Is Wheat Germ Paleo?
By its very name, wheat germ would seem to preclude a place on a Paleo plate, given its push to avoid wheat and other grains, due to their allergenic and inflammatory effects on the body. However, because wheat germ has very little gluten in it (which is one of the primary allergens in wheat) some question whether it’s possible to include it in an evolutionary diet.
Gluten is a protein chiefly confined to the endosperm of a grain, which is the tissue produced inside the seeds of most flowering plants around fertilization. The wheat “germ” is the part of the wheat grain that is primarily protein-free that eventually germinates and grows into a new plant—and also contains very little gluten. Yet gluten (or lack thereof) isn’t the whole story when it comes to deciding if wheat germ earns a Paleo pass or fail.
So, is it Paleo?
While wheat germ is very low in gluten, there are other offenders at work that can be counter-productive to our health. One of these is a little antinutrient called wheat germ agglutinin or WGA, for short, which might be as troublesome as gluten. WGA is a lectin protein that protects the wheat from insects, yeasts and other pests. And while lectins are present in many foods, some of the highest (and potentially damaging) concentrations are found in grains like wheat (and its germ).
There is evidence that, like gluten, WGA can damage the lining of the gut and lead to intestinal permeability. This in turn can prompt our immune system to respond, triggering any number of auto-immune issues.
Studies have also shown that WGA can increase glucose transport into fat and liver cells while it blocks the body’s ability to released stored fat. This is detrimental to weight loss efforts, and because more glucose is being brought to the liver, blood triglycerides can also increase (not a good thing).
Additionally, WGA has been shown to obstruct our cell’s’ receptors from absorbing the Vitamin D we all need. These studies might help explain that regardless of the amount of time we spend in the sun, the decreased receptors for vitamin D can lead to possible deficiencies of the vitamin.
What do the Paleo gurus say?
Mark Sisson says: “You certainly can (eat it), but I still wouldn’t. Wheat germ has a little something called wheat germ agglutinin, a particularly potent lectin that protects wheat from insects, yeasts and bacteria. It also tries to protect wheat from other, larger predators, like hairless bipedal agrarian apes, by attacking and perforating the intestinal lining. There’s also evidence that WGA interacts with insulin receptors in fat and liver cells, even going so far as to replicate the effects of insulin. Mimicking the effect of insulin with a foreign plant protein? Eh, I’m a little nervous about that.”
Kevin Cann (guest-blogging for Robb Wolf) says: “Understanding WGA and the other toxins found in grains and legumes is an important concept to health and weight loss. Counting calories while eating wheat products may work for some, but there are going to be quite a few people that run into failure. How can one reverse insulin resistance by eating a food that acts like insulin? Consumption of wheat can lead to Vitamin D deficiencies, which may be why we see increasing rates of disease and even osteoporosis. It damages the gut lining and increases inflammation. Inflammation can also lead to weight gain. If anything, remove wheat from the diet for 30 days and see how you feel. Eliminating all grains and legumes would be an even better step towards better health.”
Loren Cordain says: “In vitro studies show that WGA binds the nuclear pore and prevents Vitamin D from causing its normal gene transcription—not a good thing, as proper Vitamin.