Wheatgrass and barley grass powders are showing up in many products, from drink mixes to protein powders to snack bars. They’re high in vitamins and minerals, can have blood sugar balancing effects, and may be immune-supportive based on the high chlorophyll content. But are they safe for those on a gluten-free diet?
Wheat and barley grass are what sprout out of the wheat and barley grains. The gluten protein is contained only in the grains, so technically the grasses should be safe.
However, because the grain and grass are on the same plant and depend on very specific harvesting/processing methods to truly isolate, the risk for gluten cross-contact is high.
For celiac and gluten-sensitive individuals, this means that wheat and barley grass are not even worth considering unless they’re certified gluten-free. You can also check if the manufacturer uses something called the “R5 ELISA method” to test for gluten, which is the most accurate way to assess gluten contamination in these products.
Even then, in my clinical practice I have seen many people carefully sourcing wheat and barley grass powders and still not tolerating them. This is likely due to a sensitivity to a protein other than gluten in these grasses (there are several different proteins in wheat and barley plants).
The verdict: Celiac and gluten-sensitive people should only choose certified gluten-free wheat and barley grass products, but consider avoiding altogether.
Wheatgrass and barley grass are often deemed “superfoods,” but they are not ESSENTIAL for health. There are many other definitively gluten-free ways to reap the same benefits, such as increasing other greens in your diet!
For those in search of a greens powder with similar properties of wheatgrass, I highly encourage them to consider spirulina or moringa instead. Finally, keep in mind that for those with a true wheat allergy, wheatgrass is never safe!