Consuming wheatgrass, especially in the form of juice, has become a world phenomena. Americans are spending upwards of $25 for a tiny tray of the green sprouts as a way to hone in on the anticipated health benefits related to eating the sward.
Wheatgrass advocates are relentless when it comes to boasting about its nutritional benefits. While the extent of the list of the health benefits consumers swear by is exhaustive, and considering it’s deemed a cure-all by many profit-run health food companies, the shortened version is that wheatgrass is claimed to be effective for fighting fatigue, cancer, allergies and diabetes, as well as cleansing the body and improving overall health. There are also health advocate claims that one shot of wheatgrass is nutritionally equal to one kilogram of vegetables.
What is wheatgrass?
Wheatgrass is — you guessed it — a type of young grass from the wheat family. To be exact, it’s a young version of the wheat plant Triticum aestivum. The entire plant, including the rhizone and roots, are eaten by consumers for its supposed concentrated nutrients, which are reported to be vitamins C, A, E and calcium, iron, magnesium and amino acids. And, like all green plants, wheatgrass contains a lot of chlorophyll, which may have anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
To compare claims against facts — that one shot of wheatgrass is equivalent to eating one kilogram of vegetables — the chart, which is compliments of the Institute for Natural Resources, compares common food values against wheat grass.
Australian-based Dr. Chris Reynolds, who goes by the alias Dr. Wheatgrass, says that he has experienced tremendous success over his 18-year career by giving his patients chlorophyll-free wheatgrass sprout extract. Dr. Reynolds explains, “although chlorophyll is essential for keeping us all breathing, it has little if any physiological or positive effect on human health. The benefits of wheatgrass are largely biological, not nutritional as most purveyors of wheatgrass in its various forms would have one believe.”
Wheatgrass is available in numerous forms including liquid extracts, tablets, tinctures, capsules, and of course, as a grow-your-own kit. Mayo Clinic’s Brent A. Bauer, M.D. warns wheatgrass growers that when consuming the grass raw it can contain mold or bacteria from the soil or water in which it’s grown. He also advises that pregnant or breastfeeding women avoid using wheatgrass and that people with celiac disease, gluten intolerance or grass allergies check with their doctor before using wheatgrass. While generally considered safe to eat, people can experience side effects such as hives, nausea or swelling of the throat due to its strong gassy properties.
While consumers continue to hop on the wheatgrass bandwagon, there is very little, and in many instances zero scientific evidence, to support these health-advocate claims. Even though wheatgrass is a popular health drink thought only beneficial when consumed immediately after harvesting, there is no research to support this claim either. The primary use for wheatgrass extract in the food and beverage industry is a flavoring component, however, if you want to eat it, it will if nothing else, add a little interest to your diet.
How edible wheatgrass got its start
Ann Wigmore, a Boston area resident and teacher, believed in the healing power of nature — among numerous other things. She created a theory based on the biblical story of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar and thus, the healing power of wheatgrass.
Combined with the fact animals eat grass (when they do not feel well), Ann became convinced that grass had healing powers that were able to rid the body of toxins (detoxification) and cancer causing agents. She referred to the chlorophyll in wheatgrass as ‘the life blood of the planet’ and went on to write more than 15 books as well as establish several health institutions. While she claimed a Doctor of Naturopathy (ND), a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and a Doctor of Divinity (DD), none of these credentials stemmed from accredited educational institutions.