Spelt (Triticum spelta) is an ancient grain that’s popular among health-conscious consumers both as a cooked whole grain and an alternative to regular wheat flour.

It’s usually farmed organically and has been grown for thousands of years across the globe (1, 2).

Ancient grains are believed to have health benefits over modern wheat, as they haven’t changed much over the past several hundred years. In addition, many — but not all — ancient grains are gluten-free.

As such, if you follow a gluten-free diet, you may wonder whether you can eat spelt.

This article tells you whether spelt is gluten-free.

Gluten in spelt

Spelt is a distinct form of wheat and, like all types of wheat, contains gluten.

Gluten is a general term for wheat protein, though it’s also found in rye and barley. The protein helps dough rise and gives structure to baked goods, especially bread.

While gluten is perfectly safe for many people, those with celiac disease should avoid it.

If you have this condition, ingesting spelt or any product with gluten triggers an autoimmune reaction that inflames and damages the lining of your small intestine (3).

Those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity are also advised to avoid all forms of wheat, including spelt.

How much gluten does it contain?

There’s a prevailing perception that ancient wheat varieties are lower in gluten than regular (common) wheat.

However, researchers who measured the gluten content in both spelt and common wheat found spelt to be slightly higher in gluten (4).

Furthermore, another study on celiac antibodies discovered that spelt was slightly more reactive than regular wheat, meaning that spelt exposure provokes an autoimmune reaction in those with celiac disease (5).

Keep in mind that no amount of gluten is safe for people with this condition.

What about wheat allergy?

If you can eat gluten but avoid wheat due to an allergy, spelt might be an acceptable alternative.

An Australian study in 73 people allergic to wheat revealed that only 30% tested positive for a spelt allergy (6).

Nonetheless, you should still be careful. Be sure to consult your healthcare provider if you have a wheat allergy and are considering trying spelt.

summary

Spelt is a type of wheat, which means that it contains gluten. If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you should avoid spelt.

Spelt is healthy for most people

Unless you have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or an intolerance to wheat, there’s no evidence that you should avoid spelt (3).

In fact, spelt may provide some health benefits, especially if you use it to replace common wheat.

This ancient grain is particularly high in antioxidants, boasting about 50% more phenolic antioxidants per gram than common wheat (1, 7).   

These antioxidants have anti-inflammatory properties, and test-tube studies indicate that they protect brain, liver, and heart cells, as well as provide anti-diabetes, anticancer, and antimicrobial effects (8).

Nutrients

Spelt and common wheat share a similar nutrient profile. The former provides some protein and is an excellent source of whole grain carbs and fiber.

A 1/2-cup (100-gram) serving of cooked spelt provides (9):

  • Calories: 127
  • Protein: 6 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Carbs: 26 grams
  • Fiber: 4 grams

This grain is often sold whole or as a flour. Products like spelt pasta and cereal, as well as spelt bread, muffin, or pancake mix, are also available in health food stores.

summary

If you don’t have to follow a gluten-free diet, spelt is perfectly safe — and may even have more health benefits than common wheat due to its antioxidant content. Consult your healthcare provider if you have a wheat allergy.

Alternatives to spelt

Several gluten-free grains are acceptable substitutes for spelt, including (3):

Due to the risk of cross-contamination with wheat or other gluten-containing grains, it’s best to only purchase products that are certified gluten-free (3).

Summary

Several grains, such as buckwheat, amaranth, sorghum, and quinoa, are naturally gluten-free and can easily replace spelt.

The bottom line

Spelt, an ancient grain, is a distinct variety of wheat. 

Like all wheat, it contains gluten. Therefore, you should avoid spelt if you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

However, for most people, spelt is perfectly safe and makes a nutrient-rich addition to your diet.