Fruits vs. Vegetables [Nutritionally, Are They Even Close?]
By Dave Smith
When I was a kid I hated vegetables, especially green ones. Beans? No thanks. Broccoli? Not a chance. Spinach? Save it for Popeye!
I can clearly remember shuffling peas around my dinner plate, hoping that if I move them enough maybe they’d somehow disappear. They didn't.
Thankfully, my taste buds have evolved over the years and I really like most vegetables nowadays (I’m still working on beets). But “liking” something doesn’t necessarily mean it becomes a daily food choice.
It is always going to be easier to grab a bowl of cereal than it is to prepare a spinach salad.
That’s one of the reasons supplements have such an appeal. It is easier to pop a pill or mix a drink than it is to buy, prepare, and eat real food. And this is really big business – Supplement sales top $32 billion each year and are expected to reach $60 billion in the next decade.
One of the hottest supplements on the market is the powdered “greens” drink mix. Touted as a “super supplement” for everyone who wants to get the benefits of eating veggies without actually eating more veggies, there are many products vying for your dollars.
So, here's what I'd like to cover in this article:
- Is fruit enough, or do you need to focus on eating more vegetables?
- Are green vegetables really superior to all others?
- Are the benefits of supplementing substantiated?
- Are “greens” as super as they are claimed to be?
Let’s get into it…
Eat Your “Fruits and Veggies”
Most food guides place a high importance on eating “fruits and vegetables” each day. It’s almost as though the two are interchangeable – Eat an apple OR eat some asparagus…it’s all the same. Well, it’s not. Vegetables offer significantly different nutritional value than fruit – Here are just a few examples:
I could go on but I think the point is pretty clear. Fruits and vegetables are NOT created equal and in many cases vegetables are much more densely packed with the important nutritional components that our bodies need in order to thrive.
Am I saying fruits are bad? Not at all. In fact, some fruits offer health benefits beyond what even vegetables can offer. For example,
But, when it comes to nutritional value, vegetables win out far more often than not.
Fruits vs. Vegetables: Sugar Is the Real Enemy
As you’re well-aware, sugar has been declared enemy #1 when it comes to healthy eating, especially if you are watching your weight. It likely won’t surprise you to see how sugary fruits are when compared to vegetables:
You do not need a dietary source of sugar (there is no daily requirement you need to consume through food). Again, I’m not declaring a war on fruit – I am simply pointing out that fruit is often lower in nutritional value than vegetables AND it comes with a higher sugar count (and therefore is usually higher in calories).
The Unique Benefits of Green Vegetables
Okay, veggies are great – got it. What makes green vegetables so special?
Green veggies, particularly leafy greens, are the pound-for-pound champs when it comes to nutritional value. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, which are important in helping the body fight off disease.
Researchers have also recently discovered that a certain gene (known as T-bet) responds to leafy green vegetables and promotes a much healthier digestive system. The result is improved immunity, reduced inflammation, lessened risk of type-2 diabetes, and reduced risk of several types of cancer (just to name a few).
Finally, we need to eat more greens to help balance our pH level. As I’ve discussed in detail before a low pH (below 7) means your body is acidic and is running the risk of disease, poor digestion, low energy, joint pain, and the list goes on. Take a look at the list of alkalinizing foods and notice how many green vegetables make the list! In short, green vegetables are really, really good for you!
Will Greens Supplements Do the Trick?
Most greens supplements come in a powder that is created by compacting an assortment of vegetables, algaes, herbs, and grasses. Some of the most common ingredients include barley grass, wheat grass, spirulina, chlorella, alfalfa, and others.
Wait, I thought processed foods are bad, aren’t they? Processing food can certainly change its value and usability for the body. The nice thing about greens supplements is how little processing is actually involved. Basically the ingredients are dehydrated and then ground into a powder. That’s it. No heating, no chemicals, no additives.
Video: Everything you need to know about getting started with a greens supplement
A side benefit of the dehydration process is the fact that the plant “juice” carries much of the calorie content of the green ingredients. This means that the plant powder left after processing is pretty much calorie-free in many cases. You can take the supplement, get the nutritional benefits, and skip the calories. Not bad!
Another benefit of the powder format is its ability to be digested by your body. Multi vitamins have often been scrutinized for not being easily digested. Some experts argue that the source of the vitamins, the processing that occurs, and the format of the final product (i.e. a pill or tablet) make the actual vitamins themselves unavailable to the body.
A greens supplement powder is much closer to the natural plant form of its ingredients and therefore has a better absorption rate when compared to most pill-format vitamins.
No More Veggies? Is It a Supplement Or a Replacement?
No matter how great any supplement sounds, it is still just that – It’s a supplement. Greens powder is not the same as green vegetables and it is not intended to replace veggies altogether.
Even though the greens powder is not heavily processed, it still is processed. This means your body doesn’t have to break it down, extract the nutrients, and deal with the waste (including the fibre, some of which is lost during the processing of greens powder).
Fruit vs. Vegetables: Where Should You Begin?
One more time: Fruits are great, but nutritionally, they just don't stack up to vegetables.
If you don’t eat vegetables (again, particularly greens) at each of your meals on a daily basis, then you likely would benefit from supplementing your diet with a greens powder. Be aware that just as with any food, different sources offer vastly different qualities.
The Greens+ brand was really the first greens supplement product to be successfully introduced into the mainstream. Many others have followed since – some good and some not-so-good – but I personally stick with Greens+ for a couple reasons:
- All of their ingredients are natural and organic
- Their products are all GMO-free
- They include a good range of plant ingredients, not just the cheapest ones
- The manufacturer (Genuine Health) has been around since 1989 – They are credible
I’d recommend testing the standard greens supplement for at least 4 weeks. Some greens products will recommend a pretty high daily dose (e.g. 3x per day) but I think that may be a bit overkill. Start with 2-3 teaspoons once per day and see if you notice any changes in the way you feel (e.g. energy, digestive harmony, joint mobility, ability to lose weight, etc.). If not, try adding a second daily dose for another couple of weeks and monitor any improvements.
Personally, I use greens powder only once per day and occasionally take a second dose if I am noticeably light on my veggie intake. My preference is to eat real food, but as far as supplements go greens powder is one that I do feel is worthwhile at least testing out.