The World's Healthiest Foods
Spelt

A wonderfully nutritious and ancient grain with a deep nutlike flavor, spelt is a cousin to wheat that is recently receiving renewed recognition. Spelt products can be found in your local health food store year-round.

Spelt is an ancient grain that traces its heritage back long before many wheat hybrids. Many of its benefits come from the fact that it offers a broader spectrum of nutrients compared to many of its more inbred cousins in the wheat family. It can be used in many of the same ways as wheat - bread and pasta making but does not seem to cause sensitivities in most people who are intolerant of wheat.

 


Health Benefits

Spelt is an ancient grain that traces its heritage back long before many wheat hybrids. Many of its benefits come from this fact: it offers a broader spectrum of nutrients compared to many of its more inbred cousins in the Triticum (wheat) family. Spelt features a host of different nutrients. It is an excellent source of vitamin B2, a very good source of manganse, and a good source of niacin, thiamin, and copper. This particular combination of nutrients provided by spelt may make it a particularly helpful food for persons with migraine headache, atherosclerosis, or diabetes.

Help for Migraine Headache Sufferers

Spelt may be one of the most important foods for many migraine headache sufferers since it is an excellent source of riboflavin (vitamin B2), a nutrient necessary for proper energy production within cells. Riboflavin has been shown to help reduce the frequency of attacks in persons who get migraines, possibly by improving the energy metabolism of their brain and muscle cells. Eating just 2 ounces of bread or other baked goods made from whole grain spelt will provide more than 75% of the daily value for riboflavin--76.5% of the DV for riboflavin to be precise.

Atherosclerosis

Concerned about atherosclerosis? You may want to increase your intake of spelt. This ancient grain is a good source of niacin, which has numerous benefits against cardiovascular risk factors. Niacin can help reduce total cholesterol and lipoprotein (a) levels. (Lipoprotein (a) or Lp(a) is a molecule composed of protein and fat that is found in blood plasma and is very similar to LDL cholesterol, but is even more dangerous as it has an additional molecule of adhesive protein called apolioprotein (a), which renders Lp(a) more capable of attaching to blood vessel walls.

Niacin may also help prevent free radicals from oxididizing LDL, which only becomes potentially harmful to blood vessel walls after oxidation. Lastly, niacin can help reduce platelet aggregation, the clumping together of platelets that can result in the formation of blood clots. Two ounces of spelt flour will supply you with 24.0% of the daily value for niacin.

The fiber in spelt can also help to reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels. The presence of fiber also contributes to the cholesterol-lowering potential of spelt. Fiber binds with the bile acids that are used to make cholesterol. Fiber isn't absorbed, so when it exits the body in the feces, it takes the bile acids with it, making less available for cholesterol production.

Riboflavin is often present in the body in the form of FAD, a compound which serves many important roles, including being a cofactor for an enzyme (MTHFR) that is involved in the breakdown metabolism of homocysteine (high levels of homocysteine have been found to be associated with increased risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.) Certain individuals have MTHFR enzyme that don't function optimally, owing to a genetic mutation, and are therefore more at risk for having high homocysteine levels. Researchers have suggested that among these individuals, those who have inadequte riboflavin status are more likely to have elevated homocysteine levels than those whose riboflavin status is adequate.

Gallstone Prevention

Eating foods high in insoluble fiber, such as spelt, can help women avoid gallstones, shows a study published in the July 2004 issue of the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Studying the overall fiber intake and types of fiber consumed over a 16 year period by 69,778 women in the Nurses Health Study, researchers found that those consuming the most fiber overall (both soluble and insoluble) had a 13% lower risk of developing gallstones compared to women consuming the fewest fiber-rich foods.

Those eating the most foods rich in insoluble fiber gained even more protection against gallstones: a 17% lower risk compared to women eating the least. And the protection was dose-related; a 5-gram increase in insoluble fiber intake dropped risk dropped 10%. How do foods rich in insoluble fiber help prevent gallstones? Researchers think insoluble fiber not only speeds intestinal transit time (how quickly food moves through the intestines), but reduces the secretion of bile acids (excessive amounts contribute to gallstone formation), increases insulin sensitivity and lowers triglycerides (blood fats).

Abundant in all whole grains, insoluble fiber is also found in nuts and the edible skin of fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers, many squash, apples, berries, and pears. In addition, beans provide insoluble as well as soluble fiber.(October 11, 2004)


Description

Spelt is an ancient grain with a deep nutlike flavor that has recently received renewed recognition. It is a distant cousin to wheat, and while it can be used in many of the same ways as wheat - bread and pasta making, it does not seem to cause sensitivities in most people who are intolerant of wheat. In addition to spelt flour, spelt is also available in its hulled, whole grain form (often referred to as spelt berries), which can be prepared and enjoyed like rice. Spelt is scientifically known as Triticum speltum.

History

Native to Iran and southeastern Europe, spelt is one of the world's most popular grains with a heritage thought to extend back 7,000 years. Spelt was one of the first grains to be used to make bread, and its use is mentioned in the Bible.

Spelt played an important role in ancient civilizations, such as Greece and Rome, serving as a staple grain. Spelt was so well regarded that it even took on symbolic importance as it was used as a gift to the pagan gods of agriculture to encourage harvest and fertility.

Throughout early European history, as populations migrated throughout the continent, they brought this hearty and nutritious grain with them to their new lands. Spelt became a popular grain, especially in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. During the Middle Ages, spelt earned another level of recognition with the famous healer Hildegard von Bingen using spelt as a panacea for many illnesses.

Spelt was cultivated on a moderate level in the United States until the beginning of the 20th century when farmers turned their efforts to the cultivation of wheat. While there may have been many reasons for this agricultural shift, one is that spelt's nutrient-dense tough husk makes it harder to process than wheat. Yet, recently this ancient grain has been receiving renewed interest, and its popularity and appreciation are beginning to escalate.

How to Select and Store

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Spelt:

As with all grains, before cooking spelt berries, rinse them thoroughly under running water and remove any dirt or debris that you may find. After rinsing, soak spelt in water for eight hours or overnight. Drain, rinse and then add three parts water to each one part spelt berries. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about one hour.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Use spelt bread for your next hearty sandwich. Spelt's robust flavor really enhances old favorites like grilled cheese.

Serve cooked spelt berries as a side dish substitute for rice or potatoes.

Combine spelt pasta with olives, tomatoes and feta cheese for a quick and easy Mediterranean-inspired salad.

Add some spelt flour to your favorite bread, muffin or waffle recipe.

Safety

Spelt is not a commonly allergenic food, is not included in the list of 20 foods that most frequently contain pesticide residues, and is also not known to contain goitrogens, oxalates, or purines.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Spelt WholeGrain Flour
2.00 oz-wt
189.00 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 1.30 mg 76.5 7.3 excellent
manganese 1.24 mg 62.0 5.9 very good
tryptophan 0.10 g 31.3 3.0 good
vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.37 mg 24.7 2.3 good
vitamin B3 (niacin) 4.80 mg 24.0 2.3 good
copper 0.35 mg 17.5 1.7 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

References

  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Fortin, Francois, Editorial Director. The Visual Foods Encyclopedia. Macmillan, New York.
  • Jacques PF, Kalmbach R, Bagley PJ et al. The relationship between riboflavin and plasma total homocysteine in the Framingham Offspring cohort is influenced by folate status and the C677T transition in the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. J Nutr 2002 Feb;132(2):283-8.
  • McNulty H, McKinley MC, Wilson B et al. Impaired functioning of thermolabile methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase is dependent on riboflavin status: implications for riboflavin requirements. Am J Clin Nutr 2002 Aug;76(2):436-41.
  • Oplinger ES, Oelke EA, Kaminski AR, Kelling KA, Doll JD, Durgan BR et al. Alternative Field Crops Manual: Spelt. http://newcrop.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/spelt.html.
  • Tsai CJ, Leitzmann MF, Willett WC, Giovannucci EL. Long-term intake of dietary fiber and decreased risk of cholecystectomy in women. Am J Gastroenterol. 2004 Jul;99(7):1364-70.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

This page was updated on: 2004-11-20 19:48:00
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation