Wheatgrass is a health-food phenomenon. You might have heard of wheatgrass from a friend who swears it gives her a much-needed energy boost. Or perhaps you’ve read tales of its ability to naturally cure diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and AIDS.
Wheatgrass is harvested from the early growth (usually the first 7 to 10 days) of the common wheat plant Triticum. It can be freeze-dried and taken as a powder or pill or consumed as a shot of juice. Wheatgrass has a very bitter, grassy flavor. which is why it is often taken as a shot rather than as an actual drink. Wheatgrass has many perceived health benefits that are widely touted by fans of this chlorophyll-tinted green juice.
But are these claims backed up by science? And if they aren’t, should you be including wheatgrass in your diet?
Wheatgrass is Loaded With Nutrients
Wheatgrass is well known for its purported ability to treat all sorts of health problems, but what is its actual nutritional profile? It turns out that wheatgrass is a good source of amino acids; vitamins A, C, and E; iron; and calcium. Fans of wheatgrass believe it should be consumed as quickly as possible after it’s been exposed to air to prevent nutrient loss.
As Loraine Dégraff, author of The Complete Guide to Growing and Using Wheatgrass explains:
The nutrient level of the wheatgrass reduces if it is exposed to air too long before it is consumed. Also, how old is the grass? Grass that is juiced too long past the ‘prime time’ of harvest (7 to 10 days for indoor) is already compromised as far as nutrition is concerned. The method of growth can also affect nutritional absorption. Indoor grass, which is probably more familiar to most, is consumed for therapeutic benefits. Its nutrients include simple sugars, which can cause a spike in blood [glucose] level. Outdoor grass, consumed for health benefits, include[s] complex carbohydrates that are easily assimilated. Of course, both growers feel their method is best. I find, however, that most people can stick with the outdoor grass longer because of the taste factor.
A Brief History of Wheatgrass
Wheatgrass has been a part of American popular health culture since the 1930s. An agricultural chemist named Charles F. Schnabel noticed the wheatgrass that he gave his dying chickens helped the chickens recover quickly. Schnabel began selling dried wheatgrass and eventually received funding from Quaker Oats and American Dairies Inc., at which point wheatgrass began to be sold in powdered form all over the United States.
In the mid-20th century a woman named Ann Wigmore claimed to have cured her cancer thanks to her wheatgrass consumption. She went on to champion wheatgrass as a powerful healing agent in conjunction with a raw food diet, eventually co-founding the Hippocrates Health Institute, an alternative medicine facility in Florida.
In 1982 Wigmore was sued by the attorney general of Massachusetts because of her false claims that wheatgrass could take the place of insulin for diabetics. She was sued again in 1988 for stating that it could cure AIDS. Although she ultimately won that case on First Amendment grounds, the judge ordered her not to claim to be a doctor who can treat or cure illness.
The Benefits of Including Wheatgrass in Your Diet
Including wheatgrass in your diet is a great way to get in an extra serving of fruits and vegetables. But in an article published by the UK’s National Health Service, dietitian Alison Hornby says, “There is no sound evidence to support the claim that wheatgrass is better than other fruits and vegetables in terms of nutrition. It cannot be recommended above any other choices in this food group.”
If you love wheatgrass, then you should certainly include it in your diet. But if you don’t, you can get the same nutrients from eating the same amount of broccoli or spinach.
Is wheatgrass a cure for cancer?
Despite the fact that wheatgrass used to be (and still is) heavily promoted as a cure for cancer—along with many other diseases and ailments—there is no conclusive scientific data to support this claim. There is some potentially promising research that wheatgrass may provide relief from some of the side effects of chemotherapy, but more study is needed to determine what implications this might have for other patients.
It should be noted that the American Cancer Society encourages many forms of complementary therapy to mainstream cancer treatment but “urges patients who are thinking about using any complementary or non-mainstream therapies to first discuss it with their health care team.”
What about chlorophyll?
Wheatgrass is prized for its levels of chlorophyll, a green phytonutrient that naturally occurs in plants so that they are able to absorb energy from the sun. Hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells, helps to carry oxygen throughout the bodies of animals. Structurally, chlorophyll and hemoglobin are similar, and both are considered the “lifeblood” of the bodies they inhabit.
Wheatgrass devotees believe that chlorophyll has the ability to reverse the aging process, suppress the appetite, reverse thyroid problems, and cleanse the blood, although there have been no significant studies to show these claims are actually true.
Are there any side effects of consuming wheatgrass?
Most people who consume wheatgrass don’t experience side effects, but some people may suffer from nausea and may find the strong grass-like taste overwhelming. There is also a possibility that contamination from microbials may occur because wheatgrass sprouts are grown for 7 to 10 days before being harvested for their leaves (for this reason pregnant women are advised against consuming wheatgrass).
Although some wheatgrass enthusiasts insist this is a detoxification process your body is going through, if your symptoms persist it’s more likely you have an intolerance to wheatgrass. It’s also important to use caution if you have a wheat or gluten allergy, as wheatgrass can occasionally be a trigger for hives or swelling in the lips and tongue.
The Best Way to Include Wheatgrass in Your Diet
According to Dégraff, the best way to consume wheatgrass is to juice it:
The best method for obtaining the full nutritional benefits of the wheatgrass, especially the live enzymes, would be to juice it yourself and drink the juice within minutes of juicing. The nutrient level of the wheatgrass reduces if it is exposed to air too long before it is consumed.
TJ DiCiaula, co-owner of SuperCharge! Foods in Madison, Wisconsin, agrees on the importance of drinking the wheatgrass juice as fresh as possible and recommends doing the following:
Upon juicing—it is always best to consume the juice immediately and ‘chew’ the juice, which means to swish the juice around in the mouth to mix enzymes and absorb as much as you can in the mouth like you would in taking medicine or a tincture under the tongue.
DiCiaula does acknowledge that for most people, it “is more feasible to juice several days to a week’s worth at a time. They say there is one active enzyme in wheatgrass that will oxidize after 20 minutes. Otherwise the shelf life of the juice varies with its nutrient density and bioenergy. It seems the core nutrition remains but enzymes will begin to break down over a couple days and the juice will begin to lose its sweetness.”
The experts agree that the juice should be made with freshly harvested wheatgrass leaves whenever possible and should be consumed as quickly as possible for optimal nutrient absorption.
Alternative Ways to Consume Wheatgrass
Wheatgrass can also be administered in pill or powder form. Due to the potential for microbial contamination in freshly juiced wheatgrass, some experts recommend reaping the nutritional benefits in supplement form rather than as a juice. It’s important to make sure wheatgrass in pill or powder form follows protocol for food labeling and that the supplements come from an FDA-approved lab.
How much wheatgrass is it safe to consume?
There is currently no established dosage of wheatgrass that is officially deemed safe or unsafe. However, RxList and several other sources give the following guidance: “Wheatgrass is LIKELY SAFE when taken in food amounts. It is POSSIBLY SAFE for most adults when taken by mouth in medicinal amounts for up to 18 months or when applied to the skin as a cream for up to 6 weeks. Not enough is known about the safety of long-term use of wheatgrass as medicine.”
Growing Your Own Wheatgrass at Home
Growing wheatgrass at home ensures you’ll always have fresh leaves to harvest for juicing, and it’s relatively simple to do using only a few special pieces of equipment. DiCiaula recommends the following:
To grow wheatgrass at home you will need a tray, medium, seed, water, and nutrients. Lights may be necessary but good light through a window can also work. Wheatgrass doesn’t like it over 72 degrees or high humidity. Fans can be used to provide some wiggle-room in certain conditions. Of course, the more conducive the environment is to facilitate life growth the better.
If you’re brand new to growing wheatgrass, Dégraff suggests purchasing a wheatgrass-growing kit, “You can work with a kit that comes with most of what you need or you can gather your own supplies. For growing indoors, you would need:
–a jar for sprouting the wheatberries
–a good soil mixture: one good ratio is 50 percent compost, 40 percent topsoil, and 10 percent vermiculite (a quality organic gardening soil can also be used)
–a tray or some type of container for planting [that’s] at least 2 inches deep
–a second tray (or brown paper) for covering during the germination period
–a spray bottle for misting the plants
–good light and ventilation
The website SproutPeople has detailed instructions for growing your own wheatgrass at home, with videos, images, and notes on best practices for growing and harvesting the leaves from homegrown wheatgrass.
Because wheatgrass is a raw food product, the possibility of accidentally ingesting mold or coming in contact with E. coli, Salmonella, or Shigella bacteria is potentially something to be concerned about.
Carefully examine wheatgrass plants for signs of rot and mold, making sure to rinse the leaves before juicing (when in doubt, discard it). Well-drained soil is also important for preventing harmful bacteria from growing in the soil, so make sure the tray you’re using to grow the wheatgrass has drainage holes drilled in the bottom. If purchasing ready-made wheatgrass, look for brands that have been pasteurized. This ensures any existing bacteria have been killed via heat.
To Wheatgrass or Not to Wheatgrass
Wheatgrass offers some wonderful nutritional benefits and is a great source of vitamins and minerals. Despite its reputation as an all-encompassing health food that can cure cancer, AIDS, and diabetes, there is no scientific evidence that these claims are true.
Enjoy wheatgrass because it makes you feel good and it adds value to your life. And always remember, if wheatgrass isn’t for you, opt for other green veggies with a similar nutritional profile, such as broccoli and spinach.
And if you do want to try wheatgrass? We’ve got a recipe for that!
Making It Taste Good: A Simply Sweet Wheatgrass Smoothie Recipe
This wheatgrass smoothie uses powdered wheatgrass instead of freshly juiced for the sake of ease and convenience. Organic Wheatgrass Juice Powder and Amazing Grass Organic Wheat Grass are both high quality and readily available options. Otherwise use your favorite brand for this recipe.
Baby spinach adds plenty of green nutrients and complements the nutritional profile of the wheatgrass powder. Frozen bananas lend a creamy texture and a touch of natural sweetness, although fresh bananas work just as well in a pinch. Antioxidant-rich blueberries give this smoothie its intensely dark green color. Kefir is a fermented dairy product containing gut-healthy probiotics with a texture that is somewhere between a liquid and solid yogurt.
Yields 2–3 generous servings
- 2 frozen bananas, sliced into smallish pieces
- 1½ cups plain or flavored kefir
- 2 cups frozen blueberries
- 4 cups baby spinach, lightly packed
- 2 tsp. wheatgrass powder
- Ice water or coconut water
- High-powered blender
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Large glass for your smoothie
- Add the frozen bananas, kefir, frozen blueberries, baby spinach, and wheatgrass powder to a high-powered blender.
- Blitz the ingredients together until smooth, pulsing occasionally for a super-smooth texture. Add ice water or coconut water as needed to create a pourable texture, scraping down the sides with a spatula so that all the ingredients are fully incorporated.
- Pour into large glasses and enjoy!
If you have smoothie leftovers, try freezing them in popsicle molds or even ice cube trays for a healthy frozen treat!