fresh wheatgrass

Is Wheatgrass Gluten Free? Maybe Not

[toc]Given the name of what’s in that green shot glass, many celiac and wheat allergy sufferers will shout “no way” to drinking it.

But the more educated ones will oblige to that shot, saying “no worries, wheatgrass has no gluten.”

It turns out those more educated folks may need some additional training. Perhaps they should have stuck with their gut reaction to the drink, before they learned it was supposedly safe.

Contrary to what you may have heard, it actually is possible that wheatgrass juice and barley grass powder can contain that protein which creates side effects for so many people. If you are celiac or have a gluten sensitivity, make sure you only buy certified GF wheat grass.

The fine line

shot of wheatgrass juiceWheat, rye, barley, and a few uncommon grains like triticale make this type of protein known as gluten. It’s not in the entire plant, only in the grain kernels.

That grain is what we use to make flour, and hence, why breads and baked goods might be your worst enemy. In theory though, a celiac could go munch on a stalk of barley without an allergic reaction, since it’s totally separate from the grain.

But notice we said in theory.

There is a very real risk of ingesting gluten when drinking barley grass juice, which is made from that young stalk. Likewise for the grass of wheat, too.

When it comes to foods, everyone knows about possibility of contamination from a shared kitchen or manufacturing facility. Yes, you still have that risk with these juices, but there are other risks which many people are completely oblivious of.

Not even the farmer who grows the grass, or the organic juicery that charges you $5 a shot, is necessarily thinking about these…

3 very real dangers

1. Rogue seeds

Do any gardening? Even if you don’t – or only have once in your life – you know that not all seeds germinate. A gardener is fully aware of that, which is why you always plant more seeds than you need.

Even with GMO frankenseeds, you’re lucky to get an 80% success rate. If you’re using organic red spring wheat seeds, the rate may even be lower. Red winter wheat is a popular variety and with that, the 80% figure is a good estimate and that’s assuming a conventional source (1).

That means 1 out of 5 seeds may remain in the soil and those will contain gluten.

Now think about this for a second. Celiacs freak out (and rightfully so) if their crackers were made in a shared factory. Or if their oatmeal was grown in a field which was next to a non-GF grain. Even though it might be hundreds of yards away, they still won’t eat it.

Yet with wheatgrass juice, when it’s cut, it might literally be 1 inch away from ungerminated seeds in the soil.

Doesn’t that seem a little too close for comfort?

wheatgrass plants for sale at grocery store

Even in that little tray on the juice shop’s counter, there may be hundreds of gluten-rich seeds sitting in that soil.

All it would take is one seed to wreck havoc for many people who have extreme bouts of this autoimmune disease.

Just one seed present in your juice shot would exceed the FDA limit – exponentially – which mandates under 20 ppm (parts per million) for something to be advertised or marked as gluten free (2). One seed may not cause serious side effects for most, for some it can.

If you make wheatgrass juice at home, you probably will be extra cognizant in your rinsing, to ensure there are no rogue seeds mixed in with the grass. But even the best of us are prone to making errors.

Though certainly you will do a better job than the juicery. When was the last time you saw a restaurant worker thoroughly wash their hands “for at least 20 seconds” like they’re supposed to? (3)

Often times it’s a 3 second splash, followed by them touching their bacteria-ridden iPhone a minute later.

So much for cleanliness.

If you can’t even trust them to wash their own hands as they should, are you really willing to trust them with your life… that they harvested the wheatgrass safely, rinsed it thoroughly, and then inspected it carefully to make sure there were no rogue seeds from the soil which were stuck to the grass?

2. Cutting the grass too late

anthesis growth stage of wheat grainOne of the final growth stages of the plant is anthesis (flowering). After the wheat has reached this phase, it contains gluten.

How tall should wheatgrass be before juicing?

When it is 6 inches, it is ready to cut. This is an ideal time when it will be most nutritious. As it grows beyond that height, it turns into a normal wheat plant, which is comprised more of a fibrous stalk versus a nutrient-dense sprouted seedling. Plus, the taste becomes more bitter the taller it gets.

The general consensus says there is no gluten in any part of the plant aside from the seed and the flowering buds which contain them. However for that in-between phase – the anthesis stage when the bud begins forming – the answer is murky as to when exactly the gluten becomes present in that part of the plant.

Vikki Petersen is a certified clinical nutritionist and author of the well-reviewed book, The Gluten Effect. Is wheatgrass safe for celiacs? This was her opinion on the matter:

“The answer is possibly. So what I mean by that is that when you sprout a grain, and the grass starts to grow from that sprouted grain, the protein, the gluten, does not develop until the grass is about 2 weeks old. Somewhere between 10 days, 2 weeks old. That’s when that grass will start to have protein in it. Initially it does not.”

A time of 10-14 days is before the anthesis stage. Even that early on, not everyone agrees that it’s safe to eat or drink.

How tall does wheatgrass grow?

Most of the modern varieties of wheat don’t grow very tall, only around 2 feet. The height of barley grass is about the same.

Granted, you would have to be a really incompetent juicer to allow your fresh plants to grow that high before harvesting. But aside from death and taxes, stupid people are also a certainty in life.

Upon calling up a popular juicery in LA that sells acai bowls, we asked the girl who answered the phone if their acai base had any added sweetener.

Superfoodly: Is the acai you use sweetened?
Juice shop: Nope, it’s organic with no artificial flavors or preservatives.
Do you use juice, powder, or frozen pulp for it?
Is the brand Sambazon?
Is it an all-purple bottle?
Yep that’s it.
Then it has about 30 grams of added sugar per serving.
No it’s sugar free.
Really? Can you please read me the ingredients then?
Organic acai juice, evaporated cane juice, organic tapioca syrup…
Um, yeah… evaporated cane juice is the same thing as cane sugar.
No it’s sugar free. It’s a juice. And it’s organic.

Yes, that might be how dumb the person is who makes your wheatgrass shot!

glass bottle of cold pressed green juiceAt least with that particular issue, in order to help idiot-proof things, the FDA has cracked down on the food industry using the term “evaporated cane juice” because it’s really the same as plain ol’ cane sugar (4).

Even if you didn’t know that though, common sense tells you that if the water was evaporated from the sugar cane liquid, then obviously all you are left with is the sugar!

Hopefully the juicery you go to isn’t that stupid and you can see what they’re harvesting to be sure.

But what if you can’t?

If they’re dumb enough to tell a type 1 diabetic that evaporated cane juice is sugar free, then you really can’t expect them to be any wiser when it comes to gluten in wheatgrass that has started to have flowering shafts on it.

For the majority of people – even idiots – a two foot height would obviously be too tall. However, the anthesis stage can occur before that.

3. Cutting the grass too early

Remember the seed that wheatgrass grows from definitely contains gluten.

The amino acids (proteins) in a seed are what fuels the initial growth of the plant. The theory is that by the time barley grass or another gluten grain is cut for juicing, all of those original amino acids in the seed have been spent and used for growth.

But at exactly what point in time does the sprouted grain finish using up the original amino acids from the seed?

Unfortunately, the answer is not black and white.

This is a question that only gluten free folks care about, not farmers. For that reason, it doesn’t appear to be anything researchers are really looking at.

Almost any legit medical research can be found in the PubMed database. A search for the words wheatgrass gluten only yields 19 results.

wheatgrass gluten results on PubMed

Within those 19 pieces of medical research, none appear to address this question.

Without being able to know 100% for sure when all of the original amino acids are used up, it seems reasonable to ask if it’s possible to cut the grass too early. Is any of it left when the plant is only 1 or 2 inches tall?

Is wheatgrass good for you?

spoonful of wheatgrass powderIf you are Celiac, have a wheat allergy, or are gluten intolerant, the answer as to whether it’s good for you will be dependent on the circumstances.

Whether it’s sprouted barley, or something noncontroversial and safe like broccoli sprouts, any young plant such as these will be packed full of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. So yes, they are definitely good for you if you don’t have any relevant food allergies.

However if you do, then the only way to guarantee they are healthy for you is to buy those which are certified gluten free.

With fresh wheatgrass, no one will be able to guarantee it is 100% gluten free. Why? Because they would need to harvest and test the batch in order to certify it. That’s FDA guidelines. When you order your freshly cut and squeezed shot at the juicery, obviously they can’t do that!

With dried powders, you can find them certified.

Are most brands certified? Nope. Is pines wheatgrass gluten free? Yep, it’s one of the very few companies which has every batch tested, for both their tablets and freeze dried powders. It’s also raw, non GMO, and USDA certified organic. Wheat, barley, and alfalfa is what Pines specializes in and they’ve been doing it for 40 years now.

Your local mom ‘n pop juicery may not be as forthright in disclosing potential risks of gluten, but the big name bottled beverage companies have definitely wised up to it.

Is Bolthouse Farms Green Goodness gluten free? Here’s what you will find inside…

Ingredients: Pineapple Juice From Concentrate (Water, Pineapple Juice Concentrate), Apple Juice From Concentrate (Water, Apple Juice Concentrate), Mango Puree From Concentrate (Water, Mango Puree Concentrate), Banana Puree, Cucumber Juice From Concentrate (Water, Cucumber Juice Concentrate), Kiwi Puree, Natural Flavor, Spirulina, Green Tea, Spinach, Broccoli, Barley Grass, Wheatgrass, Garlic, Jerusalem Artichoke, Nova Scotia Dulse.

As you see, it doesn’t intentionally contain any grain-based seed or flour, but it does have wheatgrass and barley grass. So is it safe or not?

It doesn’t meet the requirements! According to the FAQ on Bolthouse Farm’s website, they say this about the Green Goodness drinks:

“With the exception of the Green Goodness, Daily Greens, Peach Parfait Breakfast Smoothie and the Strawberry Parfait Breakfast Smoothie, which contain whole grains, all other beverages are gluten-free per FDA guidelines.”

Remember the FDA limit is 20 parts per million. Apparently the Daily Greens and Green Goodness doesn’t fall within that threshold.

As to why Bolthouse Farms Peach Parfait Breakfast Smoothie is not gluten free, that’s obvious – it says right on the bottle it “contains: soy, milk, and wheat.”

When it comes to gluten in wheatgrass powder or barley grass powder, the only way to be 100% confident is to buy those which are tested and certified as being so. Pines is the oldest and most well known brand that does so.

Be careful because most of the powders and tablets you see for sale are not certified. Instead, they’re making the claim of being GF simply based on the assumption that all wheatgrass is GF.

Best option? Maybe grow your own

fresh green juice coming out of machineNo one cares more about your own health than you do. So take matters into your own hands.

Want to know how to grow your own wheatgrass at home? It’s not that hard.

You can find affordable kits for sale and you can use them inside or outside. Most people prefer indoors, keeping the kit on their counter or another location near a window.

Sure, just like the guy or gal at the juice bar, you too are prone to making mistakes. However the difference is that you are motivated by more than just some hour wage. Because it’s your health and life on the line, you’re probably even more careful to do the following:

  • Checking to make sure no rogue seeds wound up in the fresh grass you’ve just cut for your shot.
  • Cutting it at the right height. Not too late and not too early.

Again, no research has been published as to exactly when all of the original amino acid from the seed is used up by the sprouted plant, but since there are some certified gluten free wheatgrass powders for sale which claim to harvest theirs at around 6 inches in height, it seems like that’s a safe measurement to bet on.

Cutting at 2 inches or 10 inches of growth may be a riskier. To get around 6 inches on a consistent basis, it will probably mean doing it yourself.

Fortunately, you can easily grow wheatgrass indoors. Even a small tray can provide you with a a replenishing supply to use for at-home juicing. Plus, you will know it’s organic and pesticide free since you’re the one growing it!