By Rachael Link, MS, RD
Take all of the nourishing vitamins, minerals and nutrients found in the wheat kernel, cram them together and you have the wheat germ. This small portion of the wheat kernel is actually the embryo of the wheat plant, which is why it contains such a concentrated mega-dose of nutrition.
Unfortunately, the wheat kernel that contains the wheat germ is stripped away during the refining process that converts whole wheat grains into white flour. Food manufacturers do this because the fat in the wheat kernel can become rancid and shorten the shelf life of products.
This means that, unless specified as 100 percent whole wheat, the majority of wheat products you typically consume, such as breads, baked goods, cereals and pastas, lack the nutrient-rich goodness found in wheat germ.
This method of processing grains is fairly new, however. In the past, stone mills produced flour by grinding grains between large stones, which helped retain the beneficial nutrients of the wheat kernel. Steam roller mills and automated flour mills were later introduced and able to increase efficiency and speed without sacrificing the nutrient profile.
With the Industrial Revolution came the introduction of the roller mill, a new invention that helped speed up the production of white flour by removing the germ and bran, leaving behind little besides empty carbohydrates and calories. That’s why much of the wheat today contributes to belly fat.
However, there are many options available for adding wheat germ back into your diet, and there are plenty of reasons why you might want to. Wheat germ is highly nutritious, easy to incorporate into your day and packed with health benefits, making it an excellent dietary addition.
Wheat Germ Benefits
1. High in Antioxidants
The oil found in wheat germ is rich in a form of vitamin E known as tocopherol, which acts as an antioxidant. Antioxidants are compounds that help protect the body from free radicals, which are harmful substances that cause damage to cells and can build up and lead to chronic disease over time. (2)
Getting enough antioxidants into your diet through foods like wheat germ is critical to health, as antioxidants have been linked to prevention of chronic conditions like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. (3, 4, 5)
In one 2008 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers gave rats a diet composed of 20 percent wheat germ. This was found to significantly improve vitamin E levels while also increasing antioxidant status. (6)
Another animal study out of Turkey showed that wheat germ helped successfully increase the activity of antioxidant enzymes in fruit flies. (7)
Eating wheat germ in combination with a healthy diet high in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables can help provide the antioxidants your body needs to ward off chronic disease and achieve better overall health.
2. Promotes Regularity
Adding a dash of wheat germ into your oatmeal, yogurt or smoothie is an excellent way to bump up your intake of dietary fiber and stay regular with minimal effort required on your part.
In fact, just one ounce contains a whopping four grams of fiber.
It’s recommended that men and women get 30–38 and 21–25 grams of fiber, respectively. Pairing an ounce or two of wheat germ with a good amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains each day can help you meet your fiber needs to get things moving and block constipation.
3. Stabilizes Blood Sugar
In addition to preventing constipation, increasing your fiber intake through foods like wheat germ can also benefit your blood sugar. Fiber slows the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream and helps regulate blood sugar levels while preventing those spikes and crashes. (9)
One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition gave subjects with diabetes either a high- or low-fiber diet for eight weeks. At the end of the study, researchers found that higher fiber intake decreased fasting blood sugar levels more than the low-fiber diets. (10)
In another study conducted by the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at the University of Kentucky, 34 men with diabetes received a fiber supplement twice daily for eight weeks. Not only did this help improve blood sugar control, but it also lowered concentrations of both total and bad LDL cholesterol as well. (11)
Because wheat germ is high in fiber, using it to kick up your fiber intake may be beneficial to your blood sugar. Make sure to pair it with plenty of non-starchy vegetables, lean sources of protein and high-fiber whole grains for optimal results.
4. Improves Heart Health
Thanks to its excellent nutrient profile, wheat germ may also come with an added dose of benefits when it comes to the health of your heart.
Whole grains have been associated with a decreased risk of heart disease, so eating wheat germ or whole grain products that contain wheat germ could actually help ward off heart disease.
One massive analysis that looked at the results of 45 studies found that a higher whole grain intake was tied to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. (13)
For this reason, it’s especially important to opt for whole wheat products that contain the germ and bran rather than refined and processed products that contain only white flour.
Wheat germ is also high in antioxidants, which can help block heart disease and prevent atherosclerosis, or the hardening of the arteries. This often occurs as a result of the buildup of fat and cholesterol over time and can substantially increase your risk of heart disease (14)
5. Helps with Weight Gain
If you’re looking to gain weight, throwing in a few servings of wheat germ may help do the trick. Each ounce contains 101 calories, so a few servings per day could help increase your calorie intake and lead to weight gain over time.
However, if you’re more interested in weight loss or weight maintenance and still want to include wheat germ in your diet, have no fear. Wheat germ can be a healthy component of any diet regardless of your weight goals.
If you do want to lose or maintain your weight, however, just make sure that you account for the increase in calories from wheat germ by adjusting your intake of other foods during the day.
6. May Help Block Cancer Growth
Most likely because of its high antioxidant content, wheat germ and its components may be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of cancer.
Avemar in particular, also known as fermented wheat germ extract, has shown promising results when it comes to the treatment and prevention of cancer. One test-tube study conducted at the General Hospital of Vienna’s Medical University of Vienna, for example, showed that Avemar was able to induce cell death and stop the growth of colon cancer cells. (15)
Another study published in 2011 in the Journal of Experimental & Clinical Cancer Research showed that Avemar possessed potent antitumor properties and was able to help cause cell death in many types of human cancer cells. (16)
While more research needs to be done evaluating the effectiveness of wheat germ on cancer treatment in humans, these studies suggest that it could offer potential protection against cancer.
Wheat Germ Nutrition
One ounce (28 grams) of wheat germ contains approximately: (17)
- 101 calories
- 14.5 grams carbohydrate
- 6.5 grams protein
- 2.7 grams fat
- 3.7 grams fiber
- 3.7 milligrams manganese (186 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligram thiamine (35 percent DV)
- 22.2 micrograms selenium (32 percent DV)
- 236 milligrams phosphorus (24 percent DV)
- 3.4 milligrams zinc (23 percent DV)
- 78.7 micrograms folate (20 percent DV)
- 0.4 milligram vitamin B6 (18 percent DV)
- 66.9 milligrams magnesium (17 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligrams copper (11 percent DV)
- 1.9 milligrams niacin (10 percent DV)
- 1.8 milligrams iron (10 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram riboflavin (8 percent DV)
- 250 milligrams potassium (7 percent DV)
- 0.6 milligram pantothenic acid (6 percent DV)
What Is Wheat Germ Oil?
Wheat germ oil is a popular product composed of the oil that is extracted from wheat germ. It’s especially high in vitamin E, and just one tablespoon is able to fulfill your vitamin E requirement for the entire day. (18)
While wheat germ is mostly used as a dietary addition, wheat germ oil makes both a great ingredient in cooking and a natural way to improve your skin and hair health when applied topically.
Wheat Germ vs. Wheat Bran
Wheat bran, also known as miller’s bran, is another part of the wheat kernel that is stripped away during processing in the production of white flour.
While wheat germ is the embryo of the wheat kernel and provides a concentrated dose of vitamins and minerals, wheat bran is the hard outer shell of the wheat berry that is jam-packed with fiber.
In fact, it’s often added to hot and cold cereals, smoothies, casseroles, and baked goods as an easy way to quickly boost fiber and nutrient content.
Nutritionally, both the germ and the bran have some similarities. For example, both are high in selenium, manganese, phosphorus and magnesium.
Ounce-for-ounce, however, wheat germ provides a greater array of vitamins and minerals while wheat bran is lower in calories and contains three times as much fiber.
For an added burst of fiber to promote regularity or to increase satiety, wheat bran is the way to go. But if you’re looking to help round out your diet and ensure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you need, opt for wheat germ instead.
How to Add Wheat Germ to Your Diet
With its nutty flavor and unique texture, wheat germ can be a delicious and nutritious part of your diet.
It is typically found in powder form and is perfect for sprinkling into your oatmeal, baked goods or protein shakes to quickly boost both the nutritional value and the health benefits of your meal.
It is also found naturally in whole wheat products, including whole wheat breads, flours, baked goods and cereals. In fact, for a product to be considered “whole wheat,” it must contain all parts of the wheat kernel, including both the bran and the germ.
Look for products that are labeled as “100% whole wheat” to ensure that you’re getting items with the greatest nutritional value.
Additionally, remember to look for “whole wheat” on the ingredients label rather than “wheat” or “wheat flour,” as these phrases don’t necessarily mean that a product contains both the bran and the germ.
If you’re looking for wheat germ at your local health food store, it’s often found in the same section as oatmeal or cereal. It can also be purchased through a wide variety of online retailers.
Here are a few easy wheat germ recipes to try:
- Wheat Germ Bread
- Oatmeal with Berries and Toasted Wheat Germ
- Dijon, Saltine and Wheat Germ Crusted Chicken Fingers
Wheat Germ Precautions
Although wheat germ is rich in many essential vitamins and minerals, it may not make a beneficial dietary addition for everyone. Those with a gluten sensitivity or wheat allergy or those who suffer from celiac disease should steer clear as it may trigger an adverse reaction.
Note that even other varieties like defatted wheat germ also contain gluten. Additionally, while the refining process should remove gluten from products like wheat germ oil, they may still contain small amounts and should be avoided by those with a sensitivity or intolerance.
If you experience any negative symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, indigestion or itchiness after eating wheat germ, you should discontinue use immediately and consult with your doctor or healthcare practitioner.
Final Thoughts on Wheat Germ
- Wheat germ houses the majority of the nutrients found in the wheat kernel, so it’s no wonder that it’s bursting with vitamins, minerals and health benefits.
- Besides providing a good amount of manganese, thiamine, selenium and other essential nutrients, it may also help promote regularity, boost heart health and keep blood sugar levels stable.
- If you don’t get a good amount of whole grains in your diet, supplementing with a few tablespoons of wheat germ each day may be something you should consider to optimize your diet and make sure you’re getting all the important vitamins and minerals that you need.
- Otherwise, a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean sources of protein and whole grains can provide you with all the benefits of wheat germ, and more.
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Rachael LinkDr. AxeSeptember 13, 2017