levels of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol. 24,25
A National Eye Institute (NEI) supported study found that people who ate collard greens, kale, and spinach had much less age related macular degeneration (AMD). This eye disease affects the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail. AMD blurs the sharp, central vision you need for "straight-ahead" activities such as reading, sewing, and driving. 26
Are powdered GDM’s good for pH balancing?
As a naturopath, I wholeheartedly believe that increased intake of processed foods has led to an imbalance of acid in the body system, and that alkalinizing foods like those found in GDM’s can make a huge difference. While the research is still limited on this, it seems certain that some foods have alkalinizing effects in the body.
For example, although citrus fruits such as lemons or grapefruit are considered acidic foods, it is the action in the body that determines whether or not they are beneficial. In fact, lemons are considered an alkalinizing food. Many researchers believe that a typical Western diet has led to a state of chronic, low-grade acidosis (too much acid in the body.)27-30 This is where regular use of a premium powdered GDM can help.
Alkalinizing foods may also support bone health as well. Whole foods such as fruits and vegetables tend to be high in potassium and magnesium, two minerals that are often depleted by ingesting large amounts of acid producing foods. In one clinical study, potassium and magnesium from whole foods improved bone mineral density (BMD) for older individuals. 31
In fact, for anyone concerned about acid/alkaline balance, many of the whole foods found in quality green mixes should include: spinach, broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, mustard greens, blue-green algae, kelp, alfalfa, barley and wheat grasses—all considered "alkaline producing" foods for better acid/alkaline balance in the body. 32
How can someone who hates eating their vegetables enjoy these drinks?
It’s easy—flavor. While some green drink mix’s have a rather "intense" taste, there are high-quality green drink mixes available with fresh-tasting fruit and mint flavors that will turn the most ardent veggie avoider into a fan. Plus, when they realize that they’re combining good taste with an almost instant intake of chlorophyll, magnesium, antioxidants, plant enzymes and fiber, it makes the value and convenience of green drink mix’s obvious.
High Quality Powdered Greens Drink Mixes can provide a great-tasting, ultra-pure, whole food way to get the essential nutrients you need to prevent cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. They can enhance your energy, support digestion, and boost your immune system.
For those of you who are devoted green drink users, you know how amazing a simple glass of water can become when mixed with Earth’s green goodness. And for those of you who are willing to give green drink mix’s a try – congratulations. You are on your way to superior and great-tasting health. 6
1. The National Cancer Institute. The Five A Day For Better Health Program. Accessed on July 25, 2004. Available at: http://www.5aday.gov/
2. PDR Health. Wheat and barley grasses. Accessed on July 28, 2004. Available at: http://www.pdrhealth.com/drug_info.
3. Fleming T., ed. Inulin. In: PDR® for Nutritional Supplements. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company; 2001: 226-228.
4. Mahdi GS, Naismith DJ, Price RG, Taylor SA, Risteli J, Risteli L. Modulating influence of barley on the altered metabolism of glucose and of basement membranes in the diabetic rat. Ann Nutrition Metabolism. 1994;38:61-67.
5. McIntosh GH, Whyte J, McArthur R, Nestel PJ. Barley and wheat foods: influence on plasma cholesterol concentrations in hypercholerolemic men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1991;53(5):1205-9.
6. Takaya Y, Kondo Y, Furukawa T, Niwa M. Antioxidant constituents of radish sprout (Kaiware-daikon), Raphanus sativus L. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry. 2003;51(27):8061-6.
7. Campbell NA. Chlorophyll. In: Biology 7th ed. Redwood City, Calif: Benjamin Cummings Publishing Company, Inc; 2002: 206-208.
8. Watzl B, Bub A, Briviba K, Rechkemmer G. Supplementation of a low-carotenoid diet with tomato or carrot juice modulates immune functions in healthy men. Ann Nutrition Metabolism. 2003;47(6):255-61.
9. Watzl B, Bub A, Brandstetter BR, Rechkemmer G. Modulation of human T-lymphocyte functions by the consumption of carotenoid-rich vegetables. British Journal of Nutrition. 1999;82(5):383-9.
10. Rouzaud G, Young SA, Duncan AJ. Hydrolysis of glucosinolates to isothiocyanates after ingestion of raw or microwaved cabbage by human volunteers. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prevention. 2004;13(1):125-31.
11. Riou D, Colliec-Jouault S, Pinczon du Sel D, Bosch S, Siavoshian S, Le Bert V, Tomasoni C, Sinquin C, Durand P, Roussakis C. Antitumor and antiproliferative effects of a fucan-extracted from ascophyllum nodosum against a non-small-cell bronchopulmonary carcinoma line. Anticancer Research. 1996;16(3A):1213-8.
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13. Reddy BS. Possible mechanisms by which proand pre-biotics influence colon carcinogenesis and tumor growth. Journal of Nutrition. 1999;129(7 Suppl):1478S-82S.
14. Nakamura Y, Iwahashi T, Tanaka A, Koutani J, Matsuo T, Okamoto S, Sato K, Ohtsuki K. 4- (Methylthio)-3-butenyl isothiocyanate, a principal antimutagen in daikon (Raphanus sativus; Japanese white radish). Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry. 2001;49(12):5755-60.
15. Kucuk O, Sarkar FH, Djuric Z, Sakr W, Pollak MN, Khachik F, Banerjee M, Bertram JS, Wood DP Jr. Effects of lycopene supplementation in patients with localized prostate cancer. Experimental Biological Medicine (Maywood). 2002;227(10):881-5.
16. Giovannucci E, Rimm EB, Liu Y, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. A prospective study of tomato products, lycopene, and prostate cancer risk. Journal of Natl Cancer Inst. 2002;94(5):391-8.
17. Sano J, Inami S, Seimiya K, Ohba T, Sakai S, Takano T, Mizuno K. Effects of green tea intake on the development of coronary artery disease. Circ J. 2004;68(7):665-70.
18. Takai M, Suido H, Tanaka T, Kotani M, Fujita A, Takeuchi A, Makino T, Sumikawa K, Origasa H, Tsuji K, Nakashima M. LDL-cholesterol lowering effect of a mixed green vegetable and fruit beverage containing broccoli and cabbage in hypercholesterolemic subjects. Rinsho Byori. 2003;51(11):1073-83.
19. Nicolle C, Cardinault N, Aprikian O, Busserolles J, Grolier P, Rock E, Demigne C, Mazur A, Scalbert A, Amouroux P, Remesy C. Effect of carrot intake on cholesterol metabolism and on antioxidant status in cholesterol-fed rat. European Journal of Nutrition. 2003;42(5):254-61.
20. Tucker KL, Hannan MT, Honglei C, Cupples LA, Wilson PWF, Kiel DP. Potassium, magnesium and fruit and vegetable intakes are associated with greater bone mineral density in elderly men and women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1999;69(4):727-36.
21. Frassetto LA, Todd KM, Morris RC Jr., Sebastian A. Estimation of net endogenous noncarbonic acid production in humans from diet potassium and protein contents. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1998;68:576-83.
22. Kaur N, Gupta AK. Applications of inulin and oligofructose in health and nutrition. Journal of Biosci. 2002;27(7):703-14.
23. Coudray C, Bellanger J, Castiglia-Delavaud C, Remesy C, Vermorel M, Rayssignuier Y. Effect of soluble or partly soluble dietary fibres supplementation on absorption and balance of calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc in healthy young men. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1997;51(6):375-80.
24. Agarwal S, Rao AV. Tomato lycopene and its role in human health and chronic diseases. CMAJ. 2000;163:739-44. Review.
25. Hwang ES, Bowen PE. Can the consumption of tomatoes or lycopene reduce cancer risk? Integr Cancer Therapy. 2002;1:121-32.
26. Seddon JM, Ajani UA, Sperduto RD, et al. Dietary carotenoids, vitamins A, C, and E, and advanced age-related macular degeneration. Eye Disease Case-Control Study Group. JAMA. 1994;272:1413-20.
27. Frassetto LA, Todd KM, Morris RC Jr., Sebastian A. Estimation of net endogenous noncarbonic acid production in humans from diet potassium and protein contents. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1998;68:576-83.
28. Sebastian A, Frassetto LA, Sellmeyer DE, Merriam RL, Morris RC, Jr. Estimation of the net acid load of the diet of ancestral preagricultural homo sapiens and their hominid ancestors. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2002;76:1308-16.
29. Alpern RJ, Sakhaee K. The clinical spectrum of chronic metabolic acidosis: homeostatic mechanisms produce significant morbidity. American Journal of Kidney Dis. 1997;29(2):291-302.
30. Wiederkehr MR, Kalogiros J, Krapf R, Correction of metabolic acidosis improves thyroid and growth hormone axes in haemodialysis patients. Nephrol Dial Transplant. 2004;19(5):1190-7.
31. Tucker KL, Hannan MT, Honglei C, Cupples LA, Wilson PWF, Kiel DP. Potassium, magnesium and fruit and vegetable intakes are associated with greater bone mineral density in elderly men and women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1999;69(4):727-36.
32. "Acid and Alkaline Foods." Chart available at: http://www.math.ucsd.edu/ Accessed July 21, 2004.
Author Decker Weiss is a licensed naturopathic medical doctor in the state of Arizona.