Wheat germ can be a healthy addition to a diet as it is packed with important B vitamins — such as folate, thiamin, and vitamin B6 — and the minerals zinc, magnesium, and manganese. It also has a high oil content and subsequently a high amount of vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps protect the oil in the wheat germ from quickly becoming rancid. Vitamin E functions in a similar manner as a fat-soluble antioxidant in the human body where it helps protect fat-containing substances including cell membranes, brain cells, and fatty molecules such as cholesterol from damage by free radicals.
While wheat germ provides the important nutrients described above, it's important to remember that wheat germ is not a food per se. It's a single part of the wheat grain that's been removed through factory processing and it does not digest or metabolize in the same way as the whole, natural grain. Many of the World's Healthiest Foods can be combined to provide the same nutritional benefits as are found in wheat germ, without losing the optimal value found in whole, natural foods.
In addition, research on wheat germ has shown that it contains a particular lectin, called wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), which may be especially tied to wheat allergy. A person with very mild wheat allergy — who might not have problematic symptoms from consumption of the whole grain — might have more problems with isolated wheat germ for this reason. Wheat germ is also considered a high-oxalate food, with more than 10 milligrams of oxalic acid per tablespoon.
Wheat germ purified from certified organic wheat would always be your best choice of products here should you choose to consume wheat germ. Refrigeration of this product is recommended since the nutrients in wheat germ are more exposed to possible damage than they would otherwise be when residing inside of the whole grain.
People who choose to add wheat germ to their food often incorporate it into casseroles, muffins, and pancakes or sprinkle it over cereal or yogurt. The texture of wheat germ can add a great crunchiness and taste to these foods in a very convenient way.
For more information on this topic, see:
Brady PG, Vannier AM, Banwell JG. Identification of the Dietary Lectin, Wheat Germ Agglutinin, in Human Intestinal Contents. Gastroenterology. 1978;75(2): 236-9.
Pusztai A, Ewen SW, Grant G, et al. Antinutritive Effects of Wheat-Germ Agglutinin and Other N- Acetylglucosamine-Specific Lectins. Br J Nutr. 1993;70(1):313-21.
Walter F, Scholl I, Untersmayr E, et al. Functionalisation of Allergen-Loaded Microspheres With Wheat Germ Agglutinin for Targeting Enterocytes. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2004;315(2):281-7.
Watz B, Neudecker C, Hansch GM, et al. Dietary Wheat Germ Agglutinin Modulates Ovalbumin-Induced Immune Responses in Brown Norway Rats. Br J Nutr. 2001;85(4): 483-90.