Tricia Thompson, MS, RD is a nutrition consultant, author and speaker specializing in celiac disease and the gluten-free diet. She is the author of The Gluten-Free Nutrition Guide and has a MS degree in nutrition from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts and a BA degree in English Literature from Middlebury College in Vermont.

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Living Gluten-Free

by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD, The Gluten-Free Dietitian

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In 1999, Donald Kasarda, Ph.D. and Renato D’Ovidio, Ph.D. wrote the following in the journal Cereal Chemistry, “We have been approached by the leaders of celiac patient organizations in the United States to clarify the situation with regard to spelt (spelta) grain and celiac disease because so many of their members have heard that it is a safe alternative to wheat.”

It is amazing to me that 10 years later there are still some people in the gluten-free community who believe it is safe to eat this particular species of wheat. It isn’t!!

If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity do not eat spelt.

In terms of plant taxonomy (think back to high school biology), spelt is a member of the genus Triticum L. (common name wheat). According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the genus wheat contains 19 species, including common wheat, durum wheat, and spelt. These species are all closely related and none of them should be eaten by anyone who can not eat gluten.

A side note: if someone uses the argument that spelt is a different species from common bread wheat to convince you of its safety, using this same logic, rye and barley should be safe for you to eat as well. Species within the same genus are more closely related to each other than they are to species in a different genus. Barley and rye each belong to a different genus than wheat. However, barley and rye are not safe for you to eat (and neither is spelt).

But don’t take my word for it or anyone else’s (including bloggers, health food store employees, or those in the health care industry) for that matter except those who really have good information to give you"cereal chemists.

In the article referenced above (Cereal Chem. 1999;76:548"551), researchers (i.e., cereal chemists) looked at the complete amino acid sequence of an alpha-gliadin from spelt and compared it to the complete amino acid sequence of an alpha-gliadin from common bread wheat. Both sequences were almost exactly the same " 98.5% the same. Furthermore, the amino acid sequences in spelt include the same sequences known to be harmful to persons with celiac disease.

The researchers conclude the following:

“We demonstrate that this spelta gliadin is 98.5% identical in sequence to a known aestivum a-gliadin, includes identical sequences that have been demonstrated to be toxic in celiac disease, and is almost certain to be equivalent in toxicity to celiac patients to the component from common bread.”

So, spelt is not safe to eat on a gluten-free diet and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise!

The article “Deduced Amino Acid Sequence of an alpha-Gliadin Gene from Spelt Wheat (Spelta) Includes Sequences Active in Celiac Disease” is available in its entirety at the link below.

If you are even remotely considering eating spelt, do yourself a favor and read this article first.

Tricia Thompson, M.S., RD is a nutrition consultant, author and speaker specializing in celiac disease and the gluten-free diet. She is the author of The Gluten-Free Nutrition Guide (McGraw-Hill) and co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Gluten-Free Eating (Penguin Group). For more information, visit www.glutenfreedietitian.com.

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For a copy of The Gluten-Free Nutrition Guide click here.

@ 8:58pm ET on February 15, 2009
Glad to see this article. I have also heard people promote the idea that gluten intolerant people can eat Ezekial bread because it's sprouted and there is no gluten left once it's sprouted. I didn't even bother to research that because who could believe that every grain sprouted anyhow? So much misinformation is spread by people wanting to promote a "good thing." We must be so vigilant.

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