“Sprouting nonsense” (Wheatgrass juice)

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My journey to skepticism wasn’t necessarily slow, but it was a leisurely stroll. Psychics and astrologers always seemed ridiculous to me, but when I was 12, I would have gladly gobbled up the idea that Nostradamus had predicted that the Abominable Snowman would fire from the Grassy Knoll.

I had left those ideas behind by my late 20s, but would still have believed a few things I blog against now. The government had been caught lying about Roswell so often that could put no trust in anything it said about the incident and, combined with the idea of intelligent alien life being possible, I figured the story was true.

Also, I could have been won over by claims of “natural” foods and cures. At the time, I lived in charming Vermont village of 12,000 that featured scenic views, live theatre, and festivals most weekends. There were burned-out hippies, most of the populace had helped elect an avowed socialist to Congress, and lesbians walked hand-in-hand, something most small towns in 1996 had yet to see. So it was very left wing, though other aspects were out in left field, with a hockey stick.

Such as the seminar on how to communicate with fairies in your garden. Or the hypnotherapist who would use scented candles and psychic energy to interpret your dreams. Then there was the smoothie bar that, even by the inflated prices of the region, sold wheatgrass at an eye-popping price, $8 an ounce.

In the world of supposed superfoods, wheatgrass juice usually tops the list, certainly in terms of cost and sometimes in terms of uncorroborated health benefits. The bulk of those benefits center on the fact that the shamrock-colored drink contains chlorophyll, which is crucial to photosynthesis. Plants use chlorophyll to synthesize proteins and sugars, which is wonderful for the wheatgrass but of negligible value to the person drinking it since s/he already receives ample proteins and sugars from their diet. And if drinking wheatgrass juice for this purpose, it won’t work because we have arms, not leaves.

Wheatgrass advertisements feature the usual litany of exaggerated, unproven claims one finds with any “superfood.” But there are also ones that might be true, but mean little. An example of this would be the one which proclaimed, “Wheat grass is high in oxygen … and the brain functions at an optimal level in a high-oxygen environment.” Well, I wouldn’t like my brain’s chances in an oxygen-free environment, but if needing more oxygen, I’ll take deep breaths.

Then there are the undefined, medically worthless claims about restoring balance, detoxing, nourishing organs, restoring vitality, building blood, and neutralizing environmental pollutants. Because none of these attributes are about a disease being prevented or cured, they have legal cover. However, some more daring promoters  assert that wheatgrass juice can crush cancer, beat bronchitis, and eradicate eczema. Proponent Ann Widmore even claimed it could be used in place of insulin, then upped the hyperbolic ante by insisting it could also cure AIDS.

Another source credited it with being able to lower the levels of toxic metals in one’s cells. If those need to be lowered, you need the ER, not a drink that makes Starbucks seem cheap.

Yet another claim is that this lugubrious libation takes care of one’s daily vitamin and mineral allowance in one gulp. Yet the typical two-ounce shot contains just 15 percent of Vitamin C, 20 percent of iron, and 0 percent of everything else. Brian Dunning at Skeptoid described wheatgrass juice as offering “far less nutrition than a Flintstones vitamin at 100 times the price.”

Meanwhile, the Hippocrates Institute stresses the importance of consuming wheatgrass within 15 minutes of it being blended: “When it is consumed fresh it is a living food and has bio-electricity.”

Living food is when an eagle scoops down and spears itself a salmon. Wheatgrass is living when it grows, but not when it’s being gulped. As to bioelectricity, the website crosses completely over into New Age Lala Land with this description: “This high vibration energy is the life force within the living juice. This resource of life-force energy can unleash powerful renewing vibrations and greater connectivity to one’s inner being.” After reading that, I need a shot, and not of green juice.

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