Q. Is wheat grass as good for you as they say it is?
A. Wheat grass is sprouting up all over--as a "boost" at the neighborhood juice bar, performance enhancer at athletic events and even as the star ingredient of "the wheat grass diet," which promises an abundance of health benefits. But does this grass really deliver, or is it a simple case of the grass is greener?
BACK TO THE ROOTS
True to its name, wheat grass is the young grass grown from wheat seeds, harvested at the point considered by proponents to be the peak of chlorophyll, protein and vitamin concentrations. Wheat grass is used both as a vegetable and a supplement--it's sold (or grown at home) as fresh produce, fresh and frozen juice, tea and in tablet and powder forms.
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Its health benefits and curative powers were promoted in the 1940s by Ann Wigmore, a Lithuanian immigrant to Boston and holistic health practitioner. Wigmore believed humans could benefit by following the practice of dogs and cats by eating grass and regurgitating to feel better. She developed the wheatgrass diet, a program which, in addition to consuming wheat grass juice, avoids all meats, dairy products and cooked foods, and focuses on "live" foods such as sprouts, raw produce, nuts and seeds.
The diet and its many touted health and curative claims--detoxification of the body, controlling diabetes, prevention of bacterial infections, the common cold and fever; and protection against ailments like skin problems, gout and even cancer--took off and continues to be alive and well today.
WHEAT GRASS SCIENCE
There is no scientific evidence that indicates wheat grass or the wheat grass diet cures or prevents disease. In fact, Wigmore was sued in 1982 by the Massachusetts Attorney General for false claims that wheat grass eliminated the need for insulin in people with diabetes and again in 1988 for claiming it could help cure AIDS. Wigmore retracted both claims.
Indeed, only two trials have evaluated the health benefits of wheat grass. One small study with 21 participants published in a 2002 issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology showed positive results in ulcerative colitis symptoms. However, a 2006 study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine found no greater benefit than placebo in the treatment of plantar fasciitis, a painful foot condition.
Like other leafy greens, wheat grass does contain amino acids, vitamins such as vitamin C, minerals including iron and antioxidants, making it a potentially healthy addition to a balanced diet. While it's generally considered safe, some people have reported allergic reactions and side effects, such as nausea and headache. Because it's grown in soil or water and consumed raw, there is an increased risk of contamination with harmful bacteria and molds.
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(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.)