Spelt is a kind of whole grain, an ancient one cultivated all over the world.
Its usage and popularity waned in the 19th century, but its usage has increased in recent times.
Spelt and other ancient grains appear to be more nutritious compared to modern grains.
This article will take a deep look at spelt as well as its effects on human health. You can then determine whether spelt is good for your health or not.
What is spelt?
Spelt and wheat are closely related. The scientific name for spelt is Triticum spelta (1).
Suffice it to say that spelt is a distinct kind of wheat. Other types include modern semi-dwarf wheat, Khorasan wheat, and einkorn wheat.
The nutritional profile of spelt
You can get the following nutrients from 194 grams or a cup of cooked spelt (4):
- Calories: 246.
- Carbs: 51 grams.
- Fiber: 7.6 grams.
- Protein: 10.6 grams.
- Fat: 1.7 grams.
- Manganese: 106% of the RDI.
- Phosphorous: 29% of the RDI.
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 25% of the RDI.
- Magnesium: 24% of the RDI.
- Zinc: 22% of the RDI.
- Iron: 18% of the RDI.
It is also important to note that there’s small amounts of selenium, calcium, and vitamins B1, B6, and E in spelt. It also contains a lot of carbs and is enriched with dietary fiber.
The nutritional profile of spelt is similar to that of wheat. Some studies however show that there are more protein and zinc in spelt than in wheat. Over 80% of spelt protein is gluten (1).
The whole spelt contains a lot of fiber and carbs
Spelt is loaded with carbs. Most of these carbs are starch, or long chains of glucose molecules (1).
Whole spelt is enriched with fiber as well. Fiber slows down food digestion and absorption, thus reducing spikes in blood sugar levels.
Both spelt and wheat affect blood sugar levels moderately, when ranked on the glycemic index.
What are the health benefits of spelt?
Whole grains are very healthy for most people, and spelt is no exception.
They are rich in protein, carbs, fiber, zinc, iron, and other essential nutrients.
A wide range of studies have shown that regular consumers of whole grains have a very low risk of heart attacks, stroke, some forms of cancer, and type 2 diabetes (11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19).
A certain study involving 247,487 subjects found that regular whole grain eaters had a 14% lower risk of having a stroke (11).
Also, an analysis involving over 14,000 subjects found that people who consumed the most grains had their risk of heart disease reduced by 21% (12).
In another study, people who ate plenty of whole grains had their risk of developing type 2 diabetes reduced by 32%. Unfortunately, refined grains do not offer the same benefit (23).
Spelt may have some negative side effects in some people
Despite the health benefits of whole grains, spelt may be harmful to some people. This includes those who are gluten intolerant or have irritable bowel syndrome.
Wheat allergy and gluten intolerance
Gluten is the name for the mixture of gliadin and glutenin proteins found in grains like wheat, spelt, barley and rye.
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 deficiencies in iron, calcium, vitamin B12, and folate. It’s also been linked to an increased risk of developing bowel cancer, schizophrenia, and epilepsy (34, 35, 36, 37).
People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity may experience a negative effect when they eat gluten, usually in the form of digestive problems (38).
Irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gut disorder that can cause stomach pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. About 14% of the US population has IBS (43).
One known trigger of IBS is a group of short-chain carbs known as FODMAPs. Like wheat, spelled contains a significant amount of FODMAPs, which can trigger IBS symptoms in susceptible people (44, 45, 46, 47).
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 (48).
Spelt contains some antinutrients
Like most plant foods, grains also contain some antinutrients.
Antinutrients are substances that can interfere with the digestion and absorption of other nutrients (50).
Phytic acid reduces the absorption of minerals such as iron and zinc (51).
For most people on a well-balanced diet, this is not a problem. Yet it can be a concern for vegetarians and vegans, who get most of their minerals from plant foods.
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 (52).
However, spelt flour is lower in FODMAPS than modern wheat flour (49).
Some spelt products, including sourdough bread, have been labeled as “safe” by the Monash Low-FODMAP system.
Here are some tips for including spelt in your diet if you have IBS:
- Read the label: Make sure the label says 100% spelled 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.
Lectins are a group of proteins found in many foods, including grains (53).
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 (54).
As with phytic acid, the traditional processing of grains through soaking, sprouting, and fermentation significantly reduces the lectin content (57).
The amount of lectins you’re exposed to from spelt is unlikely to cause harm.
Which is more nutritious between spelt and wheat?
Whole spelt and whole wheat have very similar nutrition profiles.
Both whole grains provide carbs, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients (1).
However, some studies have shown subtle differences between them.
One study also found that spelt contained less of the antinutrient phytic acid (60).
Spelt is an ancient whole grain that can be a nutritious addition to the 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.