Green foods and drinks (barley, wheatgrass, chlorella, spirulina, blue green algae)
If dogs happen to be a part of your family, you’ve undoubtedly seen them eat grass. Why? No one really knows. (Currently, a doctoral candidate at the University of New England, Australia is investigating just that subject for her PhD research). Some people believe that dogs eat cereal grasses because they contain nutrients not found in meat that are essential for the animals’ good health. One thing is for sure- grass is a rich source of nutrients, and “green foods” made from cereal grasses and algae are among the healthiest foods I know of for humans.
This unusual category- green foods and drinks- covers a lot of territory, from the perennial health food store favorite wheatgrass juice, to the algaes like blue green algae and spirulina. All have specific nutrient profiles and are used for different (but overlapping) purposes. Let’s start with the main thing they all have in common: chlorophyll.
Chlorophyll, the substance that makes plants appear green, is a natural blood purifier. What does this mean? Well, consider that everything- from anaerobic bacteria to yeast and fungus- travels through the blood. Our own immune system creates complexes that attack these foreign substances, and chlorophyll assists our bodies in cleaning out the “sludge” that can cause damage. “Chlorophyll helps manage bacterial growth”, Dr. Sonja Pettersen, a naturopathic physician in Arizona explains. “it helps remove unwanted residues and helps activate enzymes. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory and It’s nutrient dense”. Indeed, chlorophyll-containing plants- such as spirulina, chlorella and wild blue-green algae- are an essential part of the healing armament in Traditional Chinese Medicine and other eastern practices.
As far as chlorophyll’s reputation as a “blood builder”, there may be some scientific basis for this. The molecular structure of red blood cells and chlorophyll is virtually identical except for the center atom- in red blood cells (hemoglobin) it’s iron, in chlorophyll it’s magnesium. Chlorophyll is sometimes called “the blood of plant life”.
Then there’s the issue of acidity and alkalinity. As every gardener knows, the relative acidity and alkalinity of the soil can be determined by measuring it’s Ph. The body also needs a balance of acid and alkaline for optimal health (pH can be measured in urine, in blood and in saliva). “I believe the future of preventative medicine is in managing the pH of your body”, Dr. Pettersen told me. “All kinds of things can cause acidity- stress, rock music, sugar and many foods. But if you balance your body with alkaline substances- such as spirulina, algae and chlorella, all “super greens” with the benefits of chlorophyll- you can maintain the pH of your body at the right level, which goes a long way towards increasing your resistance to disease. At the proper pH level, enzymes flourish and the body mobilizes all its healing forces”.
Micro-Algae: Spirulina, chlorella and wild blue-green algae
These members of the micro-algae family contain more chlorophyll than any other foods and were among the first life forms. According to Paul Pitchford in his book “Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition”, micro-algae exist on the edge between the plant and animal kingdoms. In addition to chlorophyll they contain protein, beta-carotene and nucleic acids (RNA and DNA).
Spirulina: Rich with chlorophyll, protein, beta-carotene and the beneficial fatty acid GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), spirulina also contains a pigment called phycocyanin which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and which, in one study, was shown to inhibit cancer-colony formation. The cell wall of spirulina is composed of mucopolysaccharides (MPs) which are complex sugars mixed with amino acids, simple sugars and sometimes protein. MPs contain only completely digestible nutrients which makes them very different from the indigestible cell wall found in other micro-algae and other plants.
Chlorella: Similar to spirulina but containing just a little less protein, much less beta-carotene and much more chlorophyll and nucleic acids. It has a tough outer cell wall which is believed to bind with heavy metals, pesticides and other carcinogens, carrying them safely out of the body. It’s chlorophyll content is higher than any food, and it contains higher amounts of fatty acids, about 20% of which are omega-3’s. Unlike spirulina, chlorella does not contain phycocyanin.
Wild blue-green: This micro-alga grows wild in Klamath Lake in Oregon. Under certain conditions it can transform into a very toxic plant- it can cause death in animals within five minutes. However according to experts, wild blue-green has never been found in its toxic state in Klamath Lake, and the products coming out of Klamath Lake are believed to be completely safe, especially since freeze drying denatures the toxin. (I only mention the toxicity issue in case you have visions of harvesting your own blue-green algae from the wild and you don’t know exactly what you’re doing).
Cereal Grasses: Wheat and Barley Grass
Wheatgrass and barley grass are both high-chlorophyll foods that are nearly identical, although barley grass may be a bit more digestible. It’s worth mentioning that people with wheat allergies are almost never allergic to wheat in its grass stage. Cereal grasses contain many enzymes, as well as the powerful antioxidant enzyme SOD (superoxide dismutase). They also contain large amounts of the mucopolysaccharides (MPs) discussed above (see “Spriulina”).
Wheatgrass juice: Paul Pritchford and others note that wheatgrass juice is very concentrated and even one ounce has therapeutic value. He recommends not taking more than two ounces at a time- it doesn’t increase the effectiveness. Wheatgass juice is believed to help cleanse the lymph system, restore balance in the body, help remove toxic metals from the cells and restore vitality. One ounce of the juice is believed to have the vitamin and mineral equivalent of over 2 pounds of vegetables, though I have been unable to substantiate this. It is also thought to contain about 30 different enzymes. It should be consumed immediately after juicing.
Barley grass: Barley grass is a great alternative for those who can’t tolerate wheatgrass. It’s milder, though bitter compared to the sweetness of wheatgrass. Young barley leaves have a tremendous ability to absorb nutrients from the soil. Dr. Howard Lutz, director of the Institute of Preventive Medicine in Washington, DC has said that barley juice “improves stamina, sexual energy, clarity of thought and reduces addiction to things that are bad for you. It also improves the texture of the skin and heals the dryness associated with aging”. (Note: “Green magma”, often found in the “green foods/ green drinks” section of the health food store, is the trade name for one well-known brand of barley grass powder).