By Dr. Mercola
If you want to improve your nutrition and are itching to grow your own food, sprouts are an ideal choice.
Virtually all sprouted seeds and grains fall in the "superfood" category, and they're really easy to grow, even if you don't have a lot of space or an outdoor garden. But what about green grasses like wheatgrass?
Wheatgrass is grown from wheat seeds, and contains high amounts of chlorophyll. Most people juice it, but wheat grass is also available in supplement form.
My main objection to wheatgrass is I believe vegetable sprouts like sunflower, broccoli, and pea sprouts are far more beneficial as a food if you want to improve your nutrition. If you're going to grow sprouts, I wouldn't put wheatgrass at the top of the list.
As reported in the featured article by the Chicago Tribune:1
"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."
Potential Benefits of Wheatgrass
As you can see, Wigmore's inspiration for eating wheatgrass is not really based on its nutritional content but rather the idea that humans might benefit in the same manner as some animals which, upon eating grass, vomit and thereby feel better.
Many alternative health practitioners believe in wheatgrass as being highly beneficial. The Hippocrates Health Institute,2 for example, has a long list of purported benefits of wheatgrass, including the following (for the full list, please see the HHI web site):
- Increases red blood-cell count; cleanses the blood, organs and gastrointestinal tract; simulates metabolism
- Stimulates your thyroid gland
- Reduces over-acidity in your blood and relieve peptic ulcers, ulcerative colitis, constipation, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal complaints
- Detoxifies your liver and blood and chemically neutralizes environmental pollutants
- Its high chlorophyll content may help oxygenate your blood. Keeping a tray of live wheatgrass near your bed may also enhance the oxygen in the air and generate healthful negative ions to help improve your sleep
- May help reduce damaging effects of radiation, courtesy of the enzyme SOD—an anti-inflammatory compound
They also claim there are a number of health benefits you can reap simply from topical exposure, such as rubbing some juice onto your skin or adding wheatgrass to your bath.
"[Wheatgrass] can double your red blood cell count just by soaking in it. Renowned nutritionist Dr. Bernard Jensen found that no other blood builders are superior to green juices and wheatgrass. In his book 'Health Magic Through Chlorophyll'
He mentions several cases where he was able to double the red blood cell count in a matter of days merely by having patients soak in a chlorophyll-water bath. Blood building results occur even more rapidly when patients drink green juices and wheatgrass regularly."
Others, like Mother Nature Network,3 point out that there are no medical studies to support Dr. Jensen's findings. According to Dr. Chris Reynolds,4 who goes by the moniker "Dr. Wheatgrass," the benefits of wheatgrass are primarily biological, not nutritional.
"Reynolds argues that there is plenty of evidence to support wheatgrass extract's role in supporting biological functions, including one preliminary study in the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research,5 which suggests that fermented wheatgrass extract 'exerts significant antitumor activity.'
The study concludes that the extract requires further evaluation as a candidate for clinical combination drug regimens," Mother Nature Network writes.
Important Details to Know BEFORE You Use Wheat Grass
Wheatgrass contains large amounts of chlorophyll, and is thought to have a wide variety of health promoting properties; however these benefits are largely related to the quality of how it is grown. Like any food or supplement, quality is highly variable and if you chose to use it, this is important to pay attention to. It is far less expensive to grow your own, but more importantly you can typically grow a much higher quality grass.
Harvest time is crucial and that is typically around one week after you germinate the seeds at what is called the "jointing stage." Some stores that sell wheat grass will harvest it once and then let it grow again for a second harvest Some also sell frozen wheat grass but this is far less effective than freshly harvested wheat grass.
Most wheat grass tastes very bitter Many believe that they need to grow it in direct sunlight but this actually contributes to the bitterness. Expose the grass only to indirect sunlight, and harvest it right at the jointing stage when it is at its sweetest.
One of the complications of growing wheat grass is that it is very easy to be contaminated with mold due to it's tightly bound roots in moist soil. If this occurs, the mold can make you sick. Mold typically grows at the bottom of the wheat grass near the soil. Keeping a gentle breeze blowing, keeping the humidity low, and reducing the quantity of seed so the growth is less dense are three approaches to help limit this.
If you decide to use wheat grass you need to be very careful though, as excessive amounts of wheat grass can cause you to become very nauseous and catalyze a healing crisis that could make you very sick. It is also not a food but a detoxifying herb and should not be consumed every day for long periods of time.
It is not uncommon for people who drink wheatgrass juice daily for several months or years to develop an aversion to the taste, or even become nauseated by it. Since it is such a highly detoxifying medicinal herb that can cause cleanse or "Herxheimer" reactions, it's a good idea to use wheatgrass juice judiciously. When first starting wheatgrass you should only use one ounce once or twice a day, gradually working up to two ounces.
The Benefits of Raw Juice
While I'm not convinced that wheatgrass is an ideal choice as a food, there's no doubt that sprouts and green juice play a significant role in optimal nutrition. At the end of this article, I'll review growing your own sprouts, but first, let's look at juicing.
Virtually every health authority recommends that we get 6-8 servings of vegetables and fruits per day and very few of us actually get that. Juicing is an easy way to virtually guarantee that you will reach your daily target for vegetables. There are three main reasons why you will want to consider incorporating vegetable juicing into your optimal health program:
- Juicing helps you absorb all the nutrients from the vegetables. This is important because most of us have impaired digestion as a result of making less-than-optimal food choices over many years. This limits your body's ability to absorb all the nutrients from the vegetables. Juicing will help to "pre-digest" them for you, so you will receive most of the nutrition, rather than having it go down the toilet.
- Juicing allows you to consume a healthier amount of vegetables in an efficient manner. If you are a carb type, you should eat one pound of raw vegetables per 50 pounds of body weight per day. Some people may find eating that many vegetables difficult, but it can be easily accomplished with a quick glass of vegetable juice.
- You can add a wider variety of vegetables in your diet. Many people eat the same vegetable salads every day. This violates the principle of regular food rotation and increases your chance of developing an allergy to a certain food. But with juicing, you can juice a wide variety of vegetables that you may not normally enjoy eating whole.
Drinking your juice first thing in the morning can give you a natural energy boost without resorting to stimulants like coffee. Since the juice is already in an easily digestible form, it can help revitalize your energy levels within as little as 20 minutes. For more information about juicing, including detailed recommendations for the types of vegetables to use; different types of juicers, and other helpful tips, please see my three-part interview with Cherie Calbom, better known as The Juice Lady (Part 1, part 2, and part 3). Below, I give a quick overview of juicing, and how to find a juicer that doesn't cost a fortune.
Sprouts—A DIY Superfood
Wheatgrass is not to be viewed as a food; it is a potent healing agent if used carefully and cautiously. There are other sprouts that fill the role of food very well. Sprouts are important to optimize your health, as they are an oft-ignored powerhouse of nutrition. They can contain up to 30 times the nutrition of organic vegetables grown in your own garden, and allow your body to extract more vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fats from the foods you eat.
During sprouting, minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, bind to protein, making them more bioavailable. Furthermore, both the quality of the protein and the fiber content of beans, nuts, seeds and grains improves when sprouted. The content of vitamins and essential fatty acids also increase dramatically during the sprouting process. While you can sprout a variety of different beans, nuts, seeds and grains, sprouts in general have the following beneficial attributes:
- Support for cell regeneration
- Powerful sources of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and enzymes that protect against free radical damage
- Alkalinizing effect on your body, which is thought to protect against disease, including cancer (as many tumors are acidic)
- Abundantly rich in oxygen, which can also help protect against abnormal cell growth, viruses and bacteria that cannot survive in an oxygen-rich environment
My two favorites are pea and sunflower sprouts. They provide some of the highest quality protein you can eat. Sprouted sunflower seeds also contain plenty of iron and chlorophyll, the latter of which will help detoxify your blood and liver. Of the seeds, sunflower seeds are among the best in terms of overall nutritional value, and sprouting them will augment their nutrient content by as much as 300 to 1,200 percent! Similarly, sprouting peas will improve the bioavailability of zinc and magnesium.
Planting and Harvesting Sprouts at Home
I used to grow sprouts in Ball jars over 10 years ago but stopped doing that. I am strongly convinced that actually growing them in soil is far easier and produces far more nutritious and abundant food. It is also less time consuming. With Ball jars you need to rinse them several times a day to prevent mold growth. Trays also take up less space. I am now consuming one whole tray you see below every 2-3 days and to produce that much food with Ball jars I would need dozens of jars.
I am in the process of compiling more specific detailed videos for future articles but I thought I would whet your appetite and give you a preview with the photos below. For now you can get instructions on how to grow them by viewing a step-by-step guide at rawfoods-livingfoods.com.6 One of the important details that many fail to do is to cover the sprouting tray with a cover that not only puts the sprouts in darkness but has a heavy weight on it. The weight is necessary to produce a high quality sprout. It needs the exercise to simulate breaking through the soil.
About to plant wheat grass and sunflower seeds - 2 days after soaking
Wheat grass and sunflower seeds – 3 ½ days post germination
Sunflower seeds and pea sprouts – 3 days until ready for harvest
Sunflower seed sprouts and wheat grass - ready to harvest
Sprouts are a perfect complement to fermented vegetables. My current salad consists of about half a pound of sunflower sprouts, four ounces of fermented vegetables, half a large red pepper, several tablespoon of raw organic butter, some red onion, a whole avocado and about three ounces of salmon or chicken. It is my primary meal. In the late afternoon, I typically only have macadamia nuts and home made coconut candy in addition to drinking 16-32 ounces of green vegetable juice. I break it up occasionally by going to a restaurant with friends.