In recent years, wheat germ oil has become quite a health craze, with people rushing to purchase it and ready to relinquish all other oils in its favor. However, what do we actually know about wheat germ oil except for the fact that it’s healthy? How healthy is it actually? In what circumstances is it beneficial for us more exactly? Which of its properties make it good for us and superior to other oils? And what is really wheat germ oil?
What is wheat germ oil? Wheat germ oil is the oil made from the germ of the wheat kernel (Triticum vulgare), a sort of embryo from which a new plant can germinate in the right conditions. Different parts of the wheat kernel contain different nutrients. The germ concentrates some of the most important essential fatty acids, vitamins E and K as well as moderate amounts of choline, a newly discovered nutrient similar in nature with the B vitamins group. And since the oil is obtained mechanically, through cold pressing, it preserves all the nutrients and fatty acids found initially in the germ.
How is wheat germ oil made? As mentioned above, wheat germ oil is obtained through cold pressing, from the germ of the wheat kernel (seed). This is the healthiest way to produce oil as no heat or chemicals are used, so the resulting oil is natural, clean and its nutrients unaltered by heat. But collecting the tiny germ of individual wheat seeds can prove an extremely difficult task, especially because the germ is incredibly small and only 2-3% of its weight is made up by oils. This is also the reason why wheat germ oil is generally quite pricey.
What does wheat germ oil look like? The oil has a rich golden color with a somewhat brownish tint and a thick consistency compared to other more fluid oils such as olive oil, for example. Because of its thickness, wheat germ oil is often mixed with more fluid oils to make it easier to use. What does wheat germ oil taste and smell like? The oil has a particularly intense wheat-like smell and a strong, nutty, yet oily flavor. Despite its wide range of uses, both internal and external, the particular taste and smell of the oil can prove discouraging for some people.
How is wheat germ oil good for us? The nutrients in wheat germ that are further passed on into the oil are responsible for the following properties and health benefits:
1) Antioxidant and anti-aging properties. Wheat germ oil is a rich source of healthy fatty acids, notably Omega-6 (in the form of linoleic acid), Omega-9 (in the form of oleic acid) and Omega-3 (alpha linoleic acid). These healthy, unsaturated fatty acids, particularly Omega-3, boast strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Regular, but moderate consumption of wheat germ oil offers protection against chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease or degenerative neurological conditions.
Topical use for improving skin and hair appearance helps reduce aging signs such as wrinkles, blemishes, scars and even acne in certain cases. Vitamin E, another major component in wheat germ oil, also boasts wonderful antioxidant and emollient properties and is great for healthy, youthful-looking skin.
2) Cardiovascular benefits. Substituting other less healthy sources of fats in our diet with wheat germ oil can prove extremely beneficial for cardiovascular health. The Omega-3 fatty acids in the oil exert an strong antioxidant effect on blood vessels, help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. This lowers the risk of plaque buildups on the inside of artery walls which, in turn, offers a protection from various forms of cardiovascular disease. The other forms of unsaturated fatty acids in wheat germ oil boast similarly beneficial effects for cardiovascular health.
However, wheat germ oil contains very little Omega-3 fatty acids compared to Omega-6 (7 g and 55 g). While we need both for keeping healthy, an ideal ratio between these two healthy fats would be 1:1 or at least 1:3. In other words, our consumption of wheat germ oil should be moderate, limited to small amounts. Lastly, wheat germ oil is beneficial for cardiovascular health thanks to its low content of not so healthy saturated fats (about 16%).
3) Supports nervous system health. Wheat germ oil contributes to supporting brain function and overal nervous system health thanks to it fatty acids profile. The Omega-3 fatty acids in particular contribute to regulating brain function, support cognitive functions and improve mood.
4) Great for skin health. By its very nature, wheat germ oil is great for skin care. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds in the oil protect the skin against free radicals and premature aging and nourish it, helping improve its appearance. Moreover, wheat germ oil has been reported to help improve the aspect of scars, blemishes, acne and other skin conditions, but effectiveness may vary from person to person. Both the fatty acids and vitamin E in the oil boast potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well as exert an intense moisturizing effect when applied directly on the skin.
5) Improves energy levels. Food lacking all form of fat is often not satiating enough as fats are one of the three essential macronutrients required for us to be in optimal health and enjoy good energy levels. Simply drizzling a little wheat germ oil over a salad or some baked or boiled vegetables can improve taste and provide us with additional energy.
Of course, edible oils are rich in calories (884 kcal for every 100 g in this case), which is why it is important to limit our consumption so we enjoy their health benefits without the bad effects. Wheat germ oil is a good choice not only because of its high content of healthy unsaturated fats (Omega-3, Omega-6, Omega-9), but also because it is cold pressed, meaning it is as natural and harmless as it gets.
6) Helps repair damaged hair. Wheat germ oil makes a wonderful hair mask for repairing damaged hair. It can be applied directly on the scalp and length of the hair and let to sit anywhere from an hour to overnight to nourish hair. The healthy fats and vitamin E in the oil act as a natural, intensive deep conditioner and help revitalize even the most damaged or dull hair. If its particular smell is not to your liking, you can always opt for other similarly beneficial oils such as olive oil, coconut oil or sunflower oil.
Wheat germ and wheat germ oil are quite different from a nutritional point of view, the first having somewhat more essential nutrients. The vitamins, dietary minerals and healthy fatty acids in wheat germ oil include the following:
1) Omega-3 (alpha linoleic acid): about 7%.
2) Omega-6 (linoleic acid): 55%.
3) Omega-9 (oleic acid): 14%.
4) Vitamin E: 149.9 mg for 100 g of oil.
5) Vitamin K: 24.7 mcg for 100 g of oil.
Conclusion. Wheat germ oil is a healthy option as far as edible oils are concerned. It has a high percentage of healthy, unsaturated fats, especially Omega-3, which is great for cardiovascular health and good brain function. Moreover, it is a wonderfully rich source of vitamin E, an antioxidant nutrient with remarkable emollient properties, which would explain its efficacy in skin and hair care. Wheat germ oil is great consumed fresh, but is not suitable for heat cooking as exposure to higher temperature, even air and sunlight can cause it to lose its properties and become unsuitable for consumption fast.