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Will Green Pills Replace The Real Thing?

Some people believe you can get your greens in the form of a tiny little pill. Should you believe the hype?

From green juices to green shots, quick-and-easy is the new preferred method of vegetable intake. But the latest way to bypass the salad bar takes it one step further: All-vegetable supplements that claim to contain concentrated doses of these whole foods. 

The ingredient list on green pills reads more like a salad menu than a supplement: Broccoli, spinach and carrots rather than unpronounceable lab-derived ingredients. While advocates say they’re the new green juice, skeptics think it’s the grown-up equivalent of a kid sliding their peas around their plate at the dinner table—it may feel productive, but don’t expect to get any credit for eating vegetables.   

The difference may be in the details, says Ashley Koff, a registered dietitian in Washington D.C. “With these pills you don’t know usually what part of the plant you are getting so, in most instances, you won’t be getting as much of the active compounds,” says Koff. For example, glucoraphanin, the sought-after compound in broccoli that is known for fighting cancer-causing free radicals, is found mostly in the florets, but supplement manufacturers are more likely to use the less expensive stem to manufacture these pills, says Koff. That’s hardly the stuff of superfoods. 

However, for seriously time-crunched days or for traveling, taking a green pill may be better than nothing, says Koff, if you choose the right one. Avoid bogus capsules by looking for a brand that has a GMP seal from the National Nutritional Foods Association, meaning it meets “good manufacturing process” standards set by a third-party inspector that can ensure the pill actually has the ingredients and strength it claims on the label. Plus, look for a USDA organic seal. “If you usually try to reduce toxins by choosing organic, it’s still a concern with pills,” says Koff. “Even more so since you are getting a concentrated amount.”

But, if you find yourself swapping kale for capsules for more than a day or two in a row, get yourself to the nearest produce aisle: Even the best green pill can’t contain all of the fiber that keeps your blood sugar stable and your digestive system healthy, so consider them occasional extra credit, not an alternative to eating vegetables.