Have you ever walked into a natural foods store or juice bar and seen a patch of grass? The organic grass is actually wheat grass (Triticum aestivum), a plant of the genus Agropyron. The reason for its name is it is actually a relative of wheat that can be consumed as a juice, tablet, capsule, liquid or powder. Wheat grass has been touted by some as one of nature’s greatest nutritional gifts. The health claims of wheat grass range from curing the common cold to curing cancer.
Health “Claims” of Wheat Grass include:
Wheat grass does contain amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and enzymes. These are all important compounds for daily living and sustained health. Exaggerated claims that one ounce of wheat grass juice contains the same nutrient content as 2.5lbs of green vegetables may not be completely accurate, but the American Cancer Society (ACS) does agree that wheat grass may be a good source of particular vitamins and minerals. An important note to make is they also recommend consuming 5 or more servings of green vegetables and fruits a day in addition to wheat grass consumption. The ACS contends it is healthier and more nutritious to consume a variety of food sources rather than one in excess.
Wheat grass proponents claim the high percentage of chlorophyll in the grass has a positive affect on human hemoglobin. The molecular composition of chlorophyll, which makes grass green, is almost identical to human hemoglobin. The chlorophyll’s central element is magnesium while hemoglobin’s is iron. Hemoglobin is an iron protein within the red blood cell responsible for the transportation of oxygen and nutrients. Some believe the human body can convert the chlorophyll to hemoglobin which increases the carrying capacity of oxygen in the body. Dr. William Travis for the National Council Against Health Fraud states that chlorophyll is valuable, but its benefits are exaggerated. Research does not prove or disprove the accounts of chlorophyll as accurate.
A study conducted in 2002 showed there is a correlation between wheat grass and reduced risk for ulcerative colitis. The symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis or chronically inflamed large intestine and rectal bleeding where eased with the consumption of wheat grass juice. Individuals who consumed 100 cc of wheat grass juice for one month decreased the adverse effects of ulcerative colitis more than the placebo group. No side affects were seen in the study, making the results both positive and safe (Ben-Arye et al., 2002).
The wheat grass diet was developed and made popular by Ann Wigmore a cancer survivor. She claimed wheat grass could cure disease. She also stated that the wheat grass diet strengthens the immune system and rids the body of harmful toxins. Her (anecdotally supported) theory is based on the premise that dogs and cats eat grass when they are sick, her personal interpretations of the bible, and life experiences. Raw vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts are the foundation for the diet. The wheat grass dieter does not consume meat, dairy products or any cooked foods. Many contend the foundation of the diet, due to the fact that it is low in saturated fats, trans fats and refined carbohydrates, while also being high in fruits, vegetables and nuts would have positive benefits independent of the wheat grass.
Her claims are unfounded and unsupported with any type of scientific evidence. For this reason she has been sued successfully by the Attorney General of Massachusetts numerous times for her claims about the diet. She claimed her diet eliminated the need for insulin for diabetics and could actually cure AIDS. She was forced to recant her claims and ordered to stop misrepresenting herself.
Currently no serious side affects have been determined in association with the consumption of wheat grass. The typical rate of daily consumption is generally 3.5 grams per day. Some individuals have reported nausea, headaches, hives or other adverse affects that may be associated with an allergic reaction. Proper cleaning should be conducted to remove any molds or bacteria since it is best consumed raw. Women who are pregnant or breast feeding should not consume wheat grass.
Wheat grass is a viable source of nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, but scientific evidence does not support some of the exaggerated claims. It is best consumed by being juiced to retain its nutritional value.