Intrigued by wheatgrass? Wondering if you should jump on the green shot bandwagon? This “superfood” is rumoured to have many health benefits but not all are supported by hard facts. Read on to find out what science has to say about the properties of wheatgrass and decide for yourself if you should, perhaps, give it a try.
First things first; what is it actually? Wheatgrass is the young grass shoots of the Triticum Aestivum plant, more commonly known by the name of wheat plant. Just like barley, oat and rye grasses, wheatgrass is part of the cereal grass family and grows in temperate regions all around Europe and the United States. For those of you living in colder climates, fear not, as wheatgrass can also be grown indoors!
Where does wheatgrass come from?
Its origins can be tracked back to more than 5000 years ago. Back then, Egyptians allegedly considered the young wheat shoots sacred and readily consumed them for the positive effects they had on their health and vitality. Wheatgrass has also been used for thousands of years in India, as part of Ayurvedic medicine.
It’s popularity hit the Western world back in the 1930s, thanks to Charles F. Schnabel, an agricultural chemist who used the fresh cut grass to nurse dying chickens back to health. What’s particularly amazing is that the sick hens consuming it not only recovered, but also started laying an egg almost everyday instead of every three days – basically increasing their egg production three fold! Pretty impressive, right?
About two decades later, wheatgrass was brought back into the spotlight by Ann Wigmore, an ordinary woman who consumed it, in combination with other various weeds, to heal herself of colon cancer. She went on to found the Hippocrates Health Institute, where her use of wheatgrass as a key food both popularized its use and spurred continued interest in the young grass.
What can wheatgrass do?
Wheatgrass is packed full of vitamins, minerals and amino acids in addition to containing plant nutrients (phytonutrients) thought to have antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s interesting to note that many of the phytonutrients contained in cereal grasses have yet to be identified and the mechanisms through which they provide their health benefits are still largely unknown.
So, are there any real benefits to wheatgrass or is it all gimmick? Fans of wheatgrass sure swear by it, citing its many health perks! So let’s entertain the discussion and take a deeper look at the evidence.
1. Claim: A Shot Of Wheatgrass Juice Has As Much Nutritional Value As 2.5lbs Of Fresh Veggies.
Wheatgrass certainly is a source of many nutrients, including vitamins E and B12, iron, magnesium, calcium and phosphorus. It also contains beta-carotene, a nutrient typically found in orange pigmented fruits and vegetables such as mangoes, cantaloupe, pumpkin, carrots and yams and selenium, a trace element important for the functioning of the thyroid gland. Vitamin E, beta-carotene and selenium also happen to be powerful antioxidants. This means they can protect the body against the effect of harmful molecules known as free radicals. So, there’s no doubt about it, wheatgrass has an interesting nutritional value.
That being said, one ounce of wheatgrass juice has, on average, just about as many vitamins and minerals as three ounces of fresh vegetables, no more, no less.
So can a shot of wheatgrass compensate a lack of vegetables in the diet? Not fully. A daily consumption of wheatgrass juice doesn’t mean you can skimp on fruits and veggies the rest of the day, but it can definitely contribute towards your daily nutrient intake.
2. Claim: Wheatgrass Helps You Shed The Pounds
Some say that wheatgrass, due to its high nutrient density, provides your body with everything it needs, keeping it satisfied and, by the same token, curbing hunger and reducing cravings. Others say that wheatgrass stimulates the thyroid gland, which can, in itself, help fight obesity.
As nice as they sound, there is currently no scientific evidence supporting these claims. But, that doesn’t mean a daily shot of wheatgrass can’t help…
There’s definitely something to be said about the power of the mind! Once you decide on your goal, a daily reminder of that decision might be just the thing you need – and there are many worst reminders than a daily, nutrient-filled green shot!
3. Claim: Wheatgrass Oxygenize Your Body
This claim originates from wheatgrass’ high content of chlorophyll, a molecule that allows plants to produce energy from sunlight through a process called photosynthesis. What’s particularly fascinating about chlorophyll is that its structure is very similar to that of hemoglobin, a molecule known to carry oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our bodies. Since chlorophyll and hemoglobin are so similar in structure, intake of one could help your body produce more of the other.
Interestingly, some scientific evidence supporting this theory does exist. It comes in the form of a small study, performed on 32 patients with thalassaemia. Individuals with thalassaemia lack normally formed hemoglobin, which results in poor oxygen transport and destruction of vital red blood cells. To increase healthy hemoglobin levels, many individuals with this disorder must get regular blood transfusion. This particular study found that a daily intake of 3.5oz of wheatgrass led 50% of patients to require fewer transfusions, indicating that wheatgrass might have, at least in some people, a positive effect on hemoglobin levels.
Similarly, intake of 1oz of wheatgrass for 6 months was able to significantly increase hemoglobin levels in 348 terminally ill cancer patients.
4. Claim: Wheatgrass Keeps Your Bones Strong
Wheatgrass’ alkalizing effect may, indeed, help you maintain strong bones. The idea that a highly acidic environment in the body can cause bone loss was first proposed more than 40 years ago. Since then, many studies investigating this effect have been performed, and evidence exists for both sides.
In short, a highly acidic environment, caused, for example, by a high intake of acidic foods such as meat and dairy, is thought to slowly weaken your bones. Of course, your kidneys are designed to counteract the effects of an acidic diet, keeping your body’s pH balanced. But this seems to only work up to a certain point, after which, the kidneys alone can no longer cope. That’s when negative effects on your bones can occur. It’s said your bones are most at risk if you have a low muscle and bone mass and regularly consume a highly acidic diet.
One thing to keep in mind is that a recent systematic review found no protective role of dietary acid load in bone disease. So if your diet already contains a good amount of fruit and vegetables, wheatgrass may not provide you any additional benefit. On the other hand, if your diet is plentiful of acid foods, wheatgrass’ alkalizing properties may contribute to diminishing your body’s acidity, providing you with a small added benefit.
5. Claim: Wheatgrass Prevents And Cures Cancer
Cereal grasses are thought to have regenerative effects on our cells. In simpler words, they can help repair our DNA. So could fixing the damaged DNA in our bodies help ward off diseases such as cancer? Many seem to think so!
Animal and test tube studies seem to agree. For example, back in the 1980s, Dr. Chiu Nan Lai from the University of Texas Medical Centre found that extracts of wheatgrass and other green vegetables cancelled the damaging effects of two specific cancer-causing molecules. Green veggies were also observed to offer protection from radiation damages (such as from the effects of X-rays) with foods highest in chlorophyll offering the greatest protection. Recent research finally shows that wheatgrass could also help the body fight against leukemia.
But, does this mean that the same effect would occur in humans?
It’s possible. Wheatgrass is certainly high in antioxidants, which are known to be helpful in cancer prevention. What’s more, a study of 60 women with breast cancer found that wheatgrass was able to reduce some of the harmful effects of chemotherapy without altering the effectiveness of the treatment.
6. Claim: Wheatgrass Helps Your Digestive System.
Regular consumers of wheatgrass powder can attest to it; this cereal grass sure does help keep bowel movements regular! It has its relatively high fibre content to thank for this effect.
But fibre not only helps keep you regular; it can also help decrease your cholesterol and make you feel fuller. Five grams of dehydrated cereal grass contributes to about 2g of fibre, which is equivalent to about 50g cooked whole wheat cereal, 100g apple or 300g spinach.
What’s more, a small 2002 study found that patients suffering from an inflammation of the colon (also known as ulcerative colitis) saw their symptoms improve after drinking 3.5oz of wheatgrass daily for one month. These results are definitely encouraging! But since only 23 individuals were included in this study, further findings are needed to confirm the effect.
7. Claim: Wheatgrass Helps Detoxify Your Liver
There is much talk around the “detoxifying effect of wheatgrass” but, unfortunately, there is not much hard evidence to back up this claim. The only research to date regarding the protective role of fresh wheatgrass juice was performed on rats with compromised livers. Although the results were promising, no human studies have been published on the subject to date.
8. Claim: Wheatgrass Helps Rejuvenate Your Skin
Some skin benefits linked to wheatgrass include the capacity to regenerate skin cells, help you get rid of acne, overcome dryness or eczema and even treat discolouration. A quick dab of wheatgrass juice to the skin can apparently also slow down aging and accelerate the healing process after a sunburn. So could wheatgrass help you achieve a glowing complexion?
As nice as these claims sound, the trouble remains that nearly no scientific evidence can be found to support them.
9. Claim: Wheatgrass Helps You Heal Faster
Back in the 1940s, chlorophyll was considered the MVP when it came to antiseptic properties. It was successfully used in hospitals to treat open wounds and to prevent infections as well as growth of unfriendly bacteria. Chlorophyll packs were even inserted into the sinuses to clear up congestion, giving immediate relief from the common cold!
So, with wheatgrass being high in chlorophyll, is it safe to assume that eating or drinking it it will produce the same beneficial effects?
Not necessarily! Let’s first remember that the chlorophyll found in all green leafy vegetables, including wheatgrass, is locked in by cellulose. Cellulose is a compound that our human digestive tracts cannot digest… So, wheatgrass’ chlorophyll content is difficulty freed or absorbed in sufficient quantities to produce the same effects as when directly utilized, making this claim quite unlikely.
10. Claim: Wheatgrass Helps Regulate Your Blood Sugar Levels
Wheatgrass seems to have some positive effects on blood sugar levels. In animal studies, it increased both insulin production and sensitivity and, overall, helped the body be more efficient at dealing with glucose. These are definitely interesting findings since better regulation of blood glucose can help balance your energy levels and curb food cravings, both of which can have a direct impact on your waistline and overall wellbeing.
11. Claim: Wheatgrass Gets Rid Of Bad Breath And Body Odour
Many fans of wheatgrass boast about it’s potent body-odour busting and breath-freshening effects. But to date, only a few studies looked at this claim. And the results are mixed.
Some report that chlorophyllin (a derivative from chlorophyll) can decrease urinary and fecal odours in incontinent patients. On the other hand, a placebo-controlled trial found chlorophyllin to be no more effective than the placebo at reducing fecal odour. As for the young grass’ effect on your oral hygiene…don’t hold your breath as no scientific evidence was found to support this purported “freshening” effect!
12. Claim: Wheatgrass Increases Sport Performance
Wheatgrass juice is sometimes advertised as a source of quickly absorbed sugars, able to provide the body with a quick source of fuel to boost sport performance. This is an interesting claim, isn’t it? Take a green shot right before going to the gym, and improve your workout capability!
It’s too bad that this effect is very unlikely. Nutritional analysis of wheatgrass shows it contains about 2g of carbohydrates per 100ml of juice. So to get anything close to a boost in performance, you’d have to consume close to a litre of wheatgrass juice! And that’s without accounting for the fact it also contains protein and fibre, both of which are known to decrease the speed of absorption of carbohydrates, making the effect unlikely even if you were, somehow, able to consume that much green liquid in one sitting!
13. Claim: Wheatgrass Helps With Your Dental Health
Wheatgrass juice is claimed to be an excellent remedy against tooth decay and pyorrhoea (an inflammatory disease of the tissues supporting the teeth). But don’t throw out your mouthwash just yet! As was the case with its purported antiseptic properties, research only links chlorophyll to these positive effects. Since the chlorophyll content of wheatgrass is not easily absorbed by human intestines, the effects are unlikely directly associated to the green shoots.
How To Use Wheatgrass?
Have you decided to give wheatgrass a try? You’ll be glad to know that many options are available to you! You can consume this grass either as a juice made of freshly squeezed raw wheatgrass, opt to use wheatgrass powder stirred in a glass of water or stick with compact capsules.
Does Wheatgrass Have Any Side Effects?
To date, not much is known about the long term safety of consuming wheatgrass. But it’s worth noting that wheatgrass can cause nausea, appetite loss or even constipation in some people.
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