|Wheatgrass juice being made. Credit: Wikipedia. |
Image available via Creative Commons license.
Proponents of wheatgrass juice basically think it's a nutritional panacea. But a lot of the health claims (i.e. it contains lots of vitamin B12, which is an important vitamin that is found in meat and so vegans don't usually get enough) are dubious (i.e. turns out the B12 content is negligible). There's not a lot of scientific literature on the effects of wheatgrass (PubMed lists only 2 random controlled trials involving wheatgrass, for instance). But most evidence seems to suggest that wheatgrass is no better or worse than any green vegetable. It's just trendier.
Lack of evidence doesn't stop the marketing people. One of my favorite wheatgrass companies is Pure Intentions, who not only sell the stuff to local smoothie shops but also operate a School of Energy (a "diverse spectrum of holistic and energetic facilitators and teachers for all ages and levels"). Their website contains all sorts of cringe-worthy pseudoscience/bad-science goodies.
Let's take a look at what Pure Intentions says about their product (red comments are mine)
"What is Wheatgrass?Here is where it gets good:
Wheatgrass is the young grass of wheat grown from the red winter wheatberry seed. The fresh-squeezed juice of the grass produces high concentrations of chlorophyll, active enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. It is true that 1oz. of wheatgrass juice has the nutritional equivalent of 2-1/2 lbs. of green, leafy vegetables. [no--it doesn't--Dole, for instance, points out that spinach is much richer in nutrients. and pressing it into juice to concentrate it is kind of cheating] It is one of the richest natural sources of vitamins A, B complex, B-17, C, E, & K. Additionally, it is an excellent source of calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, sulfur, cobalt, zinc, as well as 17 forms of amino acids and enzymes." [apparently 'excellent source' doesn't mean much, since it's got 1% DV of calcium/magnesium/phosphorus but 413% DV zinc]
"Why is Chlorophyll important? [why did you capitalize it? why?]What?
Chlorophyll, which makes up over 70% of the solid content of wheatgrass juice, is the basis of all plant life and closely resembles the molecular structure of human red blood cells. [...] Chlorophyll is the first product of light, containing more light energy than any other element. [make it stop. make it stop.] It can be extracted from any plant, but wheatgrass is superior because it has been found to have over 100 elements needed by the human body." [it has over 100 elements? I'm pretty sure you're obligated to include thallium and lead and stuff by that point...]
|Chlorophyll A and human red blood cells |
displaying remarkable structural similarity.
Credit: RBC Image is in the public domain.
And as depicted in the figure to the left, they're correct. Chlorophyll certainly does resemble human erythrocytes.
My favorite jam-packed sentence: "Chlorophylll is the first product of light, containing more light energy than any other element." Digest that one for a second. Pretty high cringe efficiency. Personally, I've never noticed the "element" chlorophyll on the periodic table, but then again--I'm an organic chemist, so if it's in the transition metals or lanthanides, I probably ignored it. And what is "light energy"? Photons? It has photons? In... a bucket? Where does it keep the photons? It's remarkable that chlorophyll is the "first product of light"; turning all those photons into carbon and nitrogen must be hard work.
Chlorophyll is important, of course, in the process of photosynthesis (which is a pretty cool process). It's what the authors are trying to hint at, though even if you fix the inaccuracies photosynthesis is irrelevant to human nutrition. We can't digest chlorophyll. So regardless what nice things you might say about it, it's useless as a supplement.
The website also proclaims the abundance of enzymes in wheatgrass:
"Enzymes play an important role in many bodily functions including vision, thought, reproduction, breathing, and digestion, just to mention a few. The enzymes found in wheatgrass have been found to supplement the indigenous enzymes manufactured in the human body."
|This leaf also contains chlorophyll, and for $200 you can|
probably make it into a trendy organic drink.
Source: my own work. I totally found that leaf.
I encourage you to read the rest of what they say; there's more delightful puzzles in there. The growers make a bunch of health claims, tell you that wheatgrass is so potent it'll give you nausea, and advise you to cleanse your palate with a lemon afterwards (maybe because grass is disgusting).
|$3 worth of wheatgrass. Source:|
Pure Intentions website
Wheatgrass juice is an example of one of those areas where anecdotes carry more emotional weight than conventional medicine. This phenomenon has been written about before (see Denialism by Michael Specter for a good read in this area). It's interesting, and something we have to be aware of as scientists. As pitifully adorable as the glaring pseudoscience above is, it's actually effective in reaching people. We might have science on our side, but they have marketing.
Added note: check out their recently added "cat grass" (vets seem to support this) and "floral grass." I especially like the tagline: "Creat your own reality!"
|Creat your own reality! Source: Pure Intentions website.|