(Updated February 2021) by Lee Martin MSc RD
products still seems to confuse people when following the low FODMAP diet. I have met many people with IBS who often report they can consume spelt without experiencing symptoms. So is spelt low FODMAP? Well yes and no is the short answer as it depends where in the world you get your spelt bread from, how much you eat, the percentage of spelt flour used and most importantly whether it was baked using the sourdough process.
When I originally (back in 2014) asked Dr Jane Muir who works at Monash University about spelt she said “We recommend sourdough spelt bread -the sourdough process will reduce fructans and is essential”. In fact in 2015 Monash published an article on spelt and FODMAPs where they said ‘It is thought that during the long fermentation period the fermenting microorganisms such as the lactobacilli will use the FODMAPs in the spelt flour‘. This article is no longer available but in November 2017 Monash published a new article ‘Sourdough Processing & FODMAPs‘. They confirm their initial thoughts that the ‘traditional sourdough processing techniques reduce FODMAP content via fermentation’ and give a nice little explanation of this. The Monash article also highlights that ‘spelt grain and spelt flour are naturally lower in FODMAPs than modern wheat varieties’.
So there you have it the sourdough process actually lowers the fructan content in spelt making the breads low FODMAP. In Europe we actually recommend 100% sourdough spelt bread as a suitable low FODMAP option. However actually finding this bread product in the UK is the challenge! I have only seen 100% sourdough spelt bread in Waitrose or artisan bakers. Having said that it is also true that the FODMAP content of sourdough spelt bread is never truly known until it has been analysed for its FODMAP content by Monash. But perhaps this can be said for all foods as there is much confusion over the FODMAP content of foods and some of the ones specific to spelt I have highlighted below.
Portion Sizes of sourdough spelt bread
Large portion sizes of sourdough spelt bread may still have moderate amounts of fructans however. The Monash low FODMAP app in 2014 stated that 3 slices of sourdough spelt bread (when each slice weighs 26g) contains moderate amounts of GOS (galacto-oligosaccharides) and fuctans – both oligosaccharides. In their 2017 version however they have removed this 3rd slice portion size and the app only shows 2 slices (52g) of sourdough spelt bread as low FODMAP and therefore it is unknown of 3 slices does indeed contain any GOS or fructans.
It’s interesting that the sourdough spelt bread Monash tested contains GOS. The Monash app does mention to choose sourdough spelt bread with a high spelt percentage. In fact if you look at the previously published data on the FODMAP content of spelt flour below, which I extracted from the Monash paper “Biesiekiersk et al 2011 Quantification of fructans, galacto-oligosacharides and other short-chain carbohydrates in processed grains and cereals“, you will see that 100% spelt flour contains only trace GOS in the form of raffinose while the 25% spelt flour contains 0.26g/100g of GOS in the form of raffinose.
I will assume the lower total fructan content is also because of the different grains used in the 25% spelt flour for which the blend of flours must have contained low levels of fructans. By the way just in case you were interested the total fructan content of wheat bread in this study was 0.68g/100g. I know this doesn’t sound like much but this makes it high FODMAP. So although spelt is naturally lower in fructans than wheat it still contains a certain degree of FODMAPs – mainly fructans if it is 100% spelt flour.
Different FODMAPs found in sourdough spelt bread from around the world
A word of warning for spelt lovers in the rest of the world, your local spelt flours can have differences in their FODMAP content. The Monash researchers mention in their 2011 paper linked above that “It should be noted that all products used in the present study were sampled in Australia, and that food products from other countries may yield different results”
In the 2017 version of the Monash low FODMAP app sourdough spelt bread from the USA actually contained moderate amounts of fructose in one slice (36g) and high amounts of fructose in 2 slices (72g) while in 2021, 2 slices also includes high amounts of fructans. As outlined above original analyses of the FODMAP content of spelt did not find any fructose so why is there fructose in the USA spet breads? Personally I think it may be due to added ingredients in the spelt bread rather than spelt actually containing fructose. The American food industry does tend to use a lot of fructose in products after all. To back up my assumption when 100% sourdough spelt bread from the USA was analysed (in 2017) it was found to be low FODMAP at 2 slices (82g) while >3 slices contained high amounts of fructans (but not GOS). In 2021 this has been removed.
Organic sourdough spelt bread from The Netherlands was also analysed and found similar concentrations of FODMAPs to the USA 100% spelt bread and the Australian sourdough spelt bread. In that 2 slices (70g) was low FODMAP while >4 slices (140g) was high in fructans (same in 2021). Interestingly however in The Netherlands spelt bread that was not baked using the sourdough process also had low levels of FODMAPs at 2 slices (70g) and was found to have high amounts fructans at >2 1/2 slices (200g).
Therefore it seems the FODMAP content of spelt can be different in different countries. So the spelt bread you buy locally may have lower or high concentrations of FODMAPs compared to what the Monash app tells you. It is therefore worth remembering if you are consuming spelt breads and your symptoms are under control then you may have found a suitable spelt bread for you. Everyone’s tolerance levels to FODMAPs will be different and slight changes in the FODMAP content of the spelt bread you eat may make all the difference.
Spelt and the processing of spelt
Spelt flour as discussed above and shown in the table is naturally high in FODMAPs (fructans), but not if it is sieved!? I noticed someone asked Monash why sieved organic spelt flour is low FODMAP and they responded by saying ‘…….the process of “sifting” organic spelt flour removes certain amounts of bran that is naturally found in spelt flour. This in effect reduces the amount of fructans to a level that is deemed tolerable to IBS individuals’.
Aside from the sourdough process it seems the processing of spelt can also affect fructan levels in spelt products. For example according to the Monash low FODMAP app spelt pasta up to 74g cooked is low in FODMAPs while 101g cooked is moderate in fructans and 148g cooked is high in fructans. These portion sizes are slightly higher in spelt pasta from Denmark.
In general when consuming spelt bread just remember these rules:
Choose 100% sourdough spelt bread. This is most likely to be low in FODMAPs.
Or choose sourdough spelt bread with a high % of spelt flour.
Or at the very least least 100% spelt bread that has not been baked using the sourdough process.
Do not eat more than 3 slices in one sitting! This is likely to be high in fructans.
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