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.
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