Spelt is an ancient cereal grain that while native to southern Europe has been widely grown in Europe.
It declined in popularity during the 19th century, but it’s now making a comeback as a health food.
This nutrient-rich whole grain is high in protein and has a nutty flavor.
This article takes a detailed look at spelt and its potential health benefits.
Spelt is a type of grain that is related to wheat, barley, and rye. Its scientific name is Triticum spelta (
In fact, spelt is considered a distinct type of wheat. Other types of wheat include einkorn wheat, khorasan wheat, and modern semi-dwarf wheat.
Since they are close relatives, spelt and wheat have similar nutritional profiles, and both contain gluten. Spelt should therefore be avoided by those with celiac disease or who are following a gluten-free diet (
Spelt is a type of wheat. Its nutrition content is very similar to wheat, and it contains gluten.
Here’s the nutrient breakdown for 1 cup (194 grams) of cooked spelt (
- Calories: 246
- Protein: 10.7 grams
- Fat: 1.7 grams
- Carbs: 51 grams
- Fiber: 7.5 grams
- Manganese: 92% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Phosphorous: 23% of the DV
- Niacin: 31% of the DV
- Magnesium: 23% of the DV
- Zinc: 22% of the DV
- Iron: 18% of the DV
Additionally, spelt contains copper, selenium, and vitamins B1(thiamin). Like most whole grains, it is also high in carbs and an excellent source of dietary fiber.
Though it is nutritionally similar to wheat, comparisons have shown it to be slightly higher in zinc and protein. About 80% of the protein in spelt is gluten. Additionally, in comparison to wheat spelt, it has a higher antioxidant capacity— the ability to remove free radicals (
Like other grains, spelt is high in carbs. It’s also an excellent source of dietary fiber, a good source of protein, and contains some vitamins and minerals.
Similar to wheat and other grains, spelt is mainly comprised of carbs, most of which is starch, or long chains of glucose molecules (
Whole spelt is also a good source of dietary fiber. Fiber helps slow down digestion and absorption, which helps reduce blood sugar spikes.
High fiber intake is strongly linked to positive health outcomes including, a reduced risk of obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes (
Whole spelt is high in carbs and fiber. High fiber diets have been linked to positive health outcomes.
Whole grains, like whole spelt, are considered to be very healthy for most people.
They are an important source of carbs, protein, fiber, and essential nutrients like iron and zinc.
Research consistently links higher intakes of whole grains with lower risk of stroke, heart attack, type 2 diabetes, and even some cancers (
People who consume more whole grains are also more likely to maintain a moderate weight and have better digestive health (
One review of six studies involving a total of 247,487 people found that those who ate the most whole grains were 14% less likely to have a stroke compared with those who ate the least amount of whole grains (
Similarly, an analysis of over 14,000 people found the highest intakes of whole grains were associated with a 21% reduced risk of heart disease compared to the lowest intakes (
Another 2013 review showed that high whole grain intake (3 servings per day) was associated with a 32% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Refined grains did not show the same benefit (
Although most of these studies are observational, there have been some human clinical trials that support the health benefits of whole grains as well (
Regularly consuming spelt or other whole grains promotes health and could help protect against obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Despite the health benefits of whole grains, spelt may be harmful for some people. This includes those who have celiac disease or other forms of gluten intolerance, or have irritable bowel syndrome.
Gluten intolerance and wheat allergy
Gluten is the name for the mixture of gliadin and glutenin proteins found in grains like wheat, spelt, barley, and rye.
It can cause problems for people who are intolerant to gluten, such as people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (
For people with celiac disease, gluten will trigger an autoimmune reaction, which causes inflammation in the small intestine. This serious condition can only be treated with a lifelong gluten-free diet.
Left untreated, celiac disease can cause nutrient deficiencies including iron, calcium, vitamin B12, and folate. It’s also been linked to an increased risk of developing bowel cancer, schizophrenia, and epilepsy (
People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity may experience a negative effect when they eat gluten, usually in the form of digestive problems (
It’s estimated that about 1.4% of people worldwide have celiac disease. A similar number of people are thought to have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (
People who have a wheat allergy may also be sensitive to spelt. Wheat allergy occurs when there is an immune response to the proteins in wheat (
Spelt contains gluten. It is unsuitable for people with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or a wheat allergy.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gut disorder characterized by symptoms including stomach pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. About 11% of the global population has IBS (
While individual experiences with IBS vary greatly, among the possible dietary triggers is a group of short-chain carbs known as FODMAPs. Like wheat, spelt contains a significant amount of FODMAPs, which can trigger IBS symptoms in susceptible people (
The way foods are processed can also affect the amount of FODMAPs present.
For example, traditional bread-making with fermentation can reduce FODMAPs. In modern bread-making, the FODMAP content remains the same (
However, spelt flour is actually lower in FODMAPS than modern wheat flour (
Therefore, some spelt products, including sourdough bread, have been labeled as “safe” by the Monash Low-FODMAP system, a well-regarded resource for people trying to follow a low-FODMAP diet.
Here are some tips for including spelt in your diet if you have IBS:
- Read the label. Make sure the ingredients list on the label says 100% spelt flour or spelt bread.
- Choose sourdough. Pick a sourdough bread to eat.
- Limit serving size. Do not eat more than 3 slices (26 grams each) per sitting.
Spelt contains FODMAPs, which can cause problems for people with IBS. Fermenting spelt to make sourdough bread can lower the amount of FODMAPs present, making it more suitable for people trying to manage IBS symptoms.
Like most plant foods, grains also contain some antinutrients.
Antinutrients are substances, including phytic acid and lectins, that can interfere with the digestion and absorption of other nutrients (
Phytic acid, a compound naturally found in many plant foods, can reduce the absorption of minerals such as iron and zinc (
For most people eating a well-balanced diet, this is not a problem. But it can be a concern for vegetarians and vegans, who rely on plants exclusively for these and other essential minerals.
Like wheat, spelt does contain a significant amount of phytic acid. However, the way it is processed can affect the phytic acid content.
Traditional methods like soaking, sprouting, and fermenting can significantly reduce the phytic acid content of grains, including spelt, thus improving micronutrient availability (
Spelt contains phytic acid, which can reduce the absorption of minerals. Soaking, sprouting, and fermenting grains can reduce the phytic acid content.
Lectins are a group of proteins found in many foods, including grains such as spelt (
Some people think lectins should be avoided, since a high intake has been linked with damage to the gut lining, digestive discomfort, and autoimmune diseases (
However, most lectins are destroyed during cooking and processing, and more importantly, most of the grains and other foods that contain lectins are generally eaten in cooked form (
As with phytic acid, the traditional processing of grains through soaking, sprouting, and fermentation significantly reduces the lectin content (
The amount of lectins you’re exposed to from spelt is unlikely to cause harm or prevent nutrient availability if consumed cooked.
All grains contain high amounts of lectins. However, most of these lectins are eliminated during cooking or processing.
You can add spelt to your diet as a whole grain or in spelt flour. If you’re using whole grains, be sure to wash them thoroughly and soak them overnight. This helps to make the spelt easier to digest.
You can then use them as a substitute for other carbs, like rice or potatoes, in many dishes. A few popular ideas are spelt risotto or spelt broths and stews.
It’s also easy to substitute spelt flour for wheat flour in most recipes, as they are very similar. If you are baking, you can substitute about half your usual flour for spelt flour and get a similar result.
You can buy spelt flour in stores or online.
Spelt can be used as a substitute for other carbs. You can try cooking the whole grains or using spelt flour instead of wheat flour in recipes.
Spelt is an ancient whole grain that can be a nutritious addition to your diet.
However, it contains gluten, and is not a good option for people with gluten intolerance or a wheat allergy.
It’s also not clear whether there is any benefit to consuming spelt over wheat.
That being said, it is always a good idea to choose whole grains instead of their refined counterparts.