Is Spelt flour inflammatory?

Spelt flour has become increasingly popular in recent years as a supposedly healthier alternative to regular wheat flour. Spelt is an ancient grain related to wheat. It contains gluten, but some claim that spelt gluten is easier to digest and less likely to cause inflammation compared to modern wheat. This article reviews the evidence on whether spelt flour is truly less inflammatory than regular wheat flour.

What is Spelt Flour?

Spelt, also known as Triticum spelta, is an ancient grain that is part of the wheat family. It features a tough hull that protects the kernel inside. Once the hull is removed, spelt can be milled into flour and used for baking. Spelt flour has a nutty, earthy flavor and can be used in many recipes that call for regular wheat flour. It contains gluten, but the gluten proteins in spelt flour may differ from modern wheat flour. This has led some to speculate that spelt flour is less inflammatory and easier to digest for those with gluten sensitivities. However, research is conflicting on this topic.

Nutrition Comparison of Spelt and Wheat Flour

Spelt and wheat flour have relatively similar nutritional profiles. Here is a comparison of the main nutrients in 100g of white spelt flour vs. 100g of all-purpose wheat flour:

Nutrient Spelt flour Wheat flour
Calories 338 364
Protein 13g 10g
Carbs 70g 76g
Fat 2g 1g
Fiber 10g 3g

As you can see, spelt flour is very similar to wheat flour in calories, carbs, fat, and protein. The main difference is that spelt flour contains more fiber. Spelt flour has about 10g of fiber per 100g, while wheat flour only contains 3g. This higher fiber content may play a role in some of spelt’s potential health benefits.

Gluten Content of Spelt vs Wheat

Despite being closely related to wheat, some people claim that the gluten in spelt does not provoke the same inflammatory response as the gluten in modern wheat. However, the evidence is conflicting on this.

Some studies have found moderate differences between the gluten proteins in wheat and spelt. The total gluten content is similar, but spelt gluten may contain lower amounts of the gluten proteins that are most responsible for celiac disease and wheat allergy.

For example, one study found that spelt flour contained lower levels of alpha-gliadins, gamma-gliadins, andomega-gliadins compared to wheat flour. These classes of gluten proteins are most likely to trigger celiac disease.

However, other studies have found few significant differences in the gluten protein profiles of spelt and wheat. Both contain glutenins and gliadins, including alpha-gliadins, gamma-gliadins, and omega-gliadins. One analysis found that spelt flour contained slightly lower levels of just one wheat allergen called Tri a 26, but had similar levels of other allergenic gluten proteins.

So while there are minor variations in gluten content between spelt and wheat, they are closely related grains and both contain allergenic gluten. There is no evidence that the gluten in spelt is universally less inflammatory or less likely to trigger adverse reactions in those sensitive to wheat gluten.

Digestibility of Spelt

Another claim about spelt flour is that it is more easily digested than regular wheat flour. This may be partially explained by the higher fiber content of spelt. Fiber slows digestion and absorption, causing a more gradual rise in blood sugar. The fiber lignan in spelt may also improve digestive health by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome.

Some human studies have found benefits of spelt on digestive health markers like stool frequency and consistency. In one study, participants reported improved bowel function and less bloating after replacing wheat bread with spelt bread in their diets for 8 weeks.

However, other studies have found little difference in the digestibility of spelt versus wheat. In a clinical trial, no significant differences were found in levels of digestive discomfort when participants were fed identical foods made with spelt or wheat flour.

More research is needed comparing how spelt flour affects digestive symptoms relative to wheat flour, especially in those with digestive disorders like IBS. The existing evidence is mixed. Spelt’s higher fiber content may promote better digestive regularity, but there is little proof that the gluten itself is less inflammatory or irritating than modern wheat.

Effects on Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is linked to a wide range of health problems. Since spelt is often touted as an anti-inflammatory alternative to wheat, researchers have been interested in comparing their effects on inflammatory markers.

Several human studies have found decreases in some inflammatory markers when consuming spelt products versus wheat products. For example:

– One study found that consuming spelt bread for just 5 days reduced two inflammatory cytokines called IL-6 and IL-12 in healthy patients compared to wheat bread or no bread.

– Another study in patients with atherosclerosis found that a spelt intervention for 8 weeks significantly decreased two inflammatory markers: hs-CRP and interleukin-6.

– Replacing wheat pasta with spelt pasta for 90 days reduced inflammatory cytokines and hs-CRP in patients with colorectal cancer.

However, other studies have not observed significant anti-inflammatory effects. In the study on digestive symptoms mentioned earlier, no significant differences were found in inflammatory markers after consuming spelt or wheat bread.

The evidence is strongest that spelt can reduce inflammatory markers like CRP and cytokines in patients who already have elevated inflammation at baseline. However, benefits are less consistent in healthy populations. More research is still needed, especially larger and longer-term studies on spelt’s anti-inflammatory effects.

Antioxidant Content

In addition to fiber and gluten differences, spelt flour contains higher levels of some antioxidants than wheat flour. Antioxidants are compounds that reduce oxidative stress in the body and have numerous health benefits.

One study found the total antioxidant capacity of spelt flour was nearly 3 times higher than wheat flour. Spelt bran, in particular, contains high levels of phenolic acids like ferulic acid and caffeic acid which act as antioxidants. The hulls of spelt also contain flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol.

The higher antioxidant content of spelt may contribute to some of its anti-inflammatory effects and protection against chronic disease. However, more clinical studies directly measuring antioxidant status are needed to confirm this benefit.

Effects on Cardiovascular Health

Several markers of cardiovascular health have been shown to improve with spelt consumption compared to wheat. Study findings include:

– Consuming spelt instead of wheat for 8 weeks reduced total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and blood pressure in patients with atherosclerosis.

– Replacing wheat with spelt for 5 months improved arterial elasticity and blood flow in healthy postmenopausal women.

– In athletes, spelt bread for 9 days decreased resting heart rate and improved exercise tolerance compared to wheat bread.

The fiber content of spelt probably contributes to these heart-healthy effects. Fiber, especially soluble fiber, has been shown to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Fiber can also feed the healthy bacteria in your gut that produce beneficial compounds like butyrate, which improves the function of blood vessels.

Some experts believe the phenolic acids in spelt like ferulic acid also play a role in reducing oxidative stress that damages blood vessels. However, more research is still needed on the mechanisms behind spelt’s cardiovascular benefits.

Weight Loss Effects

There is limited evidence on whether spelt flour is any better for weight control compared to wheat flour. Again, the higher fiber content may be beneficial for weight management. Because fiber increases feelings of fullness after a meal, high-fiber foods like spelt can reduce overeating and decrease calorie intake.

One recent 2020 study found that eating spelt bread at breakfast led to greater satiety and lower hunger and desire to eat compared to wheat bread in healthy adults. Participants also ate less at lunch after eating the spelt bread breakfast. However, more research is needed looking directly at weight loss.

It’s also important to note that spelt flour is not inherently lower in calories or carbs than wheat flour. One cup of spelt flour contains ~500 calories and 100g carbs, similar to wheat flour. So simply replacing wheat flour with spelt will likely not lead to weight loss if calorie intake remains the same. As with any grain, moderate portions should be consumed as part of an overall healthy diet for weight management.

Glycemic Index

The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly foods raise blood sugar levels after being eaten. Foods with a high glycemic index cause faster, more drastic spikes in blood sugar compared to low glycemic foods. There is some evidence that spelt flour has a lower glycemic index than wheat flour.

In one study, spelt bread had a glycemic index of just 42 (+/- 5), while wheat bread had a GI of 68 (+/- 5). The lower GI food caused a slower, more gradual rise in blood glucose. Another study found spelt pasta had a glycemic index of 37 compared to 50 for wheat pasta.

The higher fiber and antioxidant content of spelt likely contribute to its lower glycemic response. Fiber slows the rate of digestion and absorption of carbs. And compounds like polyphenols have been shown to inhibit digestive enzymes that break down carbs.

However, more research on the glycemic effects of spelt is still needed. Factors like grain processing, bread ingredients, and cooking method can all impact the GI. But the current evidence suggests spelt flour favorably influences post-meal blood sugar control compared to wheat flour.

Drawbacks of Spelt

While spelt does have several nutritional advantages compared to modern wheat, there are some downsides to consider:

– Contains gluten – Spelt contains gluten and is not safe for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Many experts believe spelt gluten is just as likely to trigger issues as wheat gluten.

– Lower gluten content – The different gluten proteins in spelt mean it may not be suitable for baking light and fluffy baked goods. Spelt has less gluten than wheat, so may yield denser results.

– Higher cost – Spelt products typically cost significantly more than wheat products, which may make it inaccessible as a dietary staple for some.

– Limited availability – Since spelt is an ancient grain, products made from it may be harder to find than wheat products in standard grocery stores. However, it is becoming more widely available as demand increases.

– Needs hull removal – Unprocessed spelt has a tough, inedible hull that requires removal before milling and cooking. This extra step increases processing costs.

For those who can tolerate gluten, don’t rely on bread for structure in baking, and don’t mind paying more, spelt can be a nutritious addition to the diet. But it is not suitable for everyone.

Is Spelt Safe for Gluten Sensitivities?

There is conflicting evidence on whether spelt is less likely to cause issues for those with gluten sensitivities compared to wheat. Here is an overview:

– Celiac disease – No, spelt is not safe for those with celiac disease, as it still contains gluten. One study found modern spelt varieties triggered significantly worse reactions in celiac intestinal cells.

– Wheat allergy – Unlikely to be safe, as spelt still contains many of the same allergenic gluten proteins found in wheat. One controlled trial found no difference in IgE-mediated wheat allergy reactions between spelt and wheat.

– Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) – Possibly, but more research is needed. Several studies have found those with NCGS or IBS report fewer digestive symptoms from spelt than wheat. However, these studies have been small and short-term.

– Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – Again, possibly. A few studies have found IBS patients tolerate spelt better and report improvements in bowel function when eating spelt vs wheat bread. But not all studies have found significant benefits for IBS.

Overall, spelt is clearly not suitable for those with diagnosed celiac disease or wheat allergy. However, it may provoke less severe reactions for those with gluten sensitivities without celiac. That said, there is no guarantee it will be tolerated. Those with NCGS or IBS who wish to try spelt should incorporate it slowly while carefully monitoring symptoms and reactions.


There are several potential benefits of spelt flour compared to regular wheat flour:

– Higher fiber content

– Lower glycemic index

– More antioxidants

– Anti-inflammatory effects in some studies

– Improved cardiovascular health markers

– Possible better digestibility

However, the evidence is still relatively preliminary. Larger, longer-term studies directly comparing the effects of spelt vs wheat flour are needed, especially looking at digestive health, inflammation, and cardiometabolic disease risk factors.

Additionally, spelt does still contain gluten and is not suitable for those with celiac disease or gluten allergy. Those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity may tolerate spelt better than wheat, but this varies on an individual basis.

Overall, spelt flour appears to be slightly healthier than wheat flour due to its nutrition profile. But for those who tolerate gluten, both can be enjoyed in moderation as part of an overall balanced diet. Given the limited data, more research is still needed on the potential health advantages of spelt over modern wheat.

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