Wheat grass is the small shoots that sprout from wheat plants, the most common of which is called Triticum aestivum. Like all other types of grass, wheat grass cannot be eaten raw and processed by people. Instead, it must be juiced or ground into fine powder in order for its nutrients to be properly digested and absorbed by your body. Wheat grass products are highly nutritious and have an alkalizing effect on your body fluids and tissues, which can lead to health benefits. However, research documenting the specific health benefits of wheat grass is very limited.
Wheat grass belongs to the plant family Poaceae, which includes many similar grasses. In the early 1930s it was noted by agriculturists that adding wheat grass to the diets of chickens and other farm animals significantly reduced disease and increased yield. By the early 1940s, a chemist named Dr. Charles Schnabel produced and sold powdered wheat grass in pharmacies across the United States that was intended for human consumption. Since then, countless anecdotal claims have been made about the health benefits of wheat grass, although no human research currently provides any definitive proof of the claims.
Wheat grass is often called a super-food because it contains a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes. The specific amounts of nutrients in wheat grass products vary dramatically and depend on freshness and when then the grass is harvested. For example, the nutritional value of wheat grass peaks when it’s at the jointing stage, and the values decline significantly before or after this point. Furthermore, fresh-squeezed wheat grass juice contains the most nutrition, but it quickly declines when exposed to the air because of oxidation. However, most powdered wheat grass products are, at the very least, a good source of most B vitamins, vitamins A and C, trace minerals and amino acids. Wheat grass also contains the most chlorophyll by weight than any other plant.
Potential Health Benefits
Consuming wheat grass on a regular basis may reduce the risk of most vitamin and mineral deficiency issues, which are more common among Americans than most probably realize. B vitamins, for example, are necessary for healthy metabolism, energy production, normal development, red blood cell production and strong immunity. Vitamin C boosts immune system response and is needed for the production and repair of collagen, the elastic-like compound in skin, cartilage and many other tissues. Vitamin A is important for clear vision, especially at night. Amino acids are required to build muscle tissue, repair skin and synthesize enzymes. Chlorophyll, which is the green “blood” of plants and essential for photosynthesis, has an alkalizing effect on your body and promotes increased blood oxygenation. Maintaining alkaline blood may deter the proliferation of infectious microorganisms and discourage the development of some diseases, according to Dr. Charles Dreiling, author of "Human Biochemistry."
Detoxification, which means the removal of toxins such as heavy metals and chemical residues from your organs and tissues, is a controversial topic. Mainstream medicine doesn’t view detoxification and internal cleansing as necessary or even possible with the use of wheat grass and other herbs. In contrast, some practitioners within the realm of alternative medicine believe that toxic accumulation is an important underlying cause of many chronic diseases and some plants have an ability to grab on to certain compounds and drag them out of the body. Wheat grass may have an affinity for lead and mercury, both neurotoxins, although more human research is needed to better understand the biochemistry.
- Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine; Simon Mills and Kerry Bone
- Herbs that Heal: Prescription for Herbal Healing; Michael and Janet Weiner
- Human Biochemistry; Charles Dreiling
- PDR for Herbal Medicines; PDR Medical Staff
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.