Wheat germ is a highly-nutritious portion of the wheat berry. It is loaded with antioxidants and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals that help treat and prevent many ailments. Its extract, wheat germ oil, has many applications in the cosmetic industry for its humectant (moisturizing) properties. However, the nutrient-dense wheat germ is usually discarded to make flour as it is prone to spoilage due to the presence of polyunsaturated fats.
In this article, we explore wheat germ nutrition, its health benefits, recipes to try, and possible side effects. Keep reading.
What Is Wheat Germ?
Wheat germ is one of the three parts of a wheat kernel, along with the bran and endosperm. The wheat germ helps the plant reproduce and spawn new grains. It is removed from the endosperm during the milling process and can be an excellent addition to your diet. You can add wheat germ to your favorite smoothies, protein shakes, muffins, and bread.
Wheat germ is rich in essential nutrients. Below is its nutritional breakdown.
Wheat Germ Nutrition
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 100 grams of crude wheat germ contain (1):
Wheat germ also contains sodium, zinc, folic acid, and antioxidants that help maintain optimal health. What are the health benefits of wheat germ? Let’s take a look.
Wheat Germ Health Benefits
1. May Improve Heart Health
Wheat germ is rich in phytosterols (structurally similar to cholesterol) that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Our body cannot synthesize phytosterols, and they must be obtained through diet. These plant nutrients may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (2). A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health (USA) found that consuming whole grains (which include bran and germ) every day may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (3). Besides, the octacosanol (a plant chemical) in wheat germ may help reduce LDL cholesterol levels (4). Wheat germ also contains omega-3 fatty acids that reduce the risk of sudden death from heart disease and all-cause mortality in individuals with such conditions (5).
2. May Reduce Diabetes Risk
Consuming foods rich in dietary fiber may help regulate blood sugar levels (6). A study conducted by the University of Lund (Sweden) also found that dietary fiber may decrease plasma LDL and fasting blood glucose levels (7). Moreover, the presence of alpha-linolenic acid in wheat germ has been reported to decrease insulin resistance (8). All these factors, in turn, may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
3. May Reduce The Risk Of Cancer
Studies suggest that wheat germ extract (Avemar) shows anti-cancer activity. It may stimulate natural killer (NK) cell activity and induce apoptosis (programmed cell death of tumor cells) (9), (10). A review published in Nutrients suggests that this fermented wheat germ extract may be an efficient compound in treating cancer. Avemar was found to starve cancer cells of sugar (which they need to survive) and unmask them so that the immune system can act (11). Besides, the anti-proliferative activity of Avemar was found to be effective in treating patients with colon cancer (12). However, more studies are needed to understand this benefit of wheat germ in humans.
4. May Boost Muscle Health
Wheat germ is one of the best sources of plant protein. Coupled with vitamin B and E (present in wheat), it may help build and repair muscles (13). A review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences also suggests that dietary intake of foods rich in tocopherols (vitamin E) improves muscle mass and reduces other age-related pathologies (14). However, more studies are warranted to understand this benefit of tocopherols in the elderly dealing with sarcopenia (age-related muscle mass).
5. Has Anti-aging Properties
Ferulate, an active and phenolic compound in wheat germ, may slow down aging (by suppressing aging-related gene expression) and act against oxidative stress (15). Besides, vitamin E present in wheat germ may protect your skin from free radical damage. It may also exhibit photoprotective and anti-photoaging properties and help reduce skin damage (16). In fact, moisturizing creams may contain up to 50 percent of wheat germ oil as it has humectant properties (17).
6. Reduces Menopausal Symptoms
The anti-inflammatory properties of wheat germ may help reduce the severity of primary dysmenorrhea (painful menstrual periods). Taking three 400 mg capsules of wheat germ extracts daily — between the 16th day of the menstrual cycle to the fifth day of the next menstrual cycle for two consecutive months — showed beneficial results (18). Wheat germ extracts may also relieve the general, psychological, and physical symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) (19).
Is there any specific limit to wheat germ intake? What happens if it is consumed in excess? Scroll down to know in detail.
Wheat Germ Side Effects
Consuming wheat germ is generally considered safe. However, it is rich in calories and may cause weight gain. Hence, check your portions. The same applies to those who are on a low-carb diet. Also, avoid eating wheat germ if you are sensitive to gluten. Some individuals may experience mild side effects like diarrhea, nausea, gas, and dizziness upon its intake (20). Consult your doctor immediately if you experience any of these adverse effects.
Have you ever tried wheat germ in your recipes? If not, here are a few ways to incorporate it into your diet.
How Do You Include Wheat Germ In Your Diet?
- Eat raw wheat germ by topping hot or cold cereal or yogurt with it.
- Use in smoothies or sprinkle over nut butter.
- Add into muffins or casseroles.
- Mix into pancake or waffle batter.
- Add to your favorite soup recipe.
- Use as a crumb topping on desserts or casseroles.
- Stir into the pizza crust.
- Add to pancakes to boost the nutritional value.
- Use as a filler in meatballs or meatloaf.
- Use as a substitute for bread crumbs for a healthier meatloaf.
- Use in your favorite bread-stuffing recipe.
- Sprinkle over Greek yogurt for a nutty flavor.
- Mix into pie fillings and crusts for a nutty flavor.
- Use as a coating for baked fish or chicken.
Adding wheat germ to your diet takes no great effort. In the next section, we list three easy and delicious recipes with wheat germ.
Wheat Germ Recipes
1. Wheat Germ Pancakes
What You Need
- Wheat germ – 6 teaspoons
- All-purpose flour – 1 cup
- Whole wheat flour – ½ cup
- Eggs – 2
- Sugar – 3 tablespoons
- Baking powder – 1 tablespoon
- Vanilla extract – ½ teaspoon
- Milk – 1¼ cups
- Mashed banana – 1
- Vegetable oil – 2 tablespoons
- Preheat the griddle or the electric stove to about 350o F.
- Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium-sized bowl.
- Mash banana in a large measuring cup.
- Add a little milk and stir. Fill 1¼ of the cup with the milk.
- Add in oil, eggs, and vanilla. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ones until just combined.
- Spray the griddle with a non-stick cooking spray. Ladle the pancakes onto it one by one.
- Add ½ a teaspoon of wheat germ to the top of each pancake and cook until the bottoms are brown.
- Flip and cook until golden on the bottom. Serve with syrup.
2. Wheat Germ Cookies
What You Need
- Wheat germ– ¾ cup
- Baking soda – ½ teaspoon
- Butter – 100g
- Brown sugar – ½ cup
- Grated coconut – ½ cup
- Chopped pistachios – ¼ cup
- Egg – 1
- Vanilla extract – 1 teaspoon
- Salt – ¼ teaspoon
- Preheat the oven to 180o F. Line a cookie pan and set it aside.
- Beat butter and sugar until the mixture turns fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until they are incorporated.
- Add the dry ingredients and fold until they are combined.
- Fold in the coconut and pistachios.
- Drop spoonfuls of the mixture on the tray at least an inch apart and flatten slightly.
- Bake for 10 minutes if the cookies are small and 15 minutes if they are large. Let them cool in the pan for five minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
3. Wheat Germ Muffins
What You Need
- Wheat germ – ¾ cup
- Whole wheat flour – 1¼ cups
- Milk – 1 cup
- Canola oil – ¼ cup
- Raw sugar – ¼ cup
- Honey – ¼ cup
- Egg – 1
- Baking powder – 3 teaspoons
- Salt – ½ teaspoon
- Flax seeds – 2 tablespoons
- Preheat the oven to 400oF.
- Sift flour in a large bowl and add wheat germ, sugar, salt, and baking powder.
- Beat the egg with a fork in a small bowl. Add honey, vanilla extract, oil, and milk. Mix.
- Pour liquid ingredients in the center of the dry ingredients. Mix well and pour the batter into a greased muffin pan.
- Bake for about 25 minutes until the muffins turn golden brown.
You need to store wheat germ properly to keep it from spoiling. Here are a few tips you can follow.
How To Store Wheat Germ?
Store wheat germ in an air-tight container once the seal is opened. It can last up to six to eight months if you store it in the refrigerator. Place it in the freezer to further increase its shelf life. Wheat germ can become rancid quickly if you do not store it properly as it contains unsaturated fat.
Wheat germ, a by-product of the wheat milling industry, is packed with nutrients. Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may help improve heart health, ease menopausal symptoms, and reduce the risk of cancer. Consuming wheat germ extracts may also help reduce the risk of diabetes, strengthen muscles, and slow down aging. However, wheat germ’s high calorific value may cause weight gain. So, be wary of the portions. Also, do not consume wheat germ if you are sensitive to gluten. Consult your doctor if you experience any adverse effects after its intake.
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- \’Wheat germ\’ crude
- Phytosterols: Nutritional Health Players in the Management of Obesity and Its Related Disorders
- \’Intakes of whole grains\’ \’bran\’ and germ and the risk of coronary heart disease in men
- Octacosanol in Human Health
- Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease
- Effect of soluble fiber intake in lipid and glucose levels in healthy subjects: a randomized clinical trial
- Dietary fiber decreases fasting blood glucose levels and plasma LDL concentration in noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus patients
- Can wheat germ have a beneficial effect on human health? A study protocol for a randomised crossover controlled trial to evaluate its health effects
- Avemar (wheat germ extract) in cancer prevention and treatment
- The effectiveness of fermented wheat germ extract as an adjunct therapy in the treatment of cancer: A systematic review
- The Effects of Adjuvant Fermented Wheat Germ Extract on Cancer Cell Lines: A Systematic Review
- Promising cytotoxic activity profile of fermented wheat germ extract (Avemar®) in human cancer cell lines
- Nutritional Contents and Medicinal Properties of Wheat: A Review
- Focus on Pivotal Role of Dietary Intake (Diet and Supplement) and Blood Levels of Tocopherols and Tocotrienols in Obtaining Successful Aging
- \’Ferulate\’ an \’Active Component of Wheat Germ\’ Ameliorates Oxidative Stress-Induced PTK/PTP Imbalance and PP2A Inactivation
- The role of vitamin E in normal and damaged skin
- Wheat Germ Oil
- Effects of Wheat Germ Extract on the Severity and Systemic Symptoms of Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial
- The Effect of Wheat Germ Extract on Premenstrual Syndrome Symptoms
- Wheat/Gluten-Related Disorders and Gluten-Free Diet Misconceptions: A Review