The debate around wheatgrass powder has raged ever since US chemist, Charles Schnabel, nicknamed ‘Mr Wheatgrass’, first began extolling its virtues back in the 1930’s. Since then much has been made about its exceptional nutritional profile and potential health benefits, and its popularity among health conscious consumers has continued to grow. In tandem, a number of scientific studies have investigated the claims surrounding this so-called ‘king of all grain foods’, with some thought-provoking results.
Wheatgrass powder – green gold
Sometimes referred to as ‘green gold’, wheatgrass powder belongs to that special category of superfood known as supergreens – nutrient-dense (super) foods that are immediately recognisable by their hallmark green colour and powerful flavour, such as leafy greens, kale, chard, arugula and broccoli, and supergreen supplements, spirulina, chlorella and barley grass powder. Supergreens are by default low in calories, rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants, and described by the Macmillan dictionary (an English dictionary for advanced learners) as a ‘food considered beneficial to health that may even help some medical conditions’. In fact, extensive research suggests that incorporating regular quantities of supergreens into our daily diet can help to reduce our risk of obesity, as well as a variety of modern diseases, including cancer and diabetes. Scientists at the University of Illinois for example, revealed that consuming broccoli and kale at least 3 times a week could help to combat cancer, whilst researchers in Saudi Arabia discovered that arugula may help to prevent stomach ulcers, and chard has been proven to control blood sugar levels in animals (and may therefore prove helpful for diabetics).
But let’s get back to wheatgrass powder…
What makes wheatgrass powder so special?
Wheatgrass powder is extracted from the fresh, green shoots of the Triticum aestivum – a common wheat plant, which has been cultivated for more than 5000 years and was treasured by early Mesopotamian civilizations and the ancient Egyptians, who considered its leafy blades both sacred and highly beneficial to their health and vitality. However, it wasn’t until Charles F. Schnabel first began publishing the merits of wheatgrass in the 1930’s, that the supergreen finally caught the attention of the Western world. His claims that just 100 grams of wheatgrass powder boasts the same nutritional value as 2.3 pounds of raw vegetables imply that wheatgrass powder is a complete food source that’s capable of sustaining life in a healthy way.
Hype aside, wheatgrass powder is certainly brimming with valuable nutrients, including:
- Protein – most wheatgrass powders are just shy of 25% protein, which is more than meat, fish and dairy products.
- Fibre – which provides much-needed roughage and that, according to the NHS, can help to improve digestive health and prevent heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and certain types of cancer.
- Chlorophyll – wheatgrass powder contains an impressive 70% of this green pigment that occurs naturally in algae and plants. State University professor, Kent Seymour, believes it is one of the best ways to obtain living chlorophyll.
- Vitamins – wheatgrass powder contains vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin C (respected UK nutritionist, Gillian McKeith, asserts that wheatgrass powder actually boasts seven times more vitamin C than orange juice), vitamin I and vitamin K – the ‘forgotten vitamin’ that is essential for blood clotting and needed to help build strong bones.
- Minerals – wheatgrass powder contains a high quantity of iron even for a supergreen (it contains five times more iron than broccoli), as well as generous amounts of calcium and potassium.
- Trace elements – wheatgrass powder contains a selection of important trace elements, namely zinc, magnesium and selenium.
- Antioxidants – such as super oxide dismutase – an enzyme that defends cells from exposure to oxygen and is believed to lessen the effects of radiation and slow down cellular aging.
- Beta-carotene – the orange pigment that is found in carrots and converted into vitamin A in the body.
Many maintain that wheatgrass powder is thus nutritionally complete and assert that just one small serving of wheatgrass powder can supply our recommended 5+ daily servings of vegetables.
Wheatgrass powder – health benefits
Others insist that there are many health benefits to be enjoyed from the addition of wheatgrass powder to our daily diet. Three of the most widely touted health benefits associated with wheatgrass powder are addressed below.
1) Wheatgrass powder and healthy blood
Wheatgrass powder is rich in chlorophyll, making it an extremely alkalising and detoxing superfood. It can therefore help to maintain a healthy pH balance, purify our blood and expel damaging toxins from the body. Its renowned ability to detox has actually been proven in animal studies, which demonstrate that wheatgrass consumption positively reduces the absorption of a number of extremely hazardous carcinogens, whilst simultaneously strengthening cells, detoxifying the liver and neutralising polluting elements within the blood. A study in 2004 on patients suffering from thalassemia (a group of inherited blood disorders where a haemoglobin abnormality results in anaemia), demonstrated that 50% of the participants required fewer blood transfusions when 100ml (3.5oz) of wheatgrass juice was taken daily for three years.
A preliminary study in a small number of Israeli women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer also showed some benefit in maintaining red blood cell production in those taking 60ml of wheatgrass juice daily.
Many alternative health practitioners, such as the Hippocrates Health Institute, also cite the benefits of wheatgrass powder for our red blood cell count. Chlorophyll and haemoglobin (a protein that carries oxygen around our body) are similar in structure and wheatgrass powder is thought capable of enhancing our haemoglobin production. Leading American naturopath, Bernard Jensen, claimed he was able to double the red blood cell count of his patients simply by having them soak in a chlorophyll bath.
Both the magnesium and fibre in wheatgrass powder have the potential to lower blood pressure too. Some 25 studies into the effects of dietary fibre on blood pressure concluded that a high-fibre diet was associated with a significant reduction in blood pressure levels among people with high blood pressure (hypertension). Scientific research published in the British Medical Journal revealed that patients undergoing long term diuretic treatment for arterial hypertension or congestive heart failure, who received a daily magnesium supplement for six months, saw a demonstrable decrease in both their systolic and diastolic blood pressures, and it is now widely acknowledged that consuming 350-500 mg of magnesium per day helps to lower blood pressure. And reduced blood pressure simultaneously lowers our risk of heart disease and stroke.
2) Wheatgrass powder and a strengthened immunity
Our immune system protects against infection and disease by counteracting and removing pathogens (including bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites and toxins), neutralising harmful substances in our environment, and eliminating cells that may have changed due to illnesses, such as cancer. The chlorophyll in wheatgrass powder helps to prevent the growth of bacteria – in fact the American Journal of Surgery (1940) positively recommends the use of chlorophyll for its powerful antiseptic effect that can help to counteract infections and heal wounds. A 2002 study on 21 patients with ulcerative colitis (inflammation of the colon) witnessed an improvement in symptoms (such as rectal bleeding) after a daily dose of 100ml of wheatgrass juice.
As already mentioned, the chlorophyll in wheatgrass powder also assists our body in the manufacture of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to every cell of our body. This increased oxygenation helps to protect against the effects of smog, carbon monoxide and other known environmental pollutants – the World Health Organisation estimates around 25 percent of all deaths in the developing world are attributable to environmental factors, and some researchers think that pollution is responsible for up to 40 percent of global deaths annually. It also reduces the absorption of a number of potentially hazardous carcinogens, ultimately protecting against diseases, such as anaemia, sickle cell anaemia, leukaemia, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, ulcers and arthritis. And Dr. Birscher, a research scientist, who dubbed chlorophyll ‘concentrated sun power’, argues that ‘chlorophyll increases the function of the heart, affects the vascular system, the intestines, the uterus, and the lungs.’
In addition wheatgrass powder contains Superoxide Dismutase (a copper-containing protein that is found in mature red blood cells) – SOD is an antioxidant known for its ability to lessen the effects of radiation and slow down cellular aging to prevent the development of fine lines, wrinkles and grey hair.
3) Wheatgrass powder and natural, sustainable weight loss
Wheatgrass powder is low in calories, contains zero fat, sugar or cholesterol, and is instead crammed with beneficial nutrients that help to reduce our food cravings. In particular it is a superb source of fibre – fibre cleanses our intestines, regulates bowel movements and leaves us feeling fuller for longer. Dietary fibre also slows down our body’s absorption of glucose, ensuring that excess glucose is burnt as fuel, instead of being stored as unsightly layers fat.
Discover the benefits of wheatgrass powder for yourself!
Of course the best way to discover whether any of the health benefits attributed to wheatgrass powder are true, is to try the supergreen supplement for yourself. Wheatgrass powder is extremely versatile, can be enjoyed on a regular basis and, as it’s entirely gluten-free, is also suitable for those with a gluten allergy. Try stirring wheatgrass powder directly into smoothies, shakes, juices and protein drinks, or mix into your favourite rawfood recipes for a welcome blast of nutrients and a wonderful rich green hue.