Is there gluten in wheatgrass? I have celiac disease [gluten intolerance] and have found a lot of green food supplement products that say they are gluten free but they have wheatgrass or barley grass in the ingredients lists. Are these products really gluten free? I don’t know if I should be risking it.
This is actually quite a hot topic in the celiac community. For those readers out there who don’t know, celiac disease is a condition in which a person becomes completely unable to deal with gluten, a protein found in grains including wheat, barley, rye, spelt and kamut, among others. Eating gluten, even in small amounts, causes great digestive discomfort for the celiac and can lead to greater complications.
The quick answer to this question is no, wheatgrass contains no gluten. Although gluten is found in wheat, the wheat that we eat is actually the seed of the plant, usually dried and ground into flour. Wheatgrass, on the other hand, isn’t a grain at all – it’s a vegetable. Wheatgrass is the young wheat plant which has sprouted from the seed but has not yet produced seeds itself. Therefore wheatgrass has yet to produce gluten.
Here’s a quote I found from Cynthia Kupper(RD CD), Executive Director of the Gluten Intolerance Group which seems to answer the question nicely – “According to information from USDA research chemists, specializing in wheat gluten and cereal proteins and a statement from the American Association of Cereal Chemists, gluten is found only in the seed kernel (endosperm) and not in the stem and grass leaves. If the grass is cut from a growing plant and does not include the seed kernel, it should be safe for persons with gluten intolerance to use.”
However, one of the concerns from the gluten sensitive community is with cross contamination. How sure can you be that absolutely no seeds got in with the wheatgrass itself? If you’re watching someone press some fresh squeezed wheatgrass juice in front of you at a juice bar or health food store, you can probably be pretty confident if you express your concern and watch carefully. But when you’re dealing with a supplement, you need to be more careful. It might be worth your while to contact the supplement company to get assurances that their methods take precautions against cross contamination.
As I see it, the danger of cross contamination is not that great. If you’ve ever seen wheatgrass growing you know that the seeds remain below the soil in most cases and the grass is usually trimmed an inch or so above that. It doesn’t hurt to be careful, mind you, and many celiacs choose to simply avoid wheatgrass so as not to risk it.
If you have a wheat allergy – which may or may not be a sensitivity to gluten and can even occur in conjunction with gluten sensitivity – you should be avoiding wheatgrass regardless of gluten content. Wheat allergy could be attributed to any number of elements in wheat, some of which may be present in wheatgrass.