Wheatgrass refers to the young grass of the common wheat plant, Triticum aestivum, that is freshly juiced or dried into powder for animal and human consumption. Both provide chlorophyll, amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and enzymes. Claims about wheatgrass' health benefits range from providing supplemental nutrition to having unique curative properties. Some consumers grow and juice wheatgrass in their homes. It is often available in juice bars, alone or in mixed fruit and/or vegetable drinks. It is also available in many health food stores as fresh produce, tablets, frozen juice and powder.
The consumption of wheatgrass in the Western world began in the 1930s as a result of experiments by Charles F. Schnabel and his attempts to popularize the plant.
Schnabel, an agricultural chemist, conducted his first experiments with young grasses in 1930, when he used fresh cut grass in an attempt to nurse dying hens back to health. The hens not only recovered, but they produced eggs at a higher rate than healthy hens. Encouraged by his results, he began drying and powdering grass for his family and neighbors to supplement their diets. The following year, Schnabel reproduced his experiment and achieved the same results. Hens consuming rations supplemented with grass doubled their egg production. Schnabel started promoting his discovery to feed mills, chemist and the food industry. Two large corporations, Quaker Oats and American Dairies Inc., invested millions of dollars in further research, development and production of products for animals and humans. By 1940, cans of Schnabel's powdered grass were on sale in major drug stores throughout the United States and Canada.
Schnabel's research was conducted with wheatgrass grown outdoors in Kansas. His wheatgrass required 200 days of slow growth, through the winter and early spring, when it was harvested at the jointing
or reproductive stage. It was at this stage that the plant reached its peak nutritional potential; after jointing, concentrations of chlorophyll, protein, and vitamin decline sharply.
Harvested grass was dehydrated and made into powders and tablets for human and animal consumption. Wheatgrass grown indoors in trays for ten days contains similar nutritional content. Wheatgrass grown outdoors is harvested, dehydrated at a low temperature and sold in tablet and powdered forms. Wheat grass juice powder (fresh squeezed with the water removed) is also available either spray-dried or freeze-dried.
The average dosage taken by consumers of wheatgrass is 3.5 grams (powder or tablets). Some also have a fresh-squeezed 30 ml shot once daily or for more therapeutic benefits a higher dose up to 2–4 oz taken 1-3 times per day on an empty stomach and before meals. For detoxification, some users may increase their intake to 3–4 times per day. It should be noted that consumers with a poor diet may experience nausea on high dosages of wheatgrass. Outdoor wheatgrass is harvested for a few days each year from plants grown in the "bread basket" regions of the US and Canada. Winter wheat requires more than 200 days of slow growth in cold temperatures to reach the peak nutritional content. Even after that length of time, the plant is only 7 to 10 inches high.
|Table 1. Nutrient comparison of 1 oz (28.35 g) of wheatgrass juice, broccoli and spinach.
| Beta carotene
|| 2658 IU
| Vitamin E
| Vitamin C
|| 25.3 mg
|| 8 mg
| Vitamin B12
| Data on broccoli and spinach from USDA database. Data on Wheatgrass juice from indoor grown wheatgrass.
Proponents of wheatgrass claim regular ingestion of the plant can
- *improve the digestive system
- *prevent cancer, diabetes and heart disease
- *cure constipation
- *detoxify heavy metals from the bloodstream
- *help make menopause more manageable
- *promote general well-being.
While none of these claims have been substantiated in the scientific literature, there is limited evidence in support of some of these claims.
Reborn Beverages has launched the first wheatgrass beverage that uses fresh wheatgrass along with its root and combines it with honey to ease the normally pungent taste of wheatgrass. Its available in Stater Brothers stores, Jon's Marketplace, and other specialty retailers.
Wheatgrass Juice vs. Common Vegetables
One of the most popular claims about wheatgrass, and one that is frequently made by both supporters and retailers, is that 1 ounce of wheatgrass juice is as nutritionally valuable as 1 kg (2.2 lb) of green vegetables
, a ratio of 1:35. The available vitamin and mineral data of wheatgrass juice, broccoli and spinach does not support this claim (see table 1). In fact, the vitamin and mineral content of 1 ounce of wheatgrass juice is roughly equivalent to the vitamin and mineral content of 1 ounce of fresh vegetables. This conclusion does not include phyto-nutrient
comparisons of these foods.
Another commonly repeated claim, originally made by Schnabel in the 1940s, is that "fifteen pounds of wheatgrass is equal in overall nutritional value to 350 pounds of ordinary garden vegetables", a ratio of 1:23. Schnabel statement doesn't specify the form of wheatgrass, however, Schnabel used dried wheatgrass for his own consumption, in his research and later in his nutritional supplements;
One area in which wheatgrass is thought to be superior to other vegetables is in its content of Vitamin B12, a vital nutrient. B12, it turns out, is not a vitamin contained within wheatgrass or any plant but rather a byproduct of the microorganisms living on the plant.
Therefore, there are no reliable plant sources of Vitamin B12.
Another common claim for wheatgrass is that it promotes detoxification. The limited data in support of that claim applies to most green vegetables.
As the chlorophyll
molecule is structurally similar to hemoglobin
, it has been argued that wheatgrass helps blood flow, digestion and general detoxification
of the body. These claims have not been substantiated. Some research however exists that relates diets high in chlorophyll, present in higher concentrations in green leafy vegetables, with lower rates of colon cancer.