What is spelt, and is spelt good for you? The answer to that second question is a resounding “yes.” For thousands of years, spelt has been used for its many health benefits, and though it’s eaten throughout Europe as a nutritious health food, it’s not as common in the U.S.
So what is spelt flour? Spelt is an ancient grain, part of the same family as wheat, rye, and barley. However, there are some major differences between spelt and other types of grain.
Spelt has a lighter texture, it doesn’t crumble when cooked, and it also has a slightly nutty flavor. But it’s not the flavor that makes spelt such a great food—spelt provides many major health benefits that other grains do not.
Spelt Nutritional Facts
What is spelt flour’s nutritional value? For starters, spelt flour is low in fat, sodium, sugar, and cholesterol. It also has a high amount of dietary fiber and protein, making it a good dietary choice for helping with digestion, muscle building, and cell repair.
However, there are other spelt flour nutrition facts that you won’t see on the label. Spelt flour is a rich source of vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, iron, manganese, copper, and selenium. Eating spelt is a good way to help get your daily recommended amount of nutrients.
|Minerals||Daily Recommended Amount in 1 Cup of Spelt|
Is Spelt More Nutritious than Wheat?
Spelt is a good source of many vitamins and minerals, but wheat also contains some nutrients. Is spelt truly better than regular wheat?
Although the two grains have some similar nutritional amounts, spelt has almost double the amount of vitamin K of wheat. As well, there are several minerals which are slightly higher in spelt than in wheat, including iron, potassium, and zinc. In many respects, spelt is more nutritious than wheat.
However, one of the reasons why spelt is often preferred over wheat is not because of its vitamin content, but because it causes less digestive upset, particularly for people who are sensitive to gluten. Wheat contains more gluten than spelt, which is why many people with wheat allergies find they can enjoy eating spelt products. Spelt also has some special nutritional properties that can provide health benefits not found in regular wheat.
Is Spelt Good For You?
One reason why spelt is considered healthier than wheat is that the nutrients in spelt are contained in the kernel and are not removed during milling, which often happens with wheat. Another reason why many people prefer spelt over wheat is that they have an easier time digesting it. There are many reasons for this.
One is that spelt has a high amount of soluble fiber, which helps with the functioning of your digestive tract and increases digestion of gluten. Furthermore, spelt is lower in calories compared to wheat, which is why many people find it to be a “lighter” grain. Since spelt isn’t as heavy, people can have an easier time digesting it and aren’t left with that excessively full or bloated feeling they get after a big plate of pasta or several pieces of bread.
Health Benefits of Spelt
So, you know it’s nutritious, but what are the actual health benefits of spelt flour? There are actually many great benefits to adding this nutritious grain to your meals.
1. Support Digestion
Since spelt has a high amount of soluble fiber, it supports digestion, making it useful for gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Fiber helps bulk up stool and move it through your digestive tract. Not only does this help to reduce issues such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and excess gas, but it also increases your absorption of nutrients.
2. Increase Energy
Eating spelt can also help boost your energy. Spelt contains complex carbohydrates, which are digested much more slowly than the refined carbs you’ll find in white bread or pasta. This means that complex carbs will provide you with energy over a longer period of time; conversely, refined carbs can lead to energy spikes and crashes. Many athletes use complex carbs to increase their energy levels before competing.
3. Prevent Diabetes and Heart Disease
Both diabetes and cardiovascular disease are linked to insulin resistance, and eating sugary or carb-heavy foods can contribute to these conditions. Compared to many types of wheat, spelt has a lower glycemic index, meaning that it doesn’t cause the same energy spikes and crashes, and because it releases sugar more slowly into the bloodstream, it’s good for managing or even preventing diabetes and related conditions.
4. Lower Cholesterol Levels
Not only does spelt contain very little cholesterol, but it can also actually help lower your cholesterol levels. High amounts of fiber can help prevent the absorption of cholesterol. In fact, the fiber in spelt specifically targets LDL (also known as “bad”) cholesterol.
5. Lose Weight
Is spelt good for weight loss? The answer is yes. Spelt is lower in calories than regular wheat, making it a good substitute. As well, since spelt contains complex carbs, it does not cause the same insulin spikes that are linked to obesity and weight gain.
6. Improve Immune Function
Spelt contains a wide range of anti-inflammatory properties that can help improve your immune function. Spelt contains mucopolysaccharides, which are a type of complex carb that has anti-inflammatory properties and supports our bones and joints. Spelt also contains amino acids, which can fight joint inflammation, as well as support a wide range of our bodily functions. As well, since spelt contains many vitamins and minerals, as well as elements which support increased digestion, it can give a huge boost to your immune system.
7. Strengthen Bones
Spelt contains many minerals that are important for bone health. Both calcium and phosphorous help strengthen bones and teeth, preventing problems such as osteoporosis later in life.
Is Spelt Gluten Free?
If you have celiac, it’s not enough to know what spelt flour is; “Is it gluten free?” is the most important question you need to be asking. Since spelt is low in gluten, is it safe for people with celiac disease? Unfortunately, it isn’t. While spelt does have less gluten than wheat, it still contains some gluten, so it’s not a safe choice for people with celiac disease and it will likely cause symptoms.
However, for people who have wheat allergies or gluten sensitivity, spelt flour may not trigger any symptoms; many people with wheat allergies find that they can enjoy spelt symptom-free. Testing it out will give you a good idea if it’s right for you.
How to Incorporate Spelt in Your Diet
So, now that you know how good it can be for you, you’re probably wondering what spelt flour is used for. Well, it turns out that there is actually a wide variety of meals and dishes you can enjoy that use it. One easy way to eat more spelt is to switch out other grains or carbs from your diet. For instance, instead of having pasta, you can have spelt pasta.
And what is spelt pasta? Obviously, it’s pasta made from spelt instead of wheat, and it’s likely available at either your supermarket or a health-food store. In fact, many spelt substitutes are available for breads, pastries, and cereals. If you can’t find spelt products at supermarkets or health-food stores, another option is to ask a local bakery to do a special order for you; they can get spelt flour as easily as they can get wheat, though you may have to buy in bulk to make it worth their while if they don’t sell spelt products regularly.
If you don’t want to go the store-bought route (or if you simply prefer to making food from scratch), why not buy some spelt flour and make your own spelt meals and baked goods? For most recipes that use wheat, you can simply substitute the wheat for spelt, but, a note of caution first: spelt is more water-soluble than wheat, which means you need to use less liquid (water, milk, whatever it is) than the recipe calls for.
Slowly add liquid and watch the consistency of the dough until it’s right. You also won’t have to knead spelt flour as much as you would wheat; spelt is more fragile doesn’t need as much prep.
Some spelt products you can buy or make at home include:
- Spelt pasta
- Spelt pastries
- Spelt cookies
- Pizzas with a spelt dough
- Sandwiches with spelt bread
- Store-bought spelt cereal
Who Should Eat and Avoid Spelt
Spelt is a very healthy food, but whether it’s the right choice for you depends on many factors.
Here are some people who should eat spelt:
- People with certain digestive disorders, such as IBS
- People suffering from obesity, heart disease, or high cholesterol
- People who want to improve their overall health
- Athletes or other people who are performing strenuous physical activities
- People who want to get more nutrients into their diets
Here are some people who should avoid spelt:
- People with celiac disease
- People on low-carb diets
- People with wheat allergies, if spelt is a trigger
Delicious Spelt Recipes
If you want to make your own spelt meals at home, here are a couple of spelt recipes you can try out.
Spelt Chocolate Chip Cookies
- 225 g softened butter
- 225 g golden caster sugar
- 2 eggs
- 10 ml vanilla bean extract
- 600 g spelt flour
- 30 ml baking powder
- 200 g milk
- Chocolate chips
1. Mix the butter and sugar into a bowl, stirring it into a cream.
2. Add the eggs and milk, beating them into the mixture.
3. Sift in spelt flour and baking powder.
4. Pour the mixture onto a tray and add chocolate chips.
5. Roll the mix into a tube shape, wrap it in greaseproof paper, and stick it in the fridge for 30 minutes to one hour.
6. Remove the spelt cookie dough from the fridge, cut it into cookie shapes on a baking tray, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 355 degrees Fahrenheit.
For a nice breakfast meal, try spelt waffles. You will need:
- 1 cup spelt flour
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 2 eggs
- 1 carton buttermilk
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
1. Mix the spelt flour, sugar, and baking powder.
2. Add in eggs, buttermilk, and oil; beat everything into a creamy batter.
3. Use a waffle iron to cook spelt waffles.
Tip: You can add a pinch of salt or vanilla to the mixture for added flavor.
Side Effects of Spelt
Spelt is a very nutritious, healthy food, and there are usually no serious side effects, except in some specific cases:
- If you have celiac disease, you need to avoid spelt. Spelt contains gluten, so it will trigger symptoms and cause damage just like any wheat product. This has been confirmed in scientific studies.
- If you have a wheat allergy, then you can test out spelt and see if it causes any symptoms. Some people who have sensitivity to gluten may find that spelt is a trigger, but others find that spelt agrees with them more. It depends on the individual.
- Finally, while spelt can help with digestive disorders such as IBS, it can also worsen symptoms in some cases. This is because spelt contains FODMAPs (short-chain carbohydrates), which can aggravate the symptoms of IBS in some sufferers.
If you have any of the above conditions, spelt may cause:
- Excess gas
- Stomach cramps
- Other celiac-related reactions
Spelt is a super-nutritious, healthy grain that has been used for thousands of years for its numerous health benefits. Adding spelt to your diet can improve your digestion, boost immune function, and help you get the vitamins and minerals you need each day. Of course, spelt shouldn’t be used by people with celiac disease, but for most other people, exchanging some wheat products for spelt can have good effects on their health.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Cespedes, A., “Is Spelt Flour Healthy?” Livestrong web site, June 12, 2015; http://www.livestrong.com/article/468126-is-spelt-flour-healthy/, last accessed April 15, 2016.
West, H., “What Is Spelt, and Is it Good for You?,” Authority Nutrition web site; March 2016, https://authoritynutrition.com/what-is-spelt/, last accessed April 15, 2016.