When it comes to a healthy lifestyle, green eating equals clean eating.
It may be awkward to start your day with a good dose of leafy greens (though not in European countries where salad is a staple at breakfast), yet adding a handful to smoothies and juices or drinking “shots” of wheatgrass is a vital way to keep your body in great shape.
In particular, superfoods like wheatgrass can be a complete game changer when it comes to health. While you should still focus on eating five to nine servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day, supplementing with this important plant can strengthen any diet and lead to feelings of overall wellness.
In recent years, wheatgrass has become a popular addition at many natural food stores and smoothie shops (see Jamba Juice), which frequently offer shots of the rich, green juice. It’s also a plant that you can actually grow yourself, or you can take an easier approach by purchasing a freeze-dried powder or convenient tablets that work just as well in imparting benefits. In any case, make no mistake—this grass isn’t just clippings from the yard!
Wheatgrass is naturally grown from the young shoots of the wheat plant; when juiced, it’s a powerful liquid nutrient. It became quite popular in the ‘70s when it was commonly used as a wholesome dietary supplement and potent medical elixir. Many proponents have claimed that just two ounces of it is the same as eating five pounds of raw organic vegetables. While it’s not a total replacement for healthy produce, wheatgrass has a number of essential vitamins and minerals and is a complete source of protein that has many potential benefits when consumed regularly.
Wheatgrass may not be able to replace all the greens on your dinner plate, but it has proven to be an excellent supplement for an extra boost of nutrients. These little blades of grass are packed with good-for-you compounds including iron, calcium, magnesium, amino acids, vitamins A, C, and E, and chlorophyll, all with their own positive effects.
More than half the body’s iron stores are manifested in the form of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. Without enough of it, an iron deficiency can produce feelings of lethargy and malaise simply because the body is not getting enough oxygen. Luckily, upping iron intake will promote blood health and, in turn, increase energy levels.
Remember those “Got Milk?” commercials? Calcium really got a reputation for helping to build and maintain strong bones (and rightfully so), but the mineral also does so much more for the body—and, milk isn’t the only great source of it! Calcium is just as vital for the heart, muscles, and nervous system, and it also helps in maintaining a healthy weight. In optimal concentrations, it keeps blood vessels healthy and flexible, which encourages muscle function and balances hormones. And if that weren’t enough, calcium does just as much wonder for preventing colon cancer, premenstrual depression, and kidney stones.
Every single cell in the human body has some amount of magnesium in it, proving why this mineral is quite the powerhouse. It’s mostly known for having anti-inflammatory properties, which goes beyond simply lessening the swelling that occurs after an injury. Sometimes due to stress, environmental toxins, or chronic diseases, the body experiences prolonged inflammation which can then lead to acne, weight gain, joint pain, or mood swings—and if it goes untreated it can lead to more serious health issues like arthritis and diabetes. Magnesium, however, lessens these problems, leaving your body healthier and at a much lower risk for complications. Additionally, it aids in the biochemical reactions performed by enzymes, which provides more energy for the body.
Amino acids are considered the building blocks of protein, which makes up almost every part of the human body. Protein is in the hair, nails, muscles, and tissues (as well as many other parts), so amino acids are an important part of maintaining health.
There are a total of 20 amino acids, but the body can only produce 10 of them; the other half must be consumed from food sources. Additionally, because protein isn’t stored in the body, it must be consumed on a daily basis to keep the body fueled and functioning. Wheatgrass supplies all 20 of the amino acids in a single serving.
Vitamin A helps with a number of important systems, including immune function, cell communication, reproduction, and eye health. Most importantly, it supports the normal functioning of membranes around the eye and cornea, and contributes more to good vision than any other vitamin (hence why vitamin A-rich carrots are equated to seeing power). It’s also vital for the growth and regeneration of heart, lung, kidney, and skin cells.
You might also recognize the use of vitamin A in beauty treatments. Since it’s important for cell turnover, without enough of it, your skin can become scaly and rough; a deficiency will sometimes be apparent by dry, raised bumps on the skin.
Because vitamin C grows and repairs tissues and helps to create collagen, it’s a vital nutrient that bodies need in order to repair themselves. However, this facet goes beyond people undergoing surgery or healing from injuries; collagen actually improves the texture, tone, and appearance of skin as we age (a time when less of it is produced naturally). Vitamin C has also been proven to help prevent heart disease by decreasing triglycerides and the amount of bad LDL cholesterol in the blood.
This vitamin functions primarily as an antioxidant, protecting the body’s cells against serious damage from free radicals. Every day, we are exposed to a certain level of damage simply because of oxygen. While we require oxygen to live, anything that gets exposed to it then oxidizes and can begin to destroy sensitive membranes. Antioxidants can help to prevent this process, therefore staving off illness and the risk for chronic disease. In the same way, antioxidants also lead to healthy, glowing skin. Vitamin E is also important in the production of red blood cells, which help the body absorb and distribute nutrients.
Yes, the same chlorophyll you learned about in elementary school is also found in wheatgrass (it is a plant after all). In humans, consuming chlorophyll can help maintain normal blood clotting and aid in wound healing, hormonal balance, and deodorizing the body. It works wonders for digestive health, too, by alleviating constipation and gas. It also replenishes red blood cells and may relieve the effects of inflammatory conditions like arthritis or fibromyalgia.
In addition to all these great benefits, wheatgrass has also been seen as an effective way to detoxify the liver and blood. It carries superoxide disumates that decrease the effects of environmental pollution and radiation that could otherwise be stored in tissues and organs. As well, some preliminary studies have indicated that wheatgrass can help relieve inflammation in patients with ulcerative colitis and might be able to improve the condition of people who suffer from blood disorders. These findings are still undergoing further research.
Before you head out and load up on this superfood, know this one big caveat—wheatgrass might not be suitable for anyone that is gluten-free or allergic. Before adding it into your diet, check with a doctor if you’re worried about it triggering your seasonal allergies, if you’re gluten intolerant or if you have have Celiac disease. The young shoots of the wheat plant may cause a reaction in those that are sensitive to wheat. Additionally, pregnant women should completely avoid raw wheatgrass, since it is at a higher risk for soil and mold contamination.
Otherwise, wheatgrass is generally fair game and a surefire way to give your health an extra boost.
The most convenient way to get a daily dose of wheatgrass is in powder or tablet form. Freshly-juiced wheatgrass is also a great idea, but do know it’s relatively bitter and harsh to drink—which is exactly why people pound it in “shots.” Sneaking it into a morning smoothie or fresh juice with other, more tasty produce, is another option that makes wheatgrass more palatable.
If you’re interested in adding wheatgrass to your diet, start out slowly. For those just getting started, consuming about one ounce of the juice is sufficient; as you get more comfortable, you can consume up to four ounces. Here are some ways to get a regular fill of this important plant:
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