Wheatgrass has been touted as a natural superfood by many brands and health food stores, such as Boost Juice Bars all the way through to Blackmores supplements.
It’s been claimed to be an energy booster, weight-loss aid, reliever of joint pain and, in some rare instances, even as a cure for cancer.
But the grass isn’t as green as some wheatgrass proponents would have you believe. In the October edition of New Zealand’s Taste magazine, the supposed health benefits of wheatgrass are under close examination.
In particular, health writer Shiree Schumacher reveals that some juice bars are misleading consumers with claims that don’t stack up against research.
“The major claim we found astounding is the one you see on signs outside some juice bars – they claim one 30ml shot of wheatgrass is nutritionally equivalent to 2kg of vegetables.
“It’s repeated on internet sites and a popular juice bar promotes its wheatgrass shots with this information – it’s simply not true and not by a long shot.
“If you’re relying on wheatgrass as your sole source of greens, it’s not only costing you money, you’re also selling yourself short in the nutrition department.”
The article also looks at the claim that the health benefits of wheatgrass are mainly due to it being 70 per cent chlorophyll, and traces the history of wheatgrass in an attempt to weed out the truth behind some nutritional claims.
“We found that clinical trials on wheatgrass are sparse at best, and yet you’ll see internet sites claiming it is ‘packed’ and ‘abundant’ with supposedly healthy attributes,” says Schumacher says.
“That’s not to say wheatgrass doesn’t contain some good things – the juice is known to have an array of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants for instance. But its nutritional profile is often lower than many common vegetables.”
The consumption of the green stuff begun in the Western world in the 1930s as a result of experiments conducted by agricultural chemist Charles F. Schnabel, who discovered that wheat and barley grasses reached their nutritional peak at or just prior to the commencement of the “jointing stage” – the point when the wheat begins to harden.
Schnabel made his conclusions about wheatgrass after feeding it to hens, which doubled their egg production when feed the supplement – but it still isn’t clear if this translates across to benefits in humans.
The majority of health claims have not been satisfactorily substantiated in the scientific literature, although there is some evidence in support of the beneficial effects of chlorophyll – which wheatgrass is rich in – for the human diet.
Some research exists that relates diets high in chlorophyll, present in higher concentrations in green leafy vegetables, to lower rates of colon cancer.