The rundown on why you might or might not need these lucky seven super powders in your morning smoothie including bee pollen, moringa, matcha, cacao, maca, turmeric, spirulina, and chlorella.
I get asked about “super powders” all the time by clients and just random people that find out I’m a Dietitian (go ahead and file that under reasons why I sometimes lie about what I do for a living, but that’s a topic for another post.) Joking aside, super powders are powdered foods and plants that are high in antioxidant and support overall health. What I like about super powders is they can be added to smoothies, yogurts, or juice for a “superhero” health boost in moderate amounts versus taking megadose capsules/supplements of the same foods. I asked my intern to do some research for us on these powders, and she did a great job putting together all the studies on the benefits of “superfood powders.”
Keep in mind that you need to check with your doctor and consult with a Registered Dietitian before making any dietary changes. You never know how supplements will interact with medication your on or even other supplements! So please be careful. I do believe that supplements have their place in our lives, but you should always take a “food first approach.”
Maca powder is native to Peru and is a cruciferous vegetable (similar to kale, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, etc.). It’s known to have a powerful impact on sex hormones leading to improved reproductive function and overall mood. Although components of cruciferous vegetables such as DIM are known to help the body eliminate excess estrogen, a shift in hormones is not seen in the research after supplementing with Maca. However, other factors could play a role, such as it may work in combination with other herbs best. Maca powder is not one that I’m typically inclined to recommend, but I don’t think it’s harmful if you use it in most cases (see cons section.)
Benefits Of Maca Powder
- Improves mood.
- Decreases blood pressure.
- Enhances memory.
- Increases libido.
Cons Of Maca Powder
- Maca is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, and like many members of its family, it contains goitrogens which may worsen impaired thyroid function.
- Also, large doses are often used in studies (between 1.5 – 5 grams) to elicit a substantial effect; however no long term studies have confirmed the safety of these doses in the long term.
How to Incorporate It Into Your Diet
Add maca to smoothies, oatmeal, homemade bars, and yogurt. It has a slightly bitter taste, so less is more when it comes to not changing the flavor of your food.
Cacao is not chocolate, but instead the main ingredient for chocolate. Cocoa powder is not the same as raw cacao powder. Raw cacao powder contains more nutritional benefits compared to cocoa powder which is highly processed. Cacao powder is thought to prevent nerve damage, boost the immune system and reduce. Inflammation. It also contains essential vitamins and minerals such as calcium and magnesium. I regularly recommend the consumption of 80% or greater dark chocolate to my clients.
Potential Benefits of Cacao Powder
Keep in mind most research focuses on dark chocolate using cocoa powder. Research on cacao powder itself is limited.
- Lowers blood pressure.
- Lowers risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Improves brain function.
- Improves mood.
- Helps with weight loss.
- Research shows 1-2 ounces is needed to elicit an effect. (I’m putting this in pros assuming most people like chocolate.)
Cons of Cacao Powder
- Contains minimal levels of caffeine that may impair sleep. Pregnant women should be cautious of their intake due to caffeine content. (I never worried about chocolate consumption, but I would watch the amount of straight raw cacao powder used when pregnant as this would container higher caffeine levels then chocolate itself.)
How to Use/Incorporate Into Diet
- Add to smoothies or oatmeal.
- Mix into yogurt.
- Add to pastry items such as muffins, snack bars, etc.
- Eat dark chocolate.
- Make sipping chocolate.
Matcha powder is a staple in Japanese culture. Matcha powder is consuming green tea leaves in powder form, versus steeping them and making tea. It has seven times more antioxidants than cacao powder in just ONE teaspoon. Matcha powder is one that lives up to the hype and another one I recommend regularly. The most significant benefit is its ability to give you an energy boost while creating a calming effect, vastly different from the energy given to you by caffeine and other stimulants.
Potential Benefits of Matcha Powder
- Tumor suppressant “anti-cancer.”
- Promotes weight loss through increased metabolic rate.
- Reduces heart disease risk.
- Aids the body in detoxification.
- May reduce anxiety.
Potential Cons of Matcha Powder
- Relatively expensive in comparison to regular green tea.
- Sometimes plant products such as matcha can contain levels of heavy metals such as lead.
- It is advised to not get tea from China because of industrial pollution.
- Can potentially increase stomach acid – consume after meals to avoid discomfort.
- Green tea, in general, may reduce folic acid absorption, so it is not recommended in pregnancy.
How to Use Matcha Powder
It’s usually mixed and stirred in warm liquid instead of being brewed. Matcha “lattes” are popular which include a mixture of matcha powder and steamed milk, with or without sweetener.
This dietary supplement is derived from cyanobacteria which grow in fresh and saltwater. Considered one of the most nutritious foods on the planet and known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Spirulina is another one I wouldn’t object to a client of mine taking in the short term or even the long term as long as the dose was moderate. However, I do not regularly recommend this or chlorella (see below.)
Potential Benefits of Spirulina
- Reduces inflammation.
- Lowers LDL cholesterol.
- Helps treat allergic rhinitis.
- Helps prevent anemia.
- Strong anti-cancer. Research focuses on decreases progression of pre-cancerous cells, such as cervical dysplasia.
Potential Cons of Spirulina
- Harvesting process of spirulina itself can make way for toxins. Make sure to purchase it from a reliable source.
- Those with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis are not recommended to take this since spirulina may stimulate the immune system.
- Most high-quality supplements and powders are expensive.
- No long term studies to show the safety of taking spirulina.
- Safety of long term high dosage amounts is unknown.
How to Use Spirulina
- Typically found in pill or powder form.
- Most people add it to juice, water, or smoothies
- A small amount goes a long way.
Chlorella belongs to the green algae family, so that makes it a cousin of spirulina. Chlorella is often found in combination with spirulina in both pill and powder form.
Potential Benefits Of Chlorella
- Aids in detoxification – especially of heavy metals.
- May help facilitate weight loss.
- High in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
Potential Cons of Chlorella
- Can result in greenish colored stool
- Those allergic to iodine should avoid due to chlorella’s high dosage of iodine
- Known to interact with blood thinners and immunosuppressant drugs
- safety of long term high dosage amounts is unknown
How to Use/Incorporate in Diet
- Can be consumed before meals with a glass of water.
- About 2-5 grams is what most sources will recommend.
Turmeric is part of the ginger family and is very popular in India. Curcumin is the active component in turmeric and what is responsible for it’s beneficial and medicinal properties. I recommend turmeric in supplement form all the time. It has strong research supporting it’s effectiveness and safety. I say cook with it as much as possible and take the supplements from a reputable company if you struggle with joint pain.
Potential Benefits Of Turmeric
- May help prevent Alzheimer’s symptoms/onset.
- May reduce joint pain and help with symptoms of arthritis.
- May help with depression.
Potential Cons of Turmeric
- Medicinal amounts of turmeric during pregnancy is not recommended.
- Can worsen gallbladder problems.
- Like NSAIDs and fish oil, it thins the blood which slows blood clotting. Not recommended if you are currently taking blood thinning medication.
- Long term safety of use is undetermined.
How To Use Turmeric
- Incorporate in tea by mixing ¼ tsp in daily tea.
- Add 1 tsp to smoothies.
- Add 1-2 tsp in curries or soups.
- Can be taken in capsule form but needs to be paired with black pepper extract to enhance absorbability.
Moringa is derived from a plant usually in the northern part of India. I regularly recommend Moringa for my clients with insulin resistance because it’s incredible at helping stabilize blood sugar. I also took Moringa when I first started breastfeeding to increase my supply. I don’t think it helped though. My naturopath believes Moringa to be a very “nourishing supplement,” I find it highly useful at helping the body process sugar better.
Potential Benefits Of Moringa
- Lowers blood cholesterol.
- Lowers blood sugar levels.
- Protects against arsenic toxicity.
- Increase milk pumping output in mothers with premie infants.
Potential Cons Of Moringa
- Roots and extracts may have toxic substances.
- Safety of large doses for the long term has not to been determined yet.
How To Use Moringa
- Up to 6 grams is thought to be safe.
- Stir into tea, smoothies, and other foods.
- You can add to guac too!
Consists of flower pollen, nectar, and enzymes. It has over 250 active substrates in it. There is so much in this, and I’d be really really careful taking it. It’s something I would caution against unless there were a manufacturer that I could 100% believe in the safety of the product. It’s just a little too risky without very much research for me to recommend this one.
Potential Benefits Of Bee Pollen
- Ease menopausal symptoms.
- Prevent wound infection.
- Protect the liver (in rats.)
Potential Cons Of Bee Pollen
- Those allergic to bee pollen should avoid it.
- It is not advised for pregnant women.
- It is not recommended to take with blood thinner medication like warfarin.
- Longterm safety of use is unknown.
How To Use Beel Pollen
- Good toppings! Top on cereal, smoothie bowls, and oatmeal.
- Add to granola.
- Blend into smoothies.
- No standard dose, but ⅛ tsp- ¼ tsp daily is the amount recommended by most sources.