Spent on Spelt

Display of spelt at my local Winter Farmers Market on Saturday

Display of spelt at my local Winter Farmers Market on Saturday

Last week Wednesday night I happened to watch Not My Mama’s Meals as it aired (1/9/13) rather than recorded as I normally do.  I was actually at the laptop going through emails and messing around on Facebook, but I perked up when I heard Bobby say he was going to Babycakes NYC.  My knowledge of Babycakes NYC and owner, Erin McKenna, up to that point was she did gluten-free baked goods and I owned her cookbook, Babycakes Covers the Classics.

I got excited because I thought, Hey, gluten-free baked goods on a national cooking show.  Plus, as one of the owners of The Lady & Sons in Savannah, Georgia, known for their Southern cooking  (Chaz and I can personally vouch for that Southern cooking) I thought Bobby was bringing a little bit of our gluten-free lives to the world.

Erin started off by introducing herself and saying, “We specialize in gluten-free and vegan baked goods.”  Again, that internal YES went off in my head.  They chit-chatted for a minute, then she took Bobby back into the kitchen and had a big plastic container of flour on the counter that said, SPELT.

Wait, something’s not right.

“I like to use spelt flour.” She tells Bobby.

Wait, spelt isn’t gluten-free.

“It acts a lot like wheat.” She explains.


“People like me with a wheat-intolerance have an okay time with it.” She adds.

Are you KIDDING me?

I started posting on Facebook and had a conversation with Shirley and Johnna about it.  It would seem Erin’s first cookbook wasn’t entirely gluten-free and contained recipes with spelt flour.  I had to run to the dining room and grab the one I have off the shelf to check it.  Babycakes Covers the Classics is the second book and all the recipes are gluten-free.  No spelt flour, but she has conversions in the book for converting from the gluten-free flour to spelt flour.  On page 19, Erin writes, “As most of you might know by now, spelt is a distant cousin to wheat that many wheat sensitive folks, including me, don’t have a problem digesting.”

Two things.  First, she says on Not My Mama’s Meals that many have an “okay” time with it.  Okay doesn’t mean great or that no one reacts to it.  In fact, I would bet that many people with wheat intolerance, gluten-intolerance, or Celiac are reacting but not having digestive symptoms.  Remember that wheat can affect other body systems other than our digestive system.  It affects our neural, respiratory, circulatory, reproductive, endocrine, and integumentary (skin, hair, fat, and nails) systems.  I certainly had multiple symptoms affecting each of those systems.  Second, she says spelt is a distant cousin to wheat.  Spelt is in the same Triticum family with wheat.  Dr. Stephen Wangen has a great graphic in his book, Healthier Without Wheat, on pages 26 and 27 that puts wheat and spelt in the same immediate family.  He states later on in the book on page 99, “…it should be pointed out that spelt is extremely closely related to wheat and may not be an acceptable alternative.”  Again he says, “Spelt, although a different grain, is an extremely close genetic relative of wheat and my not be acceptable for those who cannot tolerate wheat.  Little research has been done on this issue, so proceed cautiously.” (p.131)

Some people might read Dr. Wangen’s words to mean it is okay to have spelt.  No.  It means it is your choice to make a responsible decision or not.  From the Celiac Sprue Association, “Spelt is a subspecies of wheat. The genus-species of modern bread wheat is simply ‘Triticum aestivum.’ Spelt wheat is a subspecies belonging to, ‘Triticum aestivum speltoides.’ Thus, there is no basis to say spelt is different from ‘wheat.’ The proteins in spelt are essentially identical to those in modern bread wheat; only the amounts are slightly different.”  Wheat itself is capable of producing over 23,000 unique proteins.  That is not a typo folks.  Over twenty-three thousand unique proteins.  From what I could find on wheat intolerance, it is not really known what it is in wheat that causes the wheat intolerance reactions.  Having over 23,000 unique proteins can make it difficult to pinpoint.

There are many similar symptoms for wheat intolerance that are similar to gluten intolerance, Celiac, and other food allergies or sensitivities.

  • stomach bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, flatulence
  • headaches, memory loss, behavioral difficulties, depression, irritability, anxiety
  • frequent infections/colds/flus, mouth ulcers
  • stiff joints, prone to allergies, arthritis, colitis, thyroiditis
  • psoriasis, eczema, itching flaky skin
  • food cravings
  • chronic fatigue
  • heart palpitations

Also, like those of us with Celiac or gluten-intolerance, the symptoms being exposed to wheat for people with wheat intolerance is not always immediate.  In fact, from the sites I went to and the books that I have addressing wheat intolerance, the majority of them pointed out that most of the time the symptoms have delayed onset of up to 3 days later.  So an “okay” time with spelt for those with wheat intolerance is not okay after all. People may just not be reacting to it immediately.

There is also damage being done on the inside that you may not realize if you are non-symptomatic.  This is for anyone with a food intolerance, not just wheat or gluten intolerance.  Many of us are walking around with leaky guts which is what leads to most cases of food sensitivity and is also triggered by food reactions.  I am going to take a bit from a great book called Get Well & Stay Well: Optimal Health through Transformational Medicine, by Steve Amoils, M.D. and Sandi Amoils, M.D., for anyone not familiar with leaky gut and why it is important.

“In order to absorb our food, we start breaking it down in the mouth as we chew and mix it with saliva and then in the stomach with acid.  Digestion continues with the addition of enzymes by our digestive tract, and then the action of the flora in our food. But the final step in digestion is the absorption of the microscopic food particles as they diffuse into our bloodstream through the tiny junctions or pores between the cells that line our intestines.  From there, these particles are transported to the liver for further processing before they are sent out to the cells to finally be used as fuel.

When looking for the steps in the process where function breaks down, permeability turns out to be a major piece of the puzzle.  Normally, the ports in our gut allow only small molecules to pass through.  However, if the body is under stress, these pores can expand and open too wide, allowing larger molecules that haven’t been completely broken down to pass through and enter the bloodstream.  Increased gut permeability can happen under a lot of different circumstances: infection, intense physical stress, shock, surgery, injury, or food poisoning are all common examples.  It can also occur with excessive alcohol consumption, radiation therapy, excessive sugar consumption, anti-inflammatory medications, nutrient deficiencies, premature birth, and whole food exposure before the age of four months.” (pages 104-105)

When food molecules pass through the larger pores our immune system sees the food as foreign invaders making us sick and then attacks the food molecules setting off an immune and inflammatory response.  It’s not surprising for me that the different triggers for leaky gut are shared with triggers and cumulative events for adrenal fatigue.  Food intolerances are a common symptom of adrenal fatigue and if our adrenals are not working right, we open ourselves up to even more illness in our lives.  I see food intolerances as going hand-in-hand with adrenal fatigue.  You can’t get better if you aren’t treating both of them at the same time and a lot of that is dependent on the food you choose to eat.   “Food intolerance weakens the body, especially the lining of the stomach and intestines, which means that the body expends more energy than normal to assimilate and metabolize foods.  Then, the already stressed adrenals are unable to maintain the energy supply to the body.”  (page 330, Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome: Reclaim Your Energy and Vitality with Clinically Proven Natural Programs, Michael Lam, M.D., M.P.H., Dorine Lam, R.D., M.S., M.P.H.)

I know I haven’t written too much about my adrenal fatigue.  If you are still puzzled about what it is, here is a nutshell.  Our adrenals are responsible for making the stress hormones, adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol.  They also make our sex hormones.  When our bodies are undergoing constant stress emotionally, mentally, and physically, it is cortisol that is flooding our bodies.  Adrenal fatigue is most often cumulative and can be triggered by any of the above mentioned triggers for leaky gut.  For me, years of accumulated stressors that I never recovered from hit me even harder when my cousin took his life last September.   Even after my diagnosis and making efforts to consciously manage stressors, the physical stress of my job was too taxing for my adrenals to make a full recovery.  I was also dealing with adding eggs to my list of foods to avoid.  Easy enough to avoid for the most part, but stressful as I was missing having eggs for breakfast in the morning. When our adrenals are taxed there is even more fatigue, difficulty waking and getting out of bed in the morning, feeling tired most of the day, difficulty getting to sleep at night, waking throughout the night, heart palpitations, compromised immune system, increased inflammation, increased irritability and decreased tolerance to things you once handled without problems, increased PMS symptoms, brain fog, loss of memory, weight gain around your midsection, decreased ability to manage stress, craving salty and sweet foods, craving protein, positional hypotension, depression, decreased libido (when your adrenals are too busy pumping out cortisol, it has no energy to produce sex hormones because it is in life saving mode), and lack of enjoyment of life.  Continually eating the foods we are intolerant to when we have leaky gut just continues to stress our adrenals.  Avoiding the foods we need to is what is need to heal leaky gut and to help support the adrenals.

Choosing what we eat has a cascade effect on our health that is negative or positive.   My body cannot recover and heal if I keep sneaking cheese or have an egg over leftovers for breakfast.  I cannot heal my leaky gut and over-worked adrenals if my body stays in a constant state of stress like it was before.  It is up to me to be responsible for my choices if I want to continue my journey towards healthy living.  You are also responsible for your choices.  You can choose foods that will heal you and keep you healthy and avoid the foods that does untold silent damage to your body or you can keep eating those damaging foods and remain sick.

Check out Shirley Braden’s Spin on Spelt at gluten-free easily. 



    • It wouldn’t surprise me, Flannery. I think it’s more prevalent than we realize because so many are undiagnosed and it’s rare Western medicine doctors will even think to look at food as a cause for our health problems.

      • This describes me perfectly. I was always diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. And I would get them on or before big trips. Stress! I am gluten free now, and I diagnosed it myself! I am 100% better. It controlled my life. Thank you for this explanation. It all makes perfect sense.

    • Thanks, Heather! It’s probably a good thing I cut out stuff I was going to add. 😀 So glad to hear it was good I added the adrenal fatigue explanation in there. Sometimes I just never know so I assume SOMEONE reading doesn’t know. hehehe

  1. Pingback: The Spin on Spelt | gfe--gluten free easily

  2. That was very educational to me! I had a few “Aha!” moments reading that! I really had no knowledge of the adrenals and have always wondered why they were a big deal, well now I know! Now I want to know more about how to make sure I am eating right and living right so they work right!!!! Cuz I know mine aren’t working right!!

    • JUlie, glad to be able to share something new to you. If you want to know more about adrenals and adrenal fatigue, one of the best resources that a friend gave me is Dr. Michael Lam’s website http://drlam.com Just remember that I mentioned how there are similar symptoms so getting to a doctor to make sure helps!

  3. Debi, thank you so much for writing this post! You did an outstanding job on addressing the spelt issue and I really appreciate you sharing the adrenal issues info as well. So many with gluten issues also have adrenal issues (I did) and so that often must be part of the healing process. You’ve demonstrated how we all must be informed and totally responsible for our food choices, and very well. Thank you!


  4. This article is such a great resource. I’m going to forward the link every time one of my cooking class students says, “But what about spelt?” Thank you for this!

  5. Pingback: Friends and Kale Chips «

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