Most types of breads you buy, whether from the grocery store or your local bakery, use wheat flour. Wheat flour may be common today, but did you know that this wasn’t always the case?
Before the wheat we know today, there was spelt. Triticum spelta, a form of wheat, is an ancient cousin of modern wheat (Triticum aestivum). It was once a vital crop in Europe during the Middle Ages.
Modern wheat may have replaced spelt, but it is regaining popularity. You can use it like common wheat to make bread, pasta, cookies, cakes, pies, and more. You’ll find spelt flour, whole-grain spelt flour, and spelt berries in many grocery stores. The grain hasn’t been crossed with any other species of wheat, making it purer than most modern wheat. In whole-grain form, it provides more essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.
Many believe spelt to be a healthier alternative to conventional wheat. While research shows that it does provide some significant health benefits, there are a few drawbacks as well.
A quarter cup of dry spelt contains:
Spelt, especially whole-grain, also contains a number of other essential vitamins and minerals, such as:
- Vitamin B1
- Vitamin B3
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin E
Spelt flour has a similar nutritional profile to common wheat. It is slightly higher in protein, but also slightly lower in insoluble fiber. Spelt is also higher in some important vitamins.
Potential Health Benefits of Spelt
Spelt contains important vitamins and minerals. It’s also high in fiber. Its strong nutritional profile provides many potential health benefits, such as:
Reduced Blood Sugar Spikes
Whole-grain spelt is an excellent source of fiber. Fiber helps to slow your digestion, which helps to reduce blood sugar spikes after eating. Fiber from whole grains may also help to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Improved Digestive Health
The fiber and other nutrients in spelt and other whole grains can help to improve the health of the good bacteria that live in your digestive system. It may help to reduce inflammation and promote healthy digestion.
Some research suggests that fiber helps to reduce the risk of diverticular disease (pockets that form in the walls of your digestive tract.
Lower Risk of Heart Disease
Spelt may help to reduce your risk of heart disease. Studies show that a high-fiber diet may play a role. High cholesterol increases your risk of heart attacks and heart disease. The nutrient helps lower blood cholesterol levels. It helps to reduce blood pressure, another risk factor for heart disease.
Other studies show that a high-fiber diet may lower your risk of developing heart disease in general.
Aids in Weight Management
Potential Risks of Spelt
While spelt does offer many potential health benefits, there are also a few risks. These risks include:
Spelt is a form of wheat, and can therefore cause problems for individuals with wheat allergies. It contains a weaker gluten structure than conventional wheat, but can still cause problems for individuals with Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
May Trigger Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Spelt flour is lower in FODMAPs than conventional wheat, and some products are labeled as “safe,” such as spelt sourdough. If you have irritable bowel syndrome and want to eat spelt sourdough, you should read the label to ensure that the loaf includes only 100% spelt flour. You may also want to limit your servings to avoid potential issues.
Blood Sugar Spikes
While whole-grain spelt may help to reduce blood sugar spikes, refined varieties may have the opposite effect. Refined spelt flour is higher on the glycemic index, similar to refined regular wheat, which can cause spikes to occur.
Effects on Nutrient Absorption
Like modern wheat, spelt contains phytic acid, a compound that can interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients.
While this may not be a problem for those eating a well-balanced diet, it may present a problem for those eating a vegan or vegetarian diet, as they get most vitamins and minerals from plant foods. Sprouting, soaking, or fermenting the grain can help to reduce the phytic acid content.