The Confusing Case of Wheatgrass

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

December 26, 2012

  • If you don’t eat wheat, can you drink wheatgrass?
  • What makes wheatgrass so good
  • Eliminating a few wrinkles in your wheat-free diet

A reader recently wrote in asking how I could recommend eliminating wheat from your diet in one issue… and then recommend wheatgrass juice in another.

It’s a great question, and a very common point of confusion. So I thought I’d clear it up here.

If you have gluten allergies or wheat sensitivities, or have stopped eating wheat for health reasons, it’s an important distinction to know.

But even if wheat is not an issue for you, I want you to know more about wheatgrass. It delivers a concentrated form of nutrients, and is even used clinically in some cases. It’s worth adding to your health repertoire if you haven’t already.

Also, I’m hearing from more and more readers who are taking my advice to drop the wheat to heart – which is great. So I thought it was time to fill you in on a couple of wrinkles to expect as your body adjusts to life without wheat… and how you can make sure you are getting all the replacement nutrients you need.

Wheatgrass is the pre-grain young shoot of the wheat plant, triticum aestivum. So, technically, yes… it is wheat. But there are some important distinctions that place it on my recommended list.

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First, wheatgrass is the very first grass of the plant, before the stalks form a head with grain. This means there is no gluten in wheatgrass since the gluten is formed in the grain, not in the young grass.

Wheatgrass has even been approved as an ingredient in gluten-free foods, as long as it is used very early, before the grain sprouts.

Now, if you have wheat sensitivity, not celiac disease, (or in addition to it), then wheatgrass may still be a problem for you. The only way to know is to try it and find out.

And also, no matter what, you should only drink organically grown wheatgrass, which sidesteps the issues of GMO and pesticides – both of which are particularly bad in highly concentrated foods, like wheatgrass.

Now, the reason that I’m not willing to toss out wheatgrass along with wheat is because of the benefits of freshly-pressed wheatgrass juice – it’s a powerful form of concentrated nutrients easily absorbed, and virtually unmatched by other similar natural elixirs.

It delivers a highly concentrated dose of chlorophyll, vitamins A, C, and E, iron, calcium, magnesium, amino acids and digestive enzymes. While you can buy it in a powder, most health experts agree that freshly-pressed, very young wheatgrass has the most benefit to your body.

So many health claims have been made about wheatgrass that, finally, some decent studies began to emerge.

It turns out, wheatgrass even has some clinical uses, namely in breast cancer patients. There’s a life-threatening consequence of chemotherapy called myelotoxocity. Studies have shown that wheatgrass juice can reduce myelotoxocity without interfering with the chemotherapy treatment. Researchers are now looking for other uses for wheatgrass in cancer patients, given this success.

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Sufferers of ulcerative colitis have experienced relief in all four of the major symptom areas with wheatgrass juice – and people with digestive issues in general would be well-advised to make a shot a day of wheatgrass a part of their daily arsenal.

In fact, there is a laundry list of ailments and conditions that claim wheatgrass juice is a benefit, such as urinary tract infections, kidney stones, liver disorders, chronic skin problems, joint pain – to name a few. Considering the concentration of vitamins and minerals, it’s not hard to believe, even if science has been slow to deliver the proof.

Another factor distinguishing wheatgrass juice from processed wheat grain is wheat is acidic, while wheatgrass is alkalizing.

Between the nutrients that make it an antioxidant, and the pre-grain alkalizing effect that make it an anti-inflammatory, wheatgrass is beneficial in all the ways wheat is not.

A shot of wheatgrass a day is a good idea for anyone’s health. It isn’t the greatest tasting shot you’ll ever try, so you might want to toss it in with a smoothie that can mask the flavor. Also, the fresher the better – press and drink is really the best way. Wheatgrass juice isn’t something you can press ahead and store for later without losing a lot of the nutrients that make it so beneficial.

One last thing… also in response to numerous reader questions about eliminating wheat… what nutrients are lost when you stop eating wheat, and how can you replace them?

Avoid the lure of gluten-free foods, as enticing as they are! Treat them the way you would treat cake, cookies, and ice cream – reserve them as an occasional indulgence only.

They generally replace wheat flour with rice starch, tapioca starch, potato starch, and cornstarch – the few foods that increase blood sugar even higher than even the amylopectin A of wheat.

For example, two slices of whole wheat bread increases blood sugar to around 170 mg/dl. While two slices of gluten-free, multigrain bread will increase blood sugar typically to 180-190 mg/dl. So, you’re out of the fire and into the frying pan.

Try eliminating bread, rather than replacing it. Instead of a sandwich, try a “wrap” with large lettuce leaves or collard greens. If you want some crunch, try using jicama as a base for dips and spreads instead of a cracker.

Also, some people worry they aren’t getting enough nutrients when they eliminate wheat. And it is true, you’ll need to make the right nutritional replacements as well.

Getting enough fiber is a big concern. If you have eliminated wheat and notice you’re getting constipated more often, try increasing your fluid and fiber intake. First, be sure you are drinking enough water, especially if you drink caffeinated beverages since caffeine is a diuretic.

Second, take a look at what you are eating every day, and consider the fiber content – and look for ways to increase it.

This means eating plenty of vegetables every day. Artichokes, spinach, peas, broccoli and other cruciferous veggies are the highest in fiber. Also, fruits such apples, plums, and pears. And plenty of nuts – which you may have cut out of your diet during the “lowfat” craze, but need to be sure to add back in if you are off wheat.

And finally, “enriched” flour contains B-vitamins and iron. If you already take a good multivitamin, or other supplements that contain the B’s, you should be fine. And if you are eating red meat, or enough dark leafy greens, you should also be replacing iron adequately. But if you find yourself feeling sluggish, it worth pumping up the B’s and/or the iron to see if it makes a difference.

Cutting out wheat is a healthy direction, but only if the rest of your diet is just as healthy.

Bar-Sela G, et. al., Wheat grass juice may improve hematological toxicity related to chemotherapy in breast cancer patients: a pilot study. Nutr Cancer. 2007;58(1):43-8.

E. Ben-Arve, et al., Wheat grass juice in the treatment of active distal ulcerative colitis: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial, Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, April 2002: 37(4): 444-9.

S.D. Kulkami, et al., Evaluation of the antioxidant activity of wheat grass (Triticum aestivum L.) as a function of growth under different conditions, Phytotherapy Research, March 2006; 20(3): 218-27

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