Americans aren’t getting enough vitamins and minerals through their diet, leading to a wide range of diseases and conditions. One 2020 study found 46% of U.S. adults didn’t get enough Vitamin C, necessary for repairing body tissue, and 95% didn’t get enough Vitamin D, which helps facilitate fat loss. (1)
A well-rounded diet that includes lean proteins, vegetables, and whole grains is a great fix, and many have also turned to multivitamins and green powders instead to meet their nutritional requirements.
But is one better than the other? And do either of them actually work? In this piece, we’ll go over what multivitamins and green powders are, their supposed benefits, what you should know about each, and if one is superior to the other.
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning a new fitness, nutritional, and/or supplement routine. None of these supplements are meant to treat or cure any disease. If you feel you may be deficient in a particular nutrient or nutrients, please seek out a medical professional.
What are Multivitamins?
Multivitamins are exactly what they sound like — multiple vitamins in one capsule. And there’s a good chance you’re familiar with them already; The Council for Responsible Nutrition, a Washington D.C.-based trade association that represents supplement manufacturers, reports 58 percent of all supplement users take a multivitamin.
Just like snowflakes, no two multivitamins are alike. Their nutritional makeup varies from brand to brand and variety to variety. There are multivitamins made just for men, women, athletes, children, people 50 and above. A multivitamin for children might have more Vitamin A, which is vital for growth, and one for people a little older may have more Vitamin B12 to help ward off fatigue.
What Should You Look for in a Multivitamin?
Because multivitamins vary in nutritional value, it’s important to know what you need from your multivitamin before picking one. You might be getting plenty of magnesium and calcium from your diet, in which case you’ll want to find a multivitamin lower in those and higher in things like zinc and iron. You’ll want to work with a nutritionist to figure out which vitamins and minerals you’re lacking.
That said, there are certain warning signs to look out for when shopping for a multivitamin. Your primary concern should be, “does it actually contain the micronutrients it claims to possess?”
Simply flip over the bottle and look at the nutritional value of the multivitamin. If it only contains two percent of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of each vitamin and mineral, odds are it’s not going to help you much.
So what range should you go for? Believe it or not, you should choose a multivitamin that contains 100 percent of the RDI for most of the nutrients listed on the bottle. Why? Your body doesn’t absorb all the nutrients that we eat. Just because a food item says it has 25 percent of the RDI of Vitamin A, for example, that doesn’t mean you’re actually getting that much from that food. (2)
This is due to several things. For one, a lot of the nutrients get lost during the digestion process. Additionally, the bioavailability of each nutrient varies from food to food. To illustrate what we mean, let’s break down the two types of iron — heme and non-heme. The former comes from animal products, but the latter comes from plant products.
Heme iron is more bioavailable than non-heme — meaning your body can use it more readily than non-heme. So a can of pumpkin puree may have more than 100% of the RDI for iron, but it’s unlikely that it’s going to get your iron levels to 100% because it’s non-heme iron. (3)
A good way to make sure your multivitamin isn’t making promises it can’t keep is to visit the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention’s website. The USP is an independent organization — though its practices are recognized by U.S. law— that ensures dietary supplements contain the listed ingredients and potency declared by a manufacturer. It also verifies that the supplement doesn’t contain any harmful substances and has been made in a sanitary manner.
Do Multivitamins Actually Work?
Just like any other supplement, multivitamins should be a last resort when it comes to meeting your micronutrient requirements, which should be coming from whole food sources. Food has more of those nutrients, and your body can absorb the vitamins and minerals from food than a pill. And there’s research to back this up.
An editorial written by Johns Hopkins researchers in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found multivitamins did not reduce the risk of any diseases or cognitive decline compared to a balanced eating regimen. “If you follow a healthy diet,” the researchers wrote, “you can get all of the vitamins and minerals you need from food.” (4)
However, one 2012 study found that men who took a multivitamin had decreased their cancer risk by eight percent compared to men who took a placebo. (5)
What Are Green Powders?
Green powders, sometimes called super greens, are supplements made from a combination of dried vegetables and fruits that have been blitzed into a powder — essentially a dehydrated smoothie — to provide you with all the nutrients you’d regularly get from whole produce. Some companies add additional vitamins, minerals, enzymes, seaweed, probiotics, and prebiotics to boost their nutritional value.
So you’re not just getting vitamins and minerals the way you would from a multivitamin. Still, you’re also getting antioxidants, polyphenols, and essential bacteria to help improve things like gut health, your immune system, and liver function.
Also, unlike multivitamins, the nutrients in green powders come from whole foods. Remember, the powders are created from dried fruits and vegetables. The nutrients in most multivitamins are fabricated in a lab, which, again, might affect their bioavailability. (6)
Like multivitamins, there are different types of green powders — ranging from products specifically engineered for athletes to the elderly.
What Should You Look for in a Green Powder?
Similar to multivitamins, you’ll want to assess your nutritional need you have before picking up any green powder. Beyond that, though, there are a few other things you should keep an eye out for.
If you’re someone who cares about organic produce, make sure your green powder is sourced from organic materials. Organic diets have been shown to lower your exposure to certain pesticides linked to certain health defects, especially in children. (7)
One key thing to watch out for is any product with the phrase “proprietary blend” on the label. This is a term companies use to avoid disclosing how much of each ingredient is in their product. Look for a green powder that has specific breakdowns of each ingredient and nutrient to ensure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. (This logic pertains to any supplement, really — pre-workout, branch chain amino acids, and whey protein powder.)
One more thing is to avoid supplements with a lot of added sugar. There are plenty of healthier ways to ensure these powders taste good, but adding unnecessary calories to them isn’t a good strategy. The same goes for caffeine unless you’re using it in an athletic setting — where extra calories from sugar may boost performance — and under the supervision of a professional nutritionist.
Some greens powders have also been found to contain heavy metals such as lead and arsenic, according to a ConsumerLab’s study. The organization’s website contains a database of products with deadly levels of the metals so you can make sure the one you pick won’t do more bad than good.
Do Green Powders Work?
Green powders are a newer supplement, so there aren’t many studies on their efficacy. One study found that while the powders did reduce blood pressure, they did not change blood lipid levels (which could indicate high blood pressure). In other words, it changed the problem but not the root cause of it. (8)
That said, a well-rounded diet composed of whole foods will help deliver all these nutrients without the need for a supplement. Therefore, people who are trying to lose weight may be reducing their overall food intake may want to consider these products to ensure they don’t develop any nutritional deficiencies.
Multivitamins vs. Green Powders — Which is Better for You?
It’s hard to say whether multivitamins or green powders are superior because they’re not really competing against each other at the end of the day. Sure, they might have similar nutritional compositions, but they have different end goals.
Multivitamins, again, simply provide you with vitamins and minerals that you might be lacking in your diet. On the other hand, green powders contain all that, along with bonuses that might help the vitamins and minerals do their job better and help facilitate other bodily functions.
Again, these are supplements — meaning they’re supplementing a diet that’s lacking in vital nutrients. Before trying either, try to see if you can’t get all your dietary needs from food.
That said, green powders do hold a slight edge simply because they’re made from whole food, which makes the nutrients in them more bioavailable.
Which supplement is a better choice — greens powders or multivitamins?
It really depends. Multivitamins just offer, as the name implies, vitamins and minerals, which may be all you want or need.
However, greens powders offer vitamins and minerals (from whole food sources) and extra ingredients such as antioxidants, probiotics, and digestive aids.
Can greens powders or multivitamins replace my daily servings of vegetables?
No! Ideally, you are getting all of the essential vitamins and minerals from whole foods. Whole food sources are more bioavailable (meaning your body can access those sources better). You cannot and should not pop a multivitamin and then think you’re off the hook when it comes to eating greens.
Which supplement is more affordable?
Generally speaking, multivitamins are cheaper. Greens powders contain more ingredients and are manufactured differently, so you’ll end up paying more. If you’re simply looking to up your vitamin intake, you’re probably better off buying a multivitamin.
- Armin Zittermann, Sabine Frisch, Heiner K Berthold, Christian Götting, Joachim Kuhn, Knut Kleesiek, Peter Stehle, Heinrich Koertke, Reiner Koerfer, Vitamin D supplementation enhances the beneficial effects of weight loss on cardiovascular disease risk markers, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 89, Issue 5, May 2009, Pages 1321–1327, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2008.27004
- Navarro M, Wood RJ. Plasma changes in micronutrients following a multivitamin and mineral supplement in healthy adults. J Am Coll Nutr. 2003 Apr;22(2):124-32. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2003.10719285. PMID: 12672708.
- He, J., Fang, A., Yu, S., Shen, X., & Li, K. (2020). Dietary Nonheme, Heme, and Total Iron Intake and the Risk of Diabetes in Adults: Results From the China Health and Nutrition Survey. Diabetes Care, 43(4), 776–784. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc19-2202
- Guallar E, Stranges S, Mulrow C, Appel LJ, Miller ER 3rd. Enough is enough: Stop wasting money on vitamin and mineral supplements. Ann Intern Med. 2013 Dec 17;159(12):850-1. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-159-12-201312170-00011. Erratum in: Ann Intern Med. 2014 Jan 21;160(2):143. PMID: 24490268.
- Gaziano JM, Sesso HD, Christen WG, et al. Multivitamins in the Prevention of Cancer in Men: The Physicians’ Health Study II Randomized Controlled Trial. JAMA. 2012;308(18):1871–1880. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.14641
- Pressman P, Clemens RA, Hayes AW. Bioavailability of micronutrients obtained from supplements and food: A survey and case study of the polyphenols. Toxicology Research and Application. January 2017. doi:10.1177/2397847317696366
- Lu C, Toepel K, Irish R, Fenske RA, Barr DB, Bravo R. Organic diets significantly lower children’s dietary exposure to organophosphorus pesticides. Environ Health Perspect. 2006;114(2):260-263. doi:10.1289/ehp.8418
- Zhang J, Bateman R, Metzger S, Lanigan K. Taking nutritional supplements for three months reduced blood pressure but not blood lipid levels in students. J Chiropr Med. 2006;5(2):53-59. doi:10.1016/S0899-3467(07)60133-5
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