What is it?
An ancient wheat crop that’s often described as a subspecies of the common wheat plant.
The health claims?
- Spelt is wheat free, making it suitable for people with wheat intolerances
- The grain is easy to digest and causes less bloating than common wheat
- Spelt is high in fibre and protein
- Foods made from spelt flour do not affect blood sugar as dramatically as refined wheat flour
The scientific facts?
- It’s true, spelt is a wheat crop, but it does not contain the same type of wheat that’s used in food production today. The grain’s main health benefit is that it’s lower in gluten and is easier to digest than common wheat because its gluten is more soluble. This means that if you feel bloated after eating normal wheat, you may get digestive relief from making the switch to spelt. But take note: as spelt does contain some gluten, it’s not suitable for those with coeliac disease.
- The recently revived superfood grain is indeed higher in protein than wheat. But health claims that it’s higher in fibre are only half true. Refined white spelt is not significantly higher in fibre than refined wheat flour, but wholegrain spelt flour is definitely a great source of fibre.
- Studies show that wholegrain spelt flour has a lower glycaemic index than wholegrain wheat flour (because it contains more protein than wheat). As such, it causes a much smaller rise in blood sugar than wheat. However, that’s not the case if white spelt flour is used.
Nutritional facts – Wholegrain spelt versus wholegrain wheat
Most spelt fans like to use it instead of wheat, but is the dietary swap worthwhile? Here’s how 100g of each compares:
- Kcals: Spelt 300 v wheat 340
- Carbohydrate: Spelt 63.6g v wheat 72.5g
- Sugar: Spelt 1.3g v wheat 0.4g
- Fibre: Spelt 8.5g v wheat 12.2g
- Protein: Spelt 14g v wheat 12g
- Fat (unsaturated): Spelt 2.5g v wheat 1.8g
- Miscellaneous vitamins and minerals: Wholegrain wheat is a good source of iron, 100g provides more than a quarter of the recommended daily intake of the mineral. It’s also a modest source of calcium. However, studies comparing spelt to wheat have shown that spelt is a better source of iron, vitamin B3, phosphorus, magnesium, copper and zinc. And it also contains less phytic acid – the anti-nutrient that blocks iron absorption in the body – than wheat.
Winner: Spelt flour. It’s lower in calories and carbs than wheat, and it’s higher in protein, fat (the ‘good’ unsaturated type) and an array of minerals. The only nutritional downside of spelt is that it is lower in fibre than whole-wheat and slightly higher in sugar. A bag of wholemeal spelt flour is just as inexpensive as wheat flour – costing £1.99 for a 500g in supermarkets. But watch out for some brands that seem to be taking advantage of spelt’s current superfood status by raising the price point to around £4.00 for 500g.
Worth the hype? Yes. Spelt has a better nutritional profile than wheat, particularly its lower carb and calorie load and higher protein content. When this is considered alongside the trendy grain’s more soluble gluten structure – which makes it easier to digest than wheat – it seems that spelt may provide an ideal way for wheat avoiders to enjoy baked goods without the side effects of wheat.
Health tip: when swapping wheat flour for spelt in recipes, use 20% less flour than stated as spelt flour is drier than wheat.