Wheatgrass refers to the green shoots or sprouting cotyledons of the wheat plant. People cannot digest raw wheatgrass, which is why it’s usually sold as an extracted liquid or pulverized powder. Wheatgrass is a nutrient-dense food that was first popularized in the 1930s as a healthy feed supplement for farm animals such as chickens. Since then, many people have used it to augment their diets, typically in 1-ounce shots of juice from health food stores or smoothie shops.
The caloric value and nutritional content of wheatgrass depend on the specific variety, growing conditions and time of harvest, so no two portions are exactly alike. A 1-ounce portion of wheatgrass juice typically contains between 5 and 10 calories, which are derived from carbohydrates and protein. In comparison, 1-ounce portions of powdered wheatgrass have between five and 10 times more calories, depending on the manufacturer. Aside from calories, the other major difference between wheatgrass juice and powder is fiber; the juice contains very little, whereas the powder contains much more. All forms of wheatgrass contain no fat or cholesterol, so it’s an ideal supplement for those on a low-fat diet.
About 70 percent of the content of wheatgrass is chlorophyll, which is sometimes referred to as the green blood of plants. Chlorophyll is used by all green plants to transform sunshine into energy, a process called photosynthesis. Chlorophyll is very similar to human blood, but instead of being based on iron, it’s based on magnesium. The benefits of consuming chlorophyll are not well established scientifically, although advocates claim that it can detoxify the blood and internal organs.
Wheatgrass contains a wide variety of vitamins, including most of the B vitamins. A 1-ounce serving of wheatgrass juice contains about 4 milligrams of vitamin C, 6 international units of vitamin E and 150 international units of vitamin A. Vitamins A, C and E are powerful antioxidants that eliminate harmful free radicals, whereas B vitamins are important for metabolism, energy production and healthy red blood cells. If you prefer drinking wheatgrass juice, consume it fresh, because the nutritional content decreases fairly quickly over time. Wheatgrass powder contains significantly more nutrients than juice, because the juice is diluted with water.
Wheatgrass is a good source of magnesium, calcium, potassium and phosphorus. A 1-ounce portion of juice contains about 50 milligrams of potassium, which is an important electrolyte needed for normal muscle contraction, nerve communication and body-fluid regulation. Wheatgrass contains very little sodium, which is another type of electrolyte that’s harmful in large doses, making the plant appropriate for those on a low-sodium diet due to high blood pressure.
Compared to other plants, wheatgrass is considered by nutritionists to be a good source of protein, although it pales in comparison to animal products, such as meat, both in the quantity and quality of the protein. Protein is broken down into building blocks called amino acids. Wheatgrass juice is especially rich in the amino acid choline, with a 1-ounce portion containing almost 40 milligrams. Choline is important for the normal functioning of all cells and is essential for brain development.
Detoxification Side Effects
Wheatgrass supposedly helps eliminate toxins, heavy metals and other impurities from the body. Consequently, you may experience short-term side effects of detoxification such as headache, nausea, skin rash or diarrhea. Some people are sensitive or allergic to wheat and should be careful with wheatgrass products.
- Superfoods: The Healthiest Foods on the Planet; Tonia Reinhard
- Contemporary Nutrition: Functional Approach; Gordon M. Wardlaw et al.
- Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine; Simon Mills and Kerry Bone
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.