Wheatgrass is a baby wheat plant that’s harvested when it reaches its nutritional peak. But this grass isn’t just for four-legged grazers — wheatgrass serves up health benefits for two-legged ones, too. Bellying up to the juice bar for a shot of wheatgrass is a quick way to get a dose of the greens, but it can also be added to smoothies or taken in pill or powder form.

Elite Wheat — The Need-to-Know

Photo by Caitlin Covington

It’s the start of wheatgrass’s life that gives it such nutritional power. Through the sprouting process, the grass is packed with energy, high levels of nutrients, and live enzymes that help humans digest the grass when consumed, allowing nutrients to enter the bloodstream quicklyNutritional improvement of cereals by sprouting. Chavan, J.K., Kadam, S.S. Department of Biochemistry, Mahatma Phule Agricultural University, Rahuri, India. Critical Review in Food Science and Nutrition, 1989;28(5):401-37.Uptake of various trace elements during germination of wheat, buckwheat and quinoa. Lintschinger, J., Fuchs, N., Moser, H., et al. Karl-Franzens Universität Graz, Institut für Analytische Chemie, Austria. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 1997;50(3):223-37.. Wheatgrass contains all nine essential amino acids and is loaded with chlorophyll, vitamins, and minerals, offering a host of health benefits. Studies suggest one such benefit is improved digestion and alleviation from stomach conditions like colitis by controlling bad bacteria from overwhelming the digestive tract and causing inflammation and discomfortWheat grass juice in the treatment of active distal ulcerative colitis: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Ben-Arye, E., Goldin, E., Wengrower, D., et al. Dept. of Family Medicine, The Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, The Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa. Scandanavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 2002 Apr;37(4):444-9.. Some research also suggests the chlorophyll in wheatgrass makes it effective at fighting off cancer-causing compounds in the body. When chlorophyll hits the bloodstream, it boosts hemoglobin (because their structures are so similar), enriching the body’s cells with oxygen and cleaning them out of potentially harmful substances like BPA and a variety of carcinogens that can enter the body through food, polluted air, or impure drinking waterInhibition by wheat sprout (Triticum aestivum) juice of bisphenol A-induced oxidative stress in young women. Yi, B., Kasai, H., Lee, H.S., et al. Sookmyung Women’s University, College of Pharmacy, Seoul, Republic of Korea. Mutation Research, 2011 Sep 18;724(1-2):64-8.Effects of chlorophyll and chlorophyllin on low-dose aflatoxin B(1) pharmacokinetics in human volunteers. Jubert, C., Mata, J., Bench, G., et al. Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, USA. Cancer Prevention Research , 2009 Dec;2(12):1015-22.The intestinal environment in health and disease – recent insights on the potential of intestinal bacteria to influence human health. Possemiers, S., Grootaert, C., Vermeiren, J., et al. Laboratory of Microbial Ecology and Technology, Ghent University, Belgium. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 2009;15(18):2051-65.. But while some studies do suggest chlorophyll can have certain desirable health benefits, more research is needed to confirm the range of its benefits. Looking for more reasons to down the green stuff? Other research indicates that wheatgrass juice can even reduce cholesterol and possibly lessen the effects of plaque buildup in the arteries (a.k.a. arteriosclerosis) (at least in rats!)Effect of fresh Triticum aestivum grass juice on lipid profile of normal rats. Kothari, S., Jain, A.K., Mehta, S.C., et al. Department of Pharmacology, Gajara Raja Medical College, Gwalior, India. Indian Journal of Pharmacology, 2008 Oct;40(5):235-6.. Additional claims surrounding wheatgrass include having positive effects on cancer, anemia, diabetes, and skin conditionsWheat grass juice may improve hematological toxicity related to chemotherapy in breast cancer patients: a pilot study. Bar-Sela, G., Tsalic, M., Fried, G., et al. Division of Oncology, Rambam Medical Center and Faculty of Medicine, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Israel. Nutrition and Cancer, 2007;58(1):43-8.. And while wheatgrass provides high levels of concentrated nutrients, further research is needed to back up such health claims.

Grass Guzzling — Your Action Plan

Wheatgrass juice can be found at most juice bars and smoothie joints, but it’s also available in pill or powder form at many health food stores. There is also the DIY option to plant and sprout the seeds and juice them at home (don’t worry; growing this type of grass is legal). The seeds will sprout and be ready to consume within nine days, but to get the juice flowing, the right equipment (like a masticating juicer) is helpful. Because wheatgrass is usually grown in soil or water and consumed raw, it can be tainted with bacteria or mold, so it is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. And while side effects are not normally experienced, it has been known to cause headache and nausea in some. When wheatgrass is juiced, it will oxidize quickly, so gulp it up fast to get the most benefit. This is probably a good technique anyway, as to not prolong the grassy taste. If taste is a challenge, the pill or powder may be a little easier on the taste buds (and the wallet). Wheatgrass powder can be purchased in bulk, and the pills are often the cheapest and most convenient option. Try these tips to start incorporating wheatgrass into any diet today:

  • Enhance a smoothie with wheatgrass juice or powder.
  • Add wheatgrass powder to a protein shake.
  • Stir a spoonful of wheatgrass powder into oatmeal.
  • Mix wheatgrass juice or powder into vegetable soup.
  • Add a shot of wheatgrass juice to a bloody Mary.