Eli5: Why do so-called vegetable-powder pills not work as well as eating whole vegetables?

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Curious on behalf of my inner 5-year-old…

I’ve read that there is something about whole vegetables that make them more beneficial for your health, compared to eating ‘powdered’ vegetables in pills or shakes.

I’ve seen things like, “pills are unlikely to replicate the powerful, nutritional effects of whole food”, or… “supplements can help, but are not intended as a replacement for real veggies.”

But I’m confused: the (albeit not that trustworthy) marketing for powdered vegetable pills always sounds like they are literally just mashed-up and super dehydrated vegetables or something. So… if true, wouldn’t that have the same effect? Or is that a total misrepresentation of what the pills really are?


In: Biology

10 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

The biggest problem is that almost all the fiber is removed. Fiber is one of the most important benefits of eating vegetables.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It has to do with [bio-availability](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bioavailability) basically things get absorbed at different rates in our body. To the best of my understanding, when we powder em they don’t get absorbed as efficiently due to the loss of things like fiber.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Dietary fiber is a big thing, as other comments have mentioned. I am not going to repeat here.  Besides, from a biochemistry point, lots of the molecules (nutrients or not) are not stable once you smash/grind the veggies. Fresh veggies are essentially still alive on cell level, and lots of unstable molecules are still constantly produced, or maintained by the living cells. But once you kills it things start to degrades, and depending on the exact manufacturing process, it questionable which and how much of the nutrients can survive, and there is also a looong shelf live of the pills.  

For examples that I know, retinoic acid (a form of vitamin A) need to be stored in freezer and avoid light. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is not stable when in touch with oxygen (air basically). Folic acid is also sensitive to light and heat. 

There are a lot other molecules I know of that are not stable at room temp / light, though I don’t know their nutrients value. But assuming some of them are beneficial, it’s quite safe to say fresh veggies is different to veggies pills.

Anonymous 0 Comments

I read a website where a scientist(?) broke down the contents of one of those veggie pills, you know, the one claiming to be the same as eating 28 vegetables. Basically, she could definitely prove by the ingredients alone that there was maybe 12 at a stretch, but the main thing is the amount. In these pills is so little from the goodness that comes from veggies that it’s almost negligible. [This website](https://www.thenutritionguruandthechef.com/2019/10/24/the-truth-about-juice-plus/) has a nice breakdown of it.

So do they help? Maybe better than nothing. Can they replace actually veggies? Heck no

Anonymous 0 Comments

Additional reason that these kinds of things are discouraged against is that the supplement industry is not really regulated well.

Anonymous 0 Comments

One of the issues with those vegetable powder pills is the amount of pills you would need to take to actually equal a healthy daily amount of vegetables. No matter how much you dehydrate a carrot, you can’t shrink it down to a single, small, pill.

Another is that the more processed a food is, the less healthy it is for you. As an example, eating a fresh apple is good for you, but a glass of apple juice is only a little better than a soda. Any form of processing results in some loss of nutrients. And while that’s not that big a deal with foods that go through one or two fairly simple steps of processing, like frozen fruit, or cooked vegetables. And some nutrients are even made more available by this level of processing. (like some carotenes that are more easily absorbed from cooked foods) the drying, powdering, and turning into pills means a lot of steps and a high percentage of the more fragile nutrients being lost. A good rule of thumb is, the less something looks like the original food, the more nutrient loss there is likely to be.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Veggies are delicious. Just eat them.

But really it’s not hard to lose some nutritional value from a lower volume of highly processed food.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Fibre gets removed and fibre is essential for your microbiome (beneficial bacteria literally feed on fibre). Also the vegetable you eat has beneficial bacteria on its surface and you ingest some of that and it benefits your gut flora. Those pills can be shelf stable for ages which means things that live probably don’t survive that.

Another way to look at it is millions of years of evolution in humans and plants side by side, vs maybe 100 years of “science” related to these products. I have the same theory about breast milk vs baby formula.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Different answer. Fiber is nice, but not the main difference. It’s that within the natural vegetable, a thing that’s alive, the enzymes, vitamins, nutrients are in an unoxidized, fully potent state.

Dry the veggies out, and the nutrition value goes down, vastly.

I juice veg every day, throw the pulp out, and have strong health.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Whole vegetables have a lot of vitamins, minerals, fibers, antioxidants, etc. that work together to make you absorb the nutrients as much as possible.

Powders and other supplements lose a lot of these nutrients when being processed and reduce how well your body absorbs and uses the ones that are left.