Wheatgrass is a young grass of the common wheat plant (Triticum aestivum) a member of the family Poaceae. It has been consumed for 5,000 years and has been traced as far back as ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations. Egyptians considered the wheatgrass leaves to be sacred and revered them for their health benefits.
In the 1930s it became an American superfood based on the work of an agricultural chemist Dr. Charles Schnabel; popularly called the ‘Father of Wheatgrass’. He introduced wheatgrass powder in the 1940s. In the subsequent decade, Ann Wigmore, a nutritionist, started to make wheatgrass juice and formed the Hippocrates Health Institute in Boston. She educated people on the benefits of wheatgrass and plant-based living.
Wheatgrass juice is a popular health drink now. It is often used for juicing or is added to smoothies and provides a concentrated amount of nutrients, including iron, calcium, magnesium, amino acids, chlorophyll, and vitamins A, C and E. Wheatgrass juice has high concentrations of chlorophyll, amino acids, minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamins, and enzymes.
Backed By Science
Fresh wheatgrass juice has been shown to possess anti-cancer, anti-ulcer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-arthritic properties, along with promoting blood building activity in Thalassemia. It has been proposed that wheatgrass helps blood flow, digestion, and general detoxification of the body due to the presence of biologically active compounds and minerals.
It has a good antioxidant potential which is derived from its high content of bioflavonoids such as apigenin, quercetin, luteolin. Furthermore, it contains indole compounds, namely choline, which is known for its antioxidants and its chelating property for iron overload disorders. Wheatgrass contains 70% chlorophyll which is a potent health agent, according to Columbia University. (International Journal of Chemical Studies 2014; 2(4): 27-34).
An article published in “Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention” in April 2006 noted that the data from a study done on colorectal cancer suggested that consuming more chlorophyll-containing greens, while reducing red meat intake, may reduce the risk of colon cancer.
A randomised double blind study on the use of wheat grass juice in the treatment of ulcerative colitis showed effectiveness as a single or adjuvant treatment ( Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology 2002; 37 (4): 444-449). Wheat grass is associated with several pharmacological activities including anticancer activity, anti-ulcer activity, anti-arthritic activity and antioxidant activity (International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Drug Research 2012; 4(1): 10-14).
Another study on the effect of wheat grass powder on aluminum induced Alzheimer’s disease model in rats showed a beneficial effect ( Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine 2014; 7 (Suppl 1): S278-S281). A comparison of freeze drying and oven drying on the antioxidant properties of wheatgrass showed that fresh wheatgrass samples had the highest amount of ascorbic acid and chlorophyll, but the lowest amount of total flavonoids and phenolics (International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 2012; 63 (6): 718-721).
The Best Way to Get Started
A safe and convenient way to consume wheatgrass is in its powdered form or in the form of a juice powder. It provides a standard content of nutrients that’s consistent, provided it went through stringent quality checks and was subjected to microbiological safety tests.
The juice powder in its pure form would not contain any insoluble fibers, carriers or additives. It is much more concentrated and nutritionally powerful. High purity makes it more soluble in water and ideal for use in a variety of beverage mixes.
It is recommended that wheatgrass be taken on an empty stomach, an hour prior to having a meal. This allows the body to fully metabolize it without competing with other foods, and would also curb hunger. It is recommended that a lot of water should be consumed with the juice to reap its maximum nutritional benefits.
Taking wheatgrass as a supplement in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon is ideal as an energy boost. A good way to start is to consume 1 ounce/day and increase slowly. While drinking, it has been suggested to hold some wheatgrass juice in the mouth for a minute or two before swallowing to increase the absorption of bio-active compounds in the mouth.
Wheatgrass is generally considered safe. Wheatgrass is a food, and not a drug or dietary supplement and therefore wouldn’t cause any ‘side effects’ in the normal sense of the phrase. There are, however, a few mild reactions one can get from drinking wheatgrass, the most common of which include: headaches, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, anorexia and allergic reactions.
Drinking wheatgrass in the recommended dose, by taking it on an empty stomach and not in combination with other food/drink, greatly reduces the chances of these side effects. A person with celiac disease or gluten intolerance has to consult with their physician before using wheatgrass. Young children, pregnant women, and the elderly should also consult their doctors before adding wheatgrass to their diets.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. While wheatgrass can easily be grown in trays and consumed raw, bacterial contamination from the growing environment can get transferred to the wheatgrass and then to the juice.
Consuming bacteria-laden wheatgrass juice can cause a range of food-borne illnesses, including upset stomachs and nausea. If your wheatgrass juice has a musky or bitter taste, it could be due to mold and you should not drink the wheatgrass juice. It is advisable to consume wheatgrass that is hygienically grown, processed and stored.
Wheatgrass is not a miracle cure and cannot be used to replace regular medical care or a healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. When used sensibly and in moderation, wheatgrass can contribute a great deal to your balanced diet and keep you healthy.