Wheat germ is an edible section of the wheat kernel. People value it highly for its rich nutritional content. Typically removed during wheat processing to prevent rancidity, it is easy to add to a person’s daily diet. This food stays fresher in the refrigerator and is available from both supermarkets and health food stores.
Definition and Description
Wheat germ is the reproductive part of the wheat kernel that germinates and forms the wheat grass. The germ accounts for a very small amount of the kernel, approximately 2.5 percent. The appearance is golden brown and flakey.
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From the nutritional perspective, this food is a powerhouse. It contains 23 nutrients and has more of them per ounce than any other vegetable or grain. It is a better source of potassium and iron than any other food source and also has great quantities of riboflavin, calcium, zinc, magnesium and Vitamins A, E, B1 and B3. The amount of protein, 28 percent, is higher than the levels found in most meat products.
Nutritional Value and Health Roles
The potassium and magnesium in wheat germ play roles in maintaining proper heartbeat, blood pressure and nerve and muscle function. Riboflavin, which has some antioxidant properties that protect cells against free radical damage, helps the body process amino acids and fats. It is important for energy, because it is involved in converting carbohydrates into simpler sugars the body can use. Calcium is needed for strong bones, while zinc supports cell growth, the immune system and healthy hair, skin and nails.
Looking at the vitamins, Vitamin A is best known for keeping the retina of the eye healthy. It also aids the development of skin and skeletal tissues. Vitamin E is an antioxidant connected to a strong immune system, prevention of blood clots and heart disease and fighting aging. Vitamins B1 and B3 maintain energy levels and keep muscles, organs hair and skin healthy.
Professional athletes have found that this food is beneficial to general performance because it helps prevent nutritional deficiencies. Body builders like it because the high levels of protein help repair muscle damage. Some believe it boosts cardiovascular function and endurance.
Manufacturers remove wheat germ during general wheat kernel processing. They do this because it contains oils that will go rancid in wheat products over time. The technique also removes the precious nutrients and vitamins, however, making the products from the resulting white flour less healthy and more likely to cause blood sugar spikes. This is why some nutritionists recommend whole wheat flour products over items made with white flour. To try to compensate for this problem, manufacturers enrich virtually all wheat flour products.
Common Use in Diet
People have several options for incorporating wheat germ into their diet. Some individuals enjoy using it as a substitute for granola in yogurt, while others use it in place of bread crumbs. It can work well in smoothies and milkshakes, although it adds a bit of a nutty flavor. Another way to use it is in baking, replacing it for ¼ to ½ flour in recipes. People who have a sensitivity to gluten sometimes turn to wheat germ recipes because its gluten content is fairly low.
The caloric content is high at 101 calories per ounce (28 grams). This means it might not be the best choice for those on a calorie-restricted diet. On the other hand, the nutritional value shouldn’t be ignored and might warrant the occasional use. In particular, the protein helps people feel full longer, slowing digestion. That might prevent people from eating more and consuming more calories overall.
The oils in wheat germ mean that its shelf life is not particularly high. Once a package is opened, a person needs to use the product relatively quickly. To extend the amount of time that it stays good, experts recommend refrigerator storage.
Where to Buy It
Many supermarkets carry wheat germ, often in their organic or natural foods sections. If a person can’t find it in his general supermarket, the majority of health stores supply it. The product is available either fresh or toasted.