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Common Wheat Is Just as Healthy as Spelt

Closeup of wheat.
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After comparing 90 varieties of spelled with 9 varieties of modern common wheat, a UCO study determines that the significant heterogeneity in the nutritional compounds of the different varieties prevents us from stating that one species is healthier than the other.

When asked what is healthier, spelt or common wheat? It is very likely that the answer is spelled. However, this idea installed in the common imagination is not supported by solid scientific evidence.

Spelled ( Triticum aestivumssp. spelta ) is part of the so-called ancient wheats; It is a wheat species that was important in the past, but was initially replaced by local varieties of common wheat and later by modern cultivars with better agronomic performance. Given its resurgence and the lack of evidence of its greater healthy potential, a team from the University of Córdoba has analyzed the genetic variability of various grain components, related to nutritional quality (fibers such as arabinoxylans, micronutrients such as zinc and iron, content in protein or phytic acid) in a set of varieties of spelled and common wheat.

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"It is very difficult to answer such a complex question, since in these two species (spelt and common wheat) there are many different varieties with different properties between them. In addition, it would be necessary to define what is healthy, since in areas of South Asia "In those with a zinc deficiency, it will be healthier if the grain contains more zinc, while in western areas without this deficiency it would be better if it contained more antioxidants or fiber. Also, to give a definitive answer, these studies would have to be accompanied by clinical trials." explains the researcher from the Department of Genetics of the University of Córdoba Carlos Guzmán, who has participated in this study that characterizes and compares spelled and common wheat species.

This work does not answer this question in a simplistic way with a yes or no. What the research team has done is characterize the nutritional components of a significant number of Spanish varieties: 90 of spelled and 9 of wheat, compared to studies in which only 1 or 2 varieties of each species were considered and drew little conclusions. robust. After the analysis, it is clear that "it is neither accurate nor truthful to say that spelled is healthier than common wheat, due to the great genetic variability in components important for health that exist in both species," says the researcher.

For example, from the data of the study it is extracted that in terms of fiber content it is, in general, modern common wheat that contains the greatest amount of grain, "another thing is the final fiber content of the product, which will also depend on the grain processing and what type of flour is made with it (refined vs. integral)".

Speaking of other parameters, the researcher highlights that for micronutrients such as iron and zinc "spelt in general has a higher concentration of these than modern wheat, but it also has more phytic acid which makes the micronutrients less assimilable by the body, although this Phytic acid itself is a potent antioxidant and more beneficial in that sense."

In search of exceptional genotypes to advance in genetic improvement

Although in the study it is clear that none of the varieties analyzed is the 'winner' in being healthier by combining all the properties, it identifies which ones are best for each issue, opening the door to developing healthier wheats using those that They are more 'top' in certain characteristics.

For example, in this characterization they have found a variety of spelled that is out of the norm due to an exceptionally large grain size, "which opens the door for us to use it in breeding programs to create wheat with larger grains and carry out genetic studies to understand why genetically the grain of this plant is larger, since normally the larger the grain, the greater the yield of the crop," recalls Carlos Guzmán.

With this type of work, in addition to proving certain inaccuracies that can confuse consumers, it is possible to increase knowledge of the different varieties of wheat that open the door to carrying out future studies that provide solutions to different nutritional or agronomic problems.

Reference: Huertas-García AB, Tabbita F, Alvarez JB, et al. Genetic variability for grain components related to nutritional quality in spelt and common wheat. J Agric Food Chem. 2023;71(28):10598-10606. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.3c02365

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