Root Awakening; Ginger is the key ingredient to summertime refreshers

Nutrient-dense wheatgrass gaining in local popularity

By KATHLEEN DEELY, Sun Staff

Several members of the Lowell Police Department use grass on a daily basis. Don't worry -- they haven't been hauled in for questioning or lost their badges. The grass they are ingesting is wheatgrass -- a harmless, healthful supplement that is growing in popularity. When Eric Wayne started doing shots of wheatgrass at organic cafe Live Alive on Middle Street, the Lowell patrolman was not only making himself feel better, he was turning the stereotype of officer-fueled coffee and doughnut binges on its head.

"It makes me more energetic and alert through the day," said the wiry officer. Gulping down shots of the sweet-tasting, grassy-smelling green liquid has become a daily regime for many city dwellers.

According to nutritionists, a shot of wheatgrass juice can be an easy way to boost daily nutrient intake, since the juice from the embryonic shaft of wheat offers an intense dose of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and chlorophyll, which is reputed to have other benefits. A study done at Loyola University, for instance, found that chlorophyll breaks down unfriendly bacteria in the digestive tract.

And nutritionists say a 1-ounce serving of this pick-me-up is packs the same nutrients as 2.2 pounds of vegetables. People who have undergone heart surgery, suffer diabetes, or just want to feel better have taken note of its reputed benefits.

"It has been around a long time. It's not something the average person gets into, but it helps clean the blood. It's very detoxifying," said Eric Reardon, supplemental buyer for the Natural Market in Groton, where you can find wheatgrass in a powder form.

The freeze-dried powder can be added to recipes for an added boost or diluted with water for a drink. Most people do a shot of pure wheatgrass to get the best benefits. Still, there isn't much hard data to support some of the bolder claims for wheatgrass and there are few clinical studies, according to the Web site of the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, in an otherwise laudatory take on the supplement.

The site quotes Dr. Andrew Weil, the Harvard-trained physician and alternative health expert, who believes that although wheatgrass is a good source of vitamins and minerals, it's "no substitute for 21/2 pounds of vegetables." Even so, the appetite for the juice is so strong that Life Alive owner Heidi Feinstein recently had to triple her order.

"I used to buy three pounds a week; now, I'm buying 10 pounds," said Feinstein, who laces her raw juices and vegetable smoothies with wheatgrass. Finding wheatgrass in its purest form, squeezed from a special juicer, is not as easy as it used to be. Most health food stores have stopped selling it this way for financial reasons, but for Feinstein, who's a believer in its nutritional benefits, it's an essential part of an organic diet.

Kathleen Deely's e-mail address is kdeely@lowellsun.com.