The health benefits of wheat germ include a boost to the immune system and a preventative measure against cardiovascular disease and cancer. It has anti-aging properties, and can positively affect mental agility, muscle development, stamina, and the healing rate for wounds. The nutrients in wheat germs can also aid in digestion, prevent damage to the arteries, and help in efforts to lose weight.
Wheat germ is the small, nutrient-containing center of a wheat kernel, comprising only about 2.5% of the weight of the kernel, but packing a very beneficial list of attributes.
Certain types of food can be nutritious “overall”, meaning that when they are consumed in their full form, both the normal parts and the beneficial parts are consumed, so the food is “healthy”. Wheat is one of those examples, and wheat germ is the healthy part that contains the vast majority of the nutrients. A wheat kernel consists of the outside shell (wheat bran), the starchy endosperm (used to mill flour), and the wheat germ (the reproductive element).
The wheat germ is the part of each kernel that helps in reproducing the plant, so naturally, it contains the many nutrients needed to grow and develop into a healthy, new organism. For years, wheat kernels were used mainly to mill flour, in which case the bran and germ parts were causally thrown away and white flour was produced, which held little or no nutritional value of any kind. In fact, once synthetic vitamins and bleaches are added to that flour, it can actually do more harm than good.
When it is extracted from the kernel and isolated into natural oils, or when the grain is eaten in its’ entirety, the nutritional benefits of the germ can be passed into a person’s system. It is often turned into cooking or baking oil for highly concentrated doses of wheat germ on salads or in pasta sauces, but it should not be used as frying oil, because much of the nutrients are lost when heated to that level.
It can act as an additive in desserts or smoothies, or even as a replacement for breadcrumbs or flour in many recipes, conferring a wealth of nutritional benefits on those that choose to add it to their diet.
In health-conscious times like we live in, nearly every store will sell raw wheat germ in or around the cereal aisle, so get creative, and get cooking!
Nutritional Value of Wheat Germ
Although the wheat germ is small, the amount of nutrients it contains is impressive and formidable. The outer shell of the wheat kernel, the bran, is beneficial as well, but the germ has even more necessary nutrients that make it so desirable.
Wheat germ is a bountiful source of energy, fiber, protein, and complex carbohydrates, all of which interact in numerous ways with the body’s internal systems. Important daily vitamins like folate, vitamin E, and vitamin B (Niacin, Thiamin, and B6) can also be found in high levels in it. Minerals are usually not far behind vitamins, and wheat germ provides huge levels of potassium and iron to people’s diets, as well as very good levels of zinc, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and selenium.
It also has omega-3 fatty acids, one of the necessary and beneficial forms of cholesterol found in the body that needs frequent replenishing from dietary sources like wheat germ!
Health Benefits of Wheat Germ
Immune System: By adding wheat germ to your diet, you can positively boost your immune system to fight against a number of diseases and conditions like heart disease and cancer. Wheat germ protein hydrolysates have been shown to positively increase the antioxidant activity in organic systems. Antioxidants seek out and destroy free radicals and other disease-causing microorganisms in the body, reducing or eliminating the chances of serious illness. It has been shown to naturally contain high levels of these hydrolysates that stimulate the antioxidants within the immune system.
Cardiovascular Health: Studies have shown that the regular intake of whole grain wheat and wheat germ can reduce risk factors associated with coronary heart disease and can increase the health of the entire cardiovascular system. LDL cholesterol is cholesterol that has been oxidized, and therefore swells in the arteries and veins. This is a common sign and risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. Including wheat germ in your diet increases the amount of dietary fiber, which has also been scientifically linked to a reduction in heart disease. The presence of octacosanol in wheat germ has also been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, thereby decreasing chances of strokes and other harmful issues. High levels of omega-3 fatty acids in wheat germ also work to cancel out the negative effects of omega-6 fatty acids, further protecting your cardiovascular system.
Cancer Prevention: Adding wheat germ or certain types of wheat germ extracts to your diet can help you reduce the risk factors for multiple types of cancer. It has been shown to interrupt glucose metabolism at a fundamental level and inhibit the expression of various kinases, which may stimulate cancerous activity in cells. The study shows that test subjects with wheat germ extract in their diet have increased TNF secretion by the macrophages and stimulating NK cell activity (Natural Killer cells). Both of these benefits result in apoptosis (cell death) for cancerous and tumorous cells. The small germ inside wheat may not look very impressive, but its effects are very powerful!
Anti-Aging Properties: Wheat germ is packed with nutrients and vitamins in such high levels that it can have significant effects on various anti-aging effects like skin quality and hair loss. As a dietary supplement, wheat germ is a natural way to get these benefits, but some people also choose to go for a more cosmetic approach, using its extract directly, or mixing it with other cosmetic materials. Vitamin E is packed into it as well, and studies have shown a wide range of benefits to people who fill their daily requirements of that vitamin. When eaten regularly, the proteins and vitamins within wheat germ can positively affect people with conditions like psoriasis, sunburn, eczema, wrinkles, dull complexion, and receding hairlines.
Athletic Performance: Recent popular studies have shown wheat germ to have high levels of naturally occurring octacosanol, which has certain ergogenic qualities. This means that when taken as a part of a regular diet, it can increase stamina and performance by regulating the biochemical pathways that produce energy, which in effect streamlines the saving of energy reserves in the body. These effects have been shown multiple times, but so many variables come into play that firm scientific backing for wheat germ as a performance-enhancing dietary choice is moderate to weak.
Cellular Metabolism: Another of the beneficial vitamins found in wheat germ is Vitamin B, which consists of a number of different vitamins. The most common types found in wheat germ are Niacin, Thiamine, and folates (discussed below). These vitamins are vital for cellular metabolism, helping to transform nutrients from carbohydrates, lipids, and glucose into consumable energy for the cells. Thiamine can also fight against metabolic disorders like chronic obesity. A higher functioning metabolism means more natural energy, as well as more successful weight loss, strength, and alertness. B vitamins can be found in many whole grains, and in particular, a high supply within wheat germ.
Muscle Health: One of the best sources of protein in a diet can come from wheat germ, and protein has a laundry list of beneficial attributes. Protein is integral in maintaining healthy muscles, repairing damaged tissues, regulating energy levels within the body, and aiding in homeostasis and overall system balance. Protein is also an essential dietary requirement for people wanting to get in shape and increase muscle mass. If you are looking to bulk up in a healthy way, add wheat germ to your health regimen for great results!
Pregnancy: Wheat germ is loaded with folic acid, which is an important factor in ensuring a healthy infant for pregnant women. Women who have healthy levels of folates in their system have a greatly reduced chance of their child having neural tube defects and other complications. Adding it into your diet when pregnant can be beneficial in many ways, given its nutrient-packed nature, but the high levels of folic acid make it particularly attractive and popular.
Diabetes: The presence of so much folic acid in wheat germ has a secondary effect for people at risk for diabetes. Folic acid is negatively correlated with a compound called “homocysteine” in the body, which is closely linked to a number of harmful conditions, like vascular disease, diabetes, and heart disease. Folic acid is present in many whole grains, and in particularly high levels in wheat germ. Therefore, if you add normal, healthy doses of wheat germ to your diet, you will reduce the levels of homocysteine in your body, and reduce your chances of contracting these dangerous or lethal conditions.
Wheat Germ – Health Risks
Gluten-Free Diets: A growing number of the population can no longer eat gluten, which is a primary component in grains like wheat. This gluten intolerance can often be caused by disease, like Celiac’s disease. Eating gluten can be painful and harmful to the digestive tract, and even fatal in some extreme conditions. Despite the other nutritional benefits of wheat germ, if you are required to maintain a “gluten-free” diet, do not consume wheat germ or wheat germ extract.
High in Calories: Besides being nutrient-rich, wheat germ is also very high in calories. The positive benefits of wheat germ can be cancelled out if the intake of other daily calories is not monitored, because weight gain and subsequent health issues can occur regardless of how healthy the food was that contributed to your high caloric intake.