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Why Greens Should Be A Part of Your Supplement Routine

Raise your hand if your childhood memories involve stubborn moments pushing peas, carrots and broccoli around your plate, despite your parents telling you that if you want to grow up to be tall and strong, you must eat your veggies. Yeah, me too.

How many of you are familiar with the myriad of public health campaigns aimed at getting everyone to eat more fruits and veggies (stubborn kids and stubborn grown-ups alike)?

In 1990, the World Health Organization (WHO) published official recommendations, with the hope of reducing the upward trends in heart disease; the largely preventable leading cause of death. Their advice? Adults should eat at least 400g of produce per day, (fruits and vegetables not including potatoes or other starchy tubers) which amounts to 7 or 8 half-cup servings. Every day.

Soon after the WHO guidelines were announced, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) formed a partnership with various agricultural organizations called the “Produce for Better Health Foundation.” Their aim was to promote increased consumption of fruits and vegetables through what became known as the “5-A-Day” campaign.

This set in motion one of the largest, most necessary and well-intended (but probably least exciting) nutrition-for-health campaign. It eventually gained enough support to grab the attention of the American Cancer Society, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and USDA. Before we knew it, the recommendations for 7 or 8 daily half-cup servings of plant foods was lowered to just five.

Why? Well, evidence started to pile up that despite all the great marketing and awareness urging us to eat more colorful fruits and veggies, we still weren’t coming close to the lofty goal set by the WHO. Additional information suggested that the actual amounts of produce needed to promote optimal health might be more like 9 to 11 half-cup servings per day (on a 2000 calorie diet).

So, the compromise was made and we’re still being recommended just “5-A-Day.” I am in complete agreement that this is a great beginners target. Aim to surpass this and you’ll be amongst the nutritional elite.

Unfortunately, too many people are still falling short. The Produce for Better Health’s “State of the Plate” report from 2015 makes note of a 7% decline in per capita produce consumption since it’s peak in 2009[i]. Additionally, the CDC reported in 2015 that fewer than 18% of US adults consumed the recommended amount of fruit, and fewer than 14% consumed the recommended amount of vegetables[ii].

During the past week, how many days did you get at least four cups of colorful fruits and vegetables? If you answered any less than six of those days, there’s ample reason for a greens supplement to be part of your routine.

Now, taking a greens supplement is not a total replacement for getting real, fresh (or frozen) fruits and veggies, but it certainly helps you consistently and conveniently boost the plant nutrient content of your diet. Plus, there’s solid evidence that suggests these nutritional shortcuts serve as important functional-foods to support overall health and performance.

What happens when you supplement with greens?

First of all, using a greens supplement is an easy way to increase the diversity of plant nutrients in your diet. Most adults (myself included) tend to stick to a fairly narrow selection of the hundreds of varieties of fruits and veggies available. It’s just the nature of getting into a routine (or rut) with our menu choices.

Concentrated supplement forms of fruit/veggie powders may offer unique absorption characteristics compared to eating whole foods too, especially if you tend to under-chew your food and eat quickly, or if you suffer from decreased digestive enzyme efficiency. The freeze-dried, powder-ized form of the whole plant foods dramatically increases the surface area of the nutrients and may even help open up the plant cell walls that are typically challenging to crack with our normal chew-fast habits.

The net-net of including plant food supplements doesn’t stop there. Greens supplements (in tablet and powder forms) have been studied for effects in a range of populations and shown to have positive health benefits for a number of conditions.

Most notably, the superstar ingredient in most of these studies is a blue-green algae known as Spirulina platensis, which happens to be one of the most nutrient-dense and sustainable foods on the planet. By weight it’s 65% protein (and contains all of the amino acids), provides essential omega-3 fats, a plethora of key vitamins and minerals and potent antioxidant nutrients we’re still learning about.

Randomized, placebo-controlled studies (the gold standard of research methods) suggest a number of clinical applications for including spirulina-rich supplements in a wide range of doses from 2-8g/day.

  • There’s good human evidence that spirulina supports our immune function, specifically promoting mucosal immunity, allergic rhinitis response (think fewer seasonal allergy woes), and IgA immunoglobulin production[iii]
  • A number of trials show that spirulina is a beneficial functional food for Type 2 Diabetes and cholesterol management, showing reductions in fasting glucose, hemoglobin A1c, total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol, (specifically lowering Apo B LDL types) while showing neutral or positive effects on HDL cholesterol and weight control[iv],[v],[vi],[vii]
  • The antioxidant properties of several plant nutrients as supplements (including blueberries, spinach, & spirulina) show promise for protecting the brain from ischemic damage[viii]
  • Performance studies in healthy trained and untrained volunteers suggest benefits for athletic performance. In fact, subjects using spirulina saw increases in exercise performance tests such as increased fat-burning, (>10% more fat burn in one study) reductions in carbohydrate utilization, significantly improved time to exhaustion and increased antioxidant capacity, which seemed to also result in reductions in muscle damage markers[ix],[x]
  • Interestingly, spirulina + zinc may also be a helpful strategy for alleviating chronic arsenic poisoningiii

Objectively, and considering the primary aim of all the “eat more produce” campaigns to reduce or prevent heart disease and obesity trends and help people improve health, it’s safe to say that more of us should be tossing a few grams of a greens food supplement into our morning smoothies to fill in several important nutrient gaps and support our health.

What should you look for in a greens supplement?

There’s no shortage of greens products available in the marketplace, and they are incredibly popular for many of the reasons I’ve outlined. When choosing a greens supplement to include in your supplement regimen, look for these characteristics:

  • Potent vegetable blend rich in spirulina, but also rich in overall diversity. It should be the first ingredient in the list of other veggies listed, since they are listed in descending order by weight. LIFE Greens™ contains over 30 types of vegetable concentrates
  • Fruit antioxidant blend rich in berry antioxidants. LIFE Greens™ is formulated with 14 varieties of berries and 20 fruits total  
  • Digestion-supporting enzymes, fibers, and pectins that support nutrient absorption
  • Prebiotic fibers and probiotic bacteria to promote healthy bacterial balance and biodiversity in the gut

At Life Time, we know our members are always striving for optimal health and expect high-quality choices when it comes to supplements. So we’re proud to offer LIFE Greens™ as a tasty and convenient way for you and your family to supplement your nourishment strategy. LIFE Greens™ comes in three delicious flavors: Double Chocolate, Café Mocha, and Mixed Berry. Try them today!

In health, Paul Kriegler, Registered Dietitian and Life Time - Nutrition Program Development Manager.

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader. 










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