Wheat germ is the original OG health food, with claims of its reputed benefits dating back many decades. It's certainly a rich source of many common and unique plant-derived compounds. But is this nutrient-rich food still legitimate today? To help you figure this out, here is a summary of some of the clinical investigations and benefits of wheat germ, along with how much was used.
What Is Wheat Germ?
Wheat germ is the nutritious innermost part of a wheat kernel. It is a small, nutrient-rich component that makes up only about 2-3% of the whole wheat kernel's weight but contains a significant portion of the wheat kernel's essential nutrients. Wheat germ is a concentrated source of various vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, protein, and fiber. Fun fact: It takes about 40 pounds (640 oz) of wheat to make just 16 oz of wheat germ.
What Is Raw Wheat Germ
The raw version has not undergone any thermal processing like toasting. Some prefer raw wheat germ because they believe it has superior health effects. The difference, however, is not cut and dry. When researchers fed rats either raw or processed varieties, they found that roasted wheat germ was more easily digested and had a higher protein efficiency ratio. Heat-treating also increases the shelf life too. Heating wheat germ for just 3 minutes can maintain its quality for up to 90 days at room temperature, while raw only lasts 15 days. Both roasted/toasted and raw versions can be wise additions to any healthy diet.
What Germ Nutrition
Wheat germ fits into a clean eating program because it possesses a broad spectrum of nutrients, including:
- healthy unsaturated fatty acids
- vitamins such as folate, vitamin E, and niacin
- minerals like magnesium and zinc
- choline asparagine and glutathione
- fiber and protein
Wheat germ is 26% to 35% protein, 10% to 15% lipids, 10% to 14% dietary fiber and about 4% minerals. This wellness food also contains all 9 essential amino acids that humans cannot manufacture on their own. This includes the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs): leucine and isoleucine valine.
What Germ Nutrition (3.5 oz)
According to the USDA, here is a summary of the nutrients in 3.5 oz.
|Total fat||9 g|
Don't be turned off by the 360 calories. Most people only use one or two tablespoons per day.
What Germ Peptides
About 30% of this nourishing food are wheat germ peptides, which are small strings of between 5 and 50 amino acids. While this remains a mostly untapped area of research, wheat germ peptides appear to have various properties ranging from antioxidant and antihypertensive effects to maybe even anti-cancer effects.
Wheat Germ Microbiome Effects
Wheat germ appears to have prebiotic effects. In other words, it feeds healthy gut bacteria and encourages their growth. In one study, wheat bread enriched with just six grams of wheat germ was shown to promote improvements in gut microbiome diversity after just four weeks. There were also modifications in GI function and an increase in healthy strains of Bacteroides and Bifidobacterium.
Wheat Germ For Depression
In one clinical trial, 75 people with type 2 diabetes were instructed to mix 20 grams (about 3 tablespoons) of wheat germ in three and a half ounces of yogurt twice a day for three months. Compared to men and women who used a placebo (breadcrumbs), those using wheat germ not only appeared to have significantly less depression and stress levels but also significantly higher BDNF levels.
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Wheat Germ & Fatty Liver Disease
People with type 2 diabetes may also have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a precursor to liver cirrhosis. In one clinical study, people with fatty liver disease were instructed to use 40 grams (about 5 tablespoons) of wheat germ daily for three months. Compared to placebo takers, those who used wheat germ had significantly reduced liver enzymes and lower inflammation levels. Their triglycerides and total cholesterol declined, and their liver had less fat. Those people also had an increase in total antioxidant levels.
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Wheat Germ & Cholesterol
Several studies suggest you may want to add this healthy food to your overall cholesterol reduction plan.
In one clinical study 19 men and women- some of whom had elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels- were given 30 grams (about 4 tablespoons) of raw wheat germ or the same amount of wheat germ that had some of its fat removed. They called the low-fat version PDF wheat germ in the paper.
After 14 weeks, those using 30 grams of raw wheat germ were rewarded with:
- 7.5% reduction in their total cholesterol levels
- 15% lower LDL level
- 11.5% reduction in triglycerides
- 15% lower risk of heart disease
- ApoB to Apo A1 ratio declined by 23.6% in those with type II diabetes.
However, the partially defatted wheat germ didn't fare as well, lowering cholesterol by only 10% after the first four weeks. This indicates that the healthy fats in wheat germ appear to play a role in some of its health effects.
In another study, 75 people were given 20 grams (2.5 tablespoons) of wheat germ in low-fat yogurt twice daily for three months or a placebo. In this instance, the wheat germ lowered cholesterol levels and raised antioxidants. However, it didn't improve blood pressure or triglycerides, LDL cholesterol levels, or risk factors for diabetes like insulin resistance or fasting blood sugar levels. One possibility for this is that less wheat germ was used than in other studies.
In this investigation, 52 middle-aged men and women- some of whom were overweight- were given 6 grams (about 1 tablespoon) of wheat germ-enriched wheat bread for four weeks. It was reported that wheat germ did not improve cholesterol or triglyceride levels, lower blood sugar, or improve insulin sensitivity. These outcomes may have been due to the short duration of the study and maybe also not using enough.
Wheat Germ For Hospital Patients?
Wheat germ is not routinely given to hospital patients – but maybe it should. This study involved 100 people on ventilators in the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital. They are given either the standard nutrition formula or the same formula that was enriched with wheat germ. Both of these formulas were given via feeding tubes, and everyone received the same amount of calories and protein.
Results indicated that those who were given the wheat germ-enriched formula saw these improvements:
- Their metabolic rate increased.
- They gained skeletal muscle.
- They were in a less comatose state.
- They were able to get off ventilators about six days sooner than those receiving traditional nourishment.
- They were discharged from the hospital's Intensive Care Unit five days earlier.
One drawback to this study was that it's unclear how much wheat germ was used.
What Is The Best Kind Of Wheat Germ?
Both of these brands are very affordable and have a time-tested reputation with customers.
If you are looking for raw, unprocessed wheat germ, take a look at this brand instead.
Wheat Germ Quick Reference
|Approximate Amounts Used|
|Probiotic effects||Less than 1 teaspoon (6 g)|
|Reducing depression & increasing BDNF||5 tablespoons (40 g)|
|Reducing NAFLD, liver enzymes, cholesterol & triglycerides||5 tablespoons (40 g)|
|Reducing total cholesterol & raising antioxidants||4 to 5 tablespoons (30 to 40 g)|