Have you ever been tempted to spend money on a hot health trend merely because it’s everywhere you look and everyone else seems to be jumping on the bandwagon? Yeah, that’s hype and the power of marketing.
The enthusiasm surrounding wheatgrass could be hype or it could be legitimate. It first became popular in the 1930s (and before that in ancient Egypt), so it’s not like it’s a new craze.
But whether or not you need to spend an additional $3 for a shot of it in your smoothie shouldn’t be based on how long it’s been around, how popular it is or how pretty it looks growing in the window of your juice bar.
It’s very likely wheatgrass could provide additional health benefits to your juice or smoothie—it’s loaded with valuable nutrients. But the evidence is lacking, so if you decide to jump on this bandwagon, make sure you do so fully informed about what wheatgrass can and can’t do.
Wheatgrass is a tender, bright green plant. You’ve likely seen it growing at your local juice bar or health food store.
You can buy it fresh in some specialty markets, dried and powdered online, as an addition to your smoothie or juice at a bar or grow it yourself.
There are many health benefits attributed to wheatgrass, largely because of its nutritional potency.
Wheatgrass contains very high levels of chlorophyll—the compound that gives plants their green color—but also contains vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Most of the research on the benefits of wheatgrass is limited in scope and quality.
Some studies suggest it could be beneficial in everything from diabetes management to lowering cholesterol.
Wheatgrass benefits have yet to be proven unique to this specific plant, and there’s a good chance you can get many of the same perks from other bright green vegetables.
Wheatgrass is a cereal grass like oat grass or barley grass. It’s the first thing that comes out of the ground when you grow common wheat. These tender, bright green blades are harvested when they’re just several inches high for use in dietary supplements and products.
You can buy wheatgrass online in dried and powdered, and capsule form. You can also buy it fresh at many health food stores or grow it yourself at home. Finally, you can find wheatgrass in just about any juice or smoothie shop, as it’s a top choice among “health nuts”.
Wheatgrass is packed full of nutrients, particularly considering people normally consume it in one-ounce shots, often added to their smoothie. Just how much of these nutrients are in a single shot depends on where you look.
Websites touting the “miracle benefits” of wheatgrass are far more likely to have higher numbers than others, and the USDA’s nutritional database does not include a complete entry for non-branded wheatgrass juice.
Further, the exact measurements of the contents of wheatgrass are dependent on how the plant is grown and when it is harvested.
What we do know, without a doubt, is wheatgrass contains vitamins such as vitamin E, C, A (beta carotene) and the harder-to-find B12. It contains minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc and potassium. It contains a lengthy list of phytochemicals and a solid amount of chlorophyll—the pigment that gives plants their green color.
It’s largely the antioxidants and chlorophyll in wheatgrass that are credited with its many reported benefits.
Here’s where things get tricky. The truth is, there’s nothing really definitive out there suggesting wheatgrass’ benefits.
While there are several studies on the various worthwhile benefits of wheatgrass, very few have actually been conducted on humans. Most of the research done on wheatgrass has been done in labs, with droppers and beakers, and no human ingestion.
Does this mean wheatgrass isn’t good for you? Not by far. However, it does suggest that some claims about its benefits are not wholly proven.
For example, chlorophyll that slows cancer cell growth in a test tube doesn’t necessarily mean wheatgrass, a potent source of chlorophyll, will cure cancer when taken in one ounce shots as part of a daily smoothie.
But many of these studies do point to the need for more research, as promising results in the lab could lead to promising results in humans.
That said, here are some things wheatgrass is alleged to treat:
Inflammation. Normally, inflammation is a healthy response to injury or illness. It helps the body heal. But when your body doesn’t get a break from this response, as in chronic inflammation, it can be damaging. Chronic inflammation is believed to contribute to numerous diseases including cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Two studies in particular suggest wheatgrass could be beneficial in fighting inflammation. However, neither were conducted on humans and both used only one component from the wheatgrass—chlorophyll.
Cancer. One of the loftiest claims about wheatgrass is that it can fight cancer. However, there are no studies that confirm it as a cancer fighting dietary inclusion.
Still, a few laboratory studies have shown a need for additional research. One, published in 2015, showed wheatgrass extract to inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells. Another study, from 2017, had similar results when wheatgrass extract slowed the growth of a certain type of oral cancer cell.
Diabetes. The primkary source of evidence when discussing wheatgrass and diabetes is a 2016 study performed on rats. According to the researchers, wheatgrass had hypoglycemic effects—increasing insulin and decreasing blood sugar levels, similar to the effects of drugs used to treat type 2 diabetes.
Digestive disorders. One of the more widely purported benefits of wheatgrass is its positive effects on digestion and digestive ailments, such as diarrhea. However, there is little to no evidence of these benefits.
It’s true, however, that fiber-rich plant foods can help regulate digestion, though this isn’t unique to wheatgrass.
One 2002 study looked specifically at the effects of wheatgrass on ulcerative colitis. It was a small study, with just 20 participants, but the researchers found improvements among those taking wheatgrass when compared with those who didn’t.
Cholesterol. Animal studies have suggested wheatgrass may be beneficial in lowering blood cholesterol levels. Both a 2010 study on rabbits and another 2011 study on rats had positive outcomes, though science has yet to recreate this in humans.
The potential benefits found in wheatgrass aren’t necessarily unique to wheatgrass. Other foods with similar nutritional makeups can provide many of the same potential benefits. Other plants rich in antioxidants and chlorophyll fit the bill. These may include:
Salad sprouts (alfalfa, broccoli, etc.)
Matcha (green tea powder)
Include these nutritionally potent greens in your smoothies and salads as often as possible, as they too are loaded with nutrients.
Wheatgrass is a tender young plant loaded with nutritional value. The presence of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and chlorophyll all make it a good addition to your diet. However, the full potential of wheatgrass is yet unknown—most of the existing research falls short of hard proof that it has groundbreaking health effects in humans. Still, like many other plants, wheatgrass can add value to a healthy diet and potentially help you maintain overall health and wellness.