The health benefits of wheatgrass, ginger, turmeric and other "health" shots

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Can throwing back a shot actually be healthy? 

If that shot is pressed from roots, herbs, grasses and greens, it definitely has potential. 

When Jamba Juice and smoothie shops started popping up across America over a decade ago, many of them came with a previously unknown (to the not fitness-obsessed) menu item: Wheatgrass shots. Often pressed to order and served in a disposable shot glass, these concentrated green shooters became emblems of health that haven't faded as larger cold-pressed green juices and kale smoothies have entered the consumer-focused health landscape. 

So what's the deal with these tiny elixirs, tossed back into your throat like tequila? 

Wheatgrass 

If you were planning to skip the salad and supplement with a bitter shot of wheatgrass, you may want to rethink that plan. Wheatgrass is a green grass in the wheat family, said to have numerous health benefits due to its high concentration of vitamins and minerals, though limited research is available to prove wheatgrass' many mythical health miracles. 

It's just so...green.Source:  frank60/Shutterstock
It's just so...green.   frank60/Shutterstock

Because it's part of the wheat family, wheatgrass may not be suitable for those with gluten intolerance, though this green wheat does indeed have high levels of nutrients including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, calcium, magnesium and chlorophyll. 

Truth is, you might be better off just eating broccoli (which is pretty cheap, by the way). Though some claim that a one-ounce shot of wheatgrass contains as many nutrients as 2.2 pounds of vegetables, if you're comparing a pound of wheatgrass to a pound of broccoli or similar vegetable, they have the same nutrient content

Can a shot of wheatgrass compensate for a lack of vegetables in the diet? 

"Vegetable juices are NOT a substitute for eating vegetables," Allison Buckingham, New York State licensed dietitian-nutritionist and co-owner of Brooklyn's Perelandra Natural Foods Center, stressed in an email. "When you juice a fruit or vegetable, you remove almost all of the fiber, which is an important part of fruits and vegetables — fiber keeps your digestive tract working well and can improve blood glucose control."

Though downing a shot is much faster than sipping on a smoothie, pouring liquid veggies down your throat isn't actually helping your body get the nutrients any faster. "There is no difference in the speed of digestion, both juices and fruit shots are digested quickly," Frida Harju, nutritionist, public relations manager and product owner at Lifesum, said via email. "Fruit juices and shots are pre-digested fruits and vegetables (skipping the mechanical digestion that happens when you eat the fruits whole). How quick the nutrients get to work once they have entered your stomach is dependent on enzyme activity and absorption."

Turmeric 

Turmeric powder and turmeric rootsSource: India Picture/Shutterstock
Turmeric powder and turmeric roots  India Picture/Shutterstock

Turmeric, long used by East Asian and Indian cultures in food, beverages and medicine, has recently been touted by Westerners as the miracle anti-inflammatory. The yellow powder can be added to everything from lattes to stews. Grown in root form, turmeric is commonly found as a powdered seasoning, bottled up everywhere from Trader Joe's to your local Indian spice market. Curcumin, the yellow pigment found in turmeric, has also been proven as an anti-cancer agent

Still, just because a food or drink item has turmeric doesn't mean it's a health food. In March, for example, Lay's (yes, the potato chip brand) released a new product called Poppables, which lists turmeric as its last ingredient. This ingredient may hypnotize some by using the powers of the health halo, but, rationally speaking, adding turmeric to potato chips doesn't make them ripe for bingeing. 

Ginger  

Ginger rootSource: Tobias Schwartz/Getty Images
Ginger root  Tobias Schwartz/Getty Images

Ginger, another root, has been used medicinally since ancient times to treat stomach ailments. It's zingy, spicy flavor can also be found in Asian cooking and, of course, health elixirs.  

"Both ginger and turmeric contain strong anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant compounds which help to protect cells from damage," Buckingham said. 

Not feeling the ginger shot? Ginger tea can also be a great cure for everything from indigestion to queasiness. But a ginger-based bottled beverage may often come sweetened, and sweetener sans fiber can spike your blood sugar, turning what was supposed to be a health aide into something that makes you tired and cranky. In the case of sweetened beverages, you might be best skipping it — despite its ginger content — all together. 

Other "health" elixirs 

Juice elixirsSource: Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Juice elixirs  Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Even though fruit juices may be packed with vitamins, they can be loaded with natural, or even added, sugars and sweeteners. 

"As far as juice shots go, I actually think having a shot of juice (assuming 1 or 2 ounces) is often a better idea than an 8- or 16-ounce cup," Buckingham said. "It's a good idea to limit fruit juice, even if it's fresh, to 4-ounce per day since most fresh vegetable juices have apple and/or carrot added to them, both of which have a fair amount of sugar. I think it's a good idea to limit sugar consumption even when the sugars are naturally occurring as in fruit juice." 

Beware of anything that's not made from a single ingredient, or markets itself as a health beverage. If the package has to lure you into the health benefits, use skepticism before you plunk in a straw. 

Look beyond the name or package promises and go straight to the nutrition facts and ingredients, especially if you're not near a fresh juice or produce shop and want to buy a health product. "Juice and smoothie companies tend to give their products fancy names that can distract you from what's really in them," Angela Stanford, registered dietician. told Shape. "Ignore the monikers and check out the ingredients instead. Choose a vegetable-based juice to maximize nutrients while keeping blood sugar levels in check." 

Bottom line: Elixirs and shots aren't bad, but you have to understand what you're ingesting.