A very common question about wheat grass is whether or not it is gluten-free. Many multi-vitamins list wheatgrass as ingredients, but the companies label these products as being gluten-free. So, confusion sets in when you think about the fact that wheatgrass comes from wheat, which is well-known for being the primary source of gluten.
Gluten allergy and gluten intolerance
This is a very important question for a large minority of people, because celiac disease affects 1 in 133 Americans, or about 1% of the population of the United States. Some of the most common problems stemming from celiac disease include other auto-immune disorders, infertility, reduced bone density, neurological disorders and some cancers.
In addition to people with celiac disease, research estimates that 18 million Americans suffer from some other form of gluten sensitivity. That’s six times the amount of Americans with celiac disease, making up more than 6% of the population.
Symptoms of celiac disease include stomach pain, bloating, gas and weight loss. People with celiac disease can also have pale skin and bruise more easily. They might show weakness, low energy levels, and a loss of appetite. Celiac disease sufferers might also have bone pain or osteoporosis, might miss their monthly periods or have difficulty getting pregnant, and might have mouth sores or skin rash that itches. People with celiac disease also might notice numbness or tingling in their legs and muscles.
People who don’t have celiac disease but are sensitive to gluten can suffer from a wide variety of symptoms. The gastrointestinal symptoms can include diarrhea, bloating, cramping, abdominal pain, and constipation.
Does Wheat Grass Contain Gluten?
So, is wheatgrass gluten-free or not? Is a product containing wheatgrass safe for someone with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, or not?
The short answer is: maybe.
To understand the long answer, you need to understand what gluten is in the first place. Gluten is a protein composite that is found in foods processed from wheat and other grains, including rye and barley. It’s gluten that gives elasticity to dough, allowing it to rise and keep its shape, and often giving the final product a chewy texture. Gluten is the composite of a gliadin and a glutenin, conjoined with starch in the endosperm of various grains that are grass-related. The endosperm: a tissue produced inside the seed. So, gluten is in the seed of the wheat plant, and nowhere else.
This leads us to the long answer, which is that it depends on how the wheat grass is harvested and later processed. Pure wheat grass, wheat grass that is just the grass, with absolutely no seeds, does not contain gluten. Because of this, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said, in its finalized gluten-free labeling regulations, that wheatgrass can be used to manufacture foods that are labeled as gluten-free, as long as the finished product contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten. If you are highly sensitive to gluten, this might still be enough to give you a reaction to the gluten.
Whether or not wheatgrass is truly gluten-free, though, depends on how it is harvested. While wheat grass in its pure form is gluten-free, the second a seed is formed, all bets are off. If the farmer allows some of the grasses to begin producing seeds before harvesting it, that crop will contain gluten.
Whether or not wheatgrass is truly gluten-free also depends on how it is processed. If a supplement manufacturer produces gluten-containing products alongside or on the same equipment as it is using for gluten-free labeled products, then the gluten-free products could be cross-contaminated and may contain gluten.
Before assuming that a product containing wheatgrass is truly gluten-free, you should check the label and also check to ensure that the product has been tested for gluten cross-contamination via the R5 ELISA test. This is the only test that is accurate in determining if a product has been cross-contaminated with gluten.
You might also consider that it’s not worth the risk. You can get the same nutritional benefit by increasing your consumption of leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and spinach. On top of that, some of these vegetables, such as leafy green spinach, contain more iron, potassium, calcium and magnesium than wheatgrass. Broccoli and spinach both offer more vitamin C. You could also try kale, collards, and chard, which are packed with all sorts of healthy minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients.