It is the most nutritionally dense part of the wheat kernel, which also includes the endosperm and bran, or outer husk. Second only to rice as food staple, wheat was cultivated thousands of years ago by the ancient Chinese, Egyptians, and Greeks. Today, the world grows more wheat than any other cereal crop.
Chances are you get plenty of wheat in your diet since most bread are made with that grain but you probably don't eat much wheat germ or bran, two of the healthiest parts of the kernel which are often removed during milling.
Top three ways wheat germ keeps you healthy
Dissolves cholesterol: Cholesterol has the power to clog or block your arteries, trigger heart attacks and cause stroke but wheat germ has the power to stop it. A French study found that eating 30 grams or about a quarter of a cup, of raw wheat germ a day for two weeks lowered total cholesterol by 7.2 per cent and lowered bad cholesterol and triglycerides by almost 15 per cent and another study indicated that reducing cholesterol just by seven per cent may lead to a 15 per cent lower risk of heart disease.
Wheat germ's success against LDL cholesterol could stem from the antioxidant powers of vitamin E which prevented LDL particles from becoming oxidised and oxidised LDL presents a much greater danger to your health. When a fat such as LDL undergoes oxidation, it is more prone to collect in blood vessels to form plaque. Over time, the plaque narrows the blood vessels or unleashes a clot which can result heart problems but when LDL is not oxidised, it does not seem to cause problems.
Fights heart disease: The message that whole foods are better than supplements was sounded in many studies all throughout the world and when it comes to foods, whole grain foods offer even more protection. Research data showed that eating about one serving of wheat germ per day dramatically reduced the risk of heart disease. People who ate a little less than one serving of wheat germ per day were 59 per cent less likely to develop heart disease than people who hardly ate any. Of course, whole grain foods have several heart healthy things going for them, including fibre, folate, vitamin E and potassium. But the beauty of eating whole foods is you don't have to figure out how each nutrient helps you you get the combined benefits of them all.
Defends against cancer: When it comes to heavy hitters against colon cancer, wheat germ and bran is the best. Time and again they have been proven to knock colon cancer out of the ball park. Wheat germ and bran give you a substantial amount of insoluble fibre which adds bulk to your stool and dilutes the carcinogens in it. It also speeds your stool through the gastrointestinal tract so it's not hanging around causing trouble. This makes these wonder grainy foods good for curing constipation and maintaining a healthy gut as well as protecting you against cancer.
A word of caution
Wheat contains gluten, a sticky protein that makes it ideal for baking bread. However, gluten also makes wheat dangerous for people with celiac disease or a gluten allergy. Usually people with this condition have to avoid all products containing wheat, rye, oats or barley.
You can find wheat germ in both toasted and natural forms. Use it soon after you buy it because its oiliness makes it turn rancid quickly.
(Monika Seth/Nutritionist and diet consultant specialising in weight loss at Al Raffah Hospital)