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This ancient cousin of wheat has enjoyed rising popularity in health food circles in recent years, especially among those with food sensitivities. But should spelt be on your grocery list? Is it really healthy? What Is Spelt? An ancient relative of wheat, spelt originated in the Middle East and gained widespread popularity in Europe as far back as 750-15 B.C. While many grains date back to this time, spelt is still called an “ancient grain” today because it remains largely unchanged even in the last several hundred years, while other forms of wheat have experienced dramatic redefinition. Over millennia, wheat replaced spelt and other ancient grains as it was cultivated to produce higher yield and free-threshing kernels (to allow the grain to separate easily from the chaff during harvest). Spelt and other ancient grains are still enjoyed in some parts of the world and have been popularized in the U.S. as a health food. Those who enjoy spelt bread and pasta say it tastes better than wheat and describe it as nutty, wholesome, and more filling. Spelt can be cooked and eaten whole (called spelt berries) and used as a warm side or in a cold salad, or it can be ground into flour for baking. While most baking sites say that you can substitute spelt for whole wheat flour in most recipes, I find some tinkering is usually needed for the best result, as it contains less gluten and more protein than regular flour. Wondering what the verdict is? First, the good news: The Good News: Spelt Is (Slightly) Healthier than Wheat Many spelt health benefit claims are anecdotal, but there are some reliable studies that indicate spelt has two main advantages over modern wheat hybrids: Spelt has a Better Nutritional Profile than Common Wheat While I maintain that grains have little nutritional value in comparison to better food choices like vegetables, spelt does boast a higher protein and mineral content than modern wheat (although some could argue that the difference is slight). A 2012 study found that: Spelt differs from wheat in that it has a higher protein content (15.6% for spelt, 14.9% for wheat), higher lipid content (2.5% and 2.1%, respectively), lower insoluble fiber content (9.3% and 11.2%, respectively) and lower total fiber content (10.9% and 14.9%, respectively). There are no important differences in starch, sugar and soluble fiber content, and there is a qualitative diversity at the protein, arabinoxylan and fatty acid levels. (1) It is important to note that studies also find the nutrient levels vary quite a bit among spelt samples. This means that the strain of spelt used, the environment in which it’s grown, and the method of farming all affect the final product’s nutritional value. So check your labels carefully and choose from credible organic producers.

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