Wheatgrass is often supplied as a freshly made, 30ml shot of bright green liquid.
Health claims for wheatgrass have existed since the 1940’s, with this bright green liquid ‘shot’ drink being recommended to stabilise blood sugars, boost red blood cell production, improve circulation and prevent inflammation - unfortunately with little medical evidence to support any of these claims.
Analysis of wheatgrass claims and research by the British Dietetic Association confirm there is no firm evidence to say it is any better than other fruit and veg in terms of nutritional benefit.
What is wheatgrass?
Wheatgrass is the young grass of the wheat plant, Triticum aestivum. Wheatgrass grows in temperate regions throughout Europe and the United States and can grow indoors or outdoors. You can grow your own wheatgrass by soaking wheat seeds in water and then harvesting the leaves as they grow.
Wheatgrass supporters insist wheatgrass has health benefits in terms of vitamins and minerals, plant enzymes and chlorophyll, although current research suggests any real benefit of wheatgrass comes from the natural fibres - oligosaccharides called maltoheptaose - that may give some health benefits.
Wheatgrass is a natural source of vitamins and antioxidants including:
Although wheatgrass is full of good things, a shot of it doesn’t measure up to being one of your recommended 5-a-day portions of fruit and veg.
How is wheatgrass used?
Most people don’t eat the wheatgrass itself because it's hard to digest so fresh leaves are crushed and squeezed to make wheatgrass juice. Wheatgrass leaves also can be dried and made into tablets or capsules. Wheatgrass may be mixed with water and used as an enema to ‘cleanse’ the digestive system.
People following a raw food diet often include wheatgrass raw in order to protect its enzyme content which would be destroyed by cooking. In reality all enzymes are destroyed by our strong stomach acid - so there’s no health benefit of eating a raw food diet for this purpose.
Does wheatgrass live up to the claims?
Wheatgrass claims to help combat symptoms of a number of everyday health conditions, including colds, coughs, fevers, digestive ailments and skin conditions. Proponents even claim that wheatgrass can help to prevent and treat more serious conditions.
In reality, wheatgrass has no effect on preserving health or preventing disease, It has no ability to detoxify the body - a process undertaken 24/7 by our liver, immune system and kidneys. It contains vitamins and minerals which are easily found in other fruits and vegetables.
A myth about wheatgrass is that chlorophyll - the green pigment found in all green vegetables, and grass - acts like haemoglobin, the protein found in red blood cells to carry oxygen. It’s claimed that the chlorophyll in wheatgrass will boost oxygen transport around the body. In reality, whilst chlorophyll has a similar molecular structure to haemoglobin (but with magnesium at its central core, rather than the iron found in haemoglobin), it is broken down by natural digestive processes, and has absolutely no effect on oxygen transport at all.
Despite all of the health claims, there is very little, if any, evidence that wheatgrass actually works to prevent disease, detoxify or do any of the other cures attributed to it. Most of what little research has been conducted focuses on the effects of wheatgrass on the digestive system. Here’s a summary of the research so far on wheatgrass:
- A study of patients with active ulcerative colitis - a severe inflammatory bowel condition- demonstrated earlier remission in subjects taking 100ml wheatgrass juice daily for a month. It’s possible that the fibre oligosaccharides have a beneficial effect on gut health.
- A preliminary study in a small number of Israeli women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer showed some small benefit in maintaining red blood cell production in those taking 60ml of wheatgrass juice daily. However, 20% of the 30 women assigned wheatgrass juice had to stop taking the drink because of nausea, so overall the results are too small to demonstrate a proper clinical benefit.
- An Indian study of people with the blood disorder thalassaemia needed fewer blood transfusions after drinking 100ml of wheatgrass juice a day over 3 years, but the mechanism for this benefit is unknown.