Ever wonder what's up with that little pile of grass sprouting on the back counter of your favorite smoothie place? Well, it's wheatgrass! And it has a surprisingly long history as an alternative health staple. But do you really need to be adding it to your drinks?
Whether wheatgrass is in the form of a liquified shot, a powder, or a pill, that green goop could definitely be a little off-putting. But, to be fair, wheatgrass isn't exactly a new smoothie ingredient. Supposedly, even the ancient Egyptians were into it.
More current theories about wheatgrass can be traced back to the work of chemist Charles Schnabel — a.k.a. "Mr. Wheatgrass." His research suggested that cattle and chickens showed an improvement in their overall health after eating a bit of dehydrated cereal grass along with their normal feed. He figured humans might show the same effects and started marketing a part of the wheatgrass plant as "the world's first multivitamin" in the early 1930s.
Since then, other (small and very preliminary) studies have suggested that wheatgrass might be beneficial for people dealing with thalassemia (a rare blood disorder) or ulcerative colitis (a form of irritable bowel disease). But, like every new age "cure-all," wheatgrass' supposed benefits are far-ranging. Seriously, some internet health gurus claim that it can help treat diabetes, anemia, and cancer, or that it can "alkalize" the body (spoiler: it can't).
Unfortunately, as Brent A. Bauer, MD, writes at the Mayo Clinic, there's really no conclusive evidence for any of those claims. "Wheatgrass isn't a miracle cure and shouldn't replace regular medical care or a healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables," Dr. Bauer writes.
However, we do know wheatgrass contains essential vitamins A, C, and E, as well as calcium, iron, and magnesium. Those are all things your body needs! So adding a little wheatgrass to your diet might be an easy way to get a bit more of those nutrients, especially if you're already a regular smoothie drinker. But you definitely can't rely on it for that — according to Alison Hornby, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, you can't count your wheatgrass shot as one of your daily five servings of fruits and veggies.
On top of that, Dr. Bauer says wheatgrass might cause constipation or nausea. If you're already a fan and it doesn't make you feel gross, though, feel free to continue drinking the stuff (it's definitely an acquired taste).
However, if you're allergic to grass or wheat, or if you have celiac disease, you should steer clear until your doctor gives you the okay. And, because there's a slight chance fresh wheatgrass could be contaminated with mold or bacteria, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also avoid it. Everyone else — feel free to give this green goop a try.