I got a question passed through from our customer service gathering point the other day from a reader, who had run across a post on the Empowered Sustenance blog by Lauren Geertsen called 5 Reasons to Avoid Almond Flour and had some concerns. Our reader wrote:
Just bought your book “The Low Carb Comfort Food Cookbook” Shared it with my friend and she made some of the magic rolls first and they were very tasty. Just love bread. Was wandering around on the internet and ran across this article. Love almonds. Is this article for real? Don’t need to sabotage my diet if it is. I can use coconut flour – love coconut too. Please let me know and thank you for your help.
So let’s take a look and see. Is almond flour bad for you?
Ms. Geertsen’s blog post made 5 basic points:
- Almond flour skews perception about quantity. [I agree.]
- Almond flour is very high in inflammatory PUFAS. [I completely agree and it’s important to consider and the main reason not to overindulge.]
- The fats in almond flour aren’t heat stable. [ I disagree, as applies to almond flour versus almond oil, at least at the internal temperature reached during baking. And Ms. Geertsen has actually amended this one based on a scientific rebuttal. Good on her!]
- Almond flour is high in enzyme inhibitors. [Agree, but as Ms. Geertsen goes on to say after the main 5, the primary source of phytic acid–the enzyme inhibitor in question–in almonds is in the brown coat, the bran or hull, so ‘blanched almond flour’ would be lower in enzyme inhibitors, if this is a main concern. The plant world is full of anti-nutrients, however, so unless you plan to only eat meat (and there’s nothing wrong with that) you’re going to get some.]
- Coconut flour is healthier [sic] than almond flour. [Agree that its fat is primarily saturated, which is absolutely a more healthful, better choice than the PUFA found in almonds and their meal/flour.]
I hadn’t previously seen Ms. Geertsen’s post, but it’s a good one that makes some valid points about the overuse of almond flour (or for that matter any nut flour, including coconut) as a substitute for wheat flour. I completely agree with the basic premise of moderation. You can’t simply shift from a diet heavily reliant on things made of wheat and other grains only to consume heady amounts of the same stuff made with nut flours and not have it create some problems.
Moderation in all things hasn’t become a cliche of 2000+ years duration for no good reason.
So how does this all square with the information in our Low Carb Comfort Food Cookbook that the reader wrote to us about? While many of the recipes are still good solid ones, there are definitely some that I would now eliminate or in which I’d tweak the ingredients.
(A little timeline context: the Low Carb Comfort Food Cookbook, which we co-authored with Ursula Solom, was published by John Wiley and Sons in 2003. It’s now over a decade old. It was followed in 2005 by a book by just Mike and me, called The Low Carb CookwoRx Cookbook, based on recipes from our PBS television series of the same name, also almost a decade old. I would make changes to both, were I to write them now.)
At the time we wrote them, our main concern in both books was lowering carbs. We were trying to find tasty and more healthful ways to sharply reduce the sugar and starch content in a variety of comfort foods, with an eye toward giving folks who missed them a reasonable substitute to enjoy occasionally. We made the point in the books (and on the show) that while these foods were definitely lower in carb, they weren’t, in most cases, low in calories. Quite the opposite. And we cautioned readers not to view the low-carbness of the recipes as a license to eat all they wanted of them any time they wanted to. Overindulgence, however, is somewhat limited by satiety; these foods are calorie dense and filling.
For the most part, in the collaborative first book, the non-baking recipes were ours and all the baking recipes were Ms. Solom’s. She had worked for years to develop recipes for breads, crackers, and desserts that were lower in carbs, so that she could continue to enjoy these types of foods herself, after she had adopted (and benefitted from) a low carb diet.
Coconut flour wasn’t much in vogue nor as readily available when we wrote the book as it the case now, so Ursula relied on almond flour and other nut flours as substitutes for wheat flour (or to at least reduce the amount of wheat flour, which she still used to a degree) in her recipes.(And, for the record, I would still take almond flour over wheat flour from a health standpoint, PUFAs notwithstanding!)
Ursula also made pretty liberal use of vital wheat gluten to give elasticity to dough for pizzas and pasta, which choice, in light of today’s knowledge (science does march on),we wouldn’t have included at all. However, there really isn’t a way to achieve an elastic dough (for a real pizza crust, for instance) without something to give it stretch, which is part of what the gluten does for wheat flour. If you know of another (healthful) way, please do share!
For my part, I’m good just eating the toppings of pizza and using squash or (now) shiritaki noodles for pasta occasionally.
The dangers of overconsumption of PUFA or the specter of anti-nutrients weren’t really brought up in the books at the time, because these were really just cookbooks, not diet books; more ‘how to’ not ‘why’. The intention was for these foods to be occasional treats, not staples in the diet. And besides, we had already written pretty extensively in both Protein Power in 1996 and The Protein Power LifePlan in 2000 about the dangers of overloading on PUFAs to the detriment of sat fat and omega 3 intake and in the LifePlan about the potential problems of lectins and other inflammatory anti-nutrients.
So, if we were to write these cookbooks today, what would we change?
I would likely make more use of coconut flour as an alternative to almond flour, primarily for the better fatty acid profile it provides. But more than stressing about too much PUFA in the almond flour, it is the gluten that I would now remove (avoid) in light of what we’ve learned in the passage of a over a decade. At the time, what we knew about gluten was that is was just a ‘wheat protein’ and though we knew that some people really had to avoid WGA (wheat gluten antigen) and others could benefit from avoiding it, the science now suggests that it’s not just celiac and MS patients who may benefit. Most anybody with metabolic syndrome probably benefits from avoiding it.
Personally, I have completely avoided gluten from all sources (wheat and other grains) for over 2 years now and intend to continue to do so always, for my health and wellbeing.
I would also completely replace the aspartame used in recipes in Protein Power with something that wasn’t an excitotoxin and in all the books I would make use of other sweet substitutes besides sucralose, such as xylitol, which has some real health benefit, and stevia. They don’t always substitute one to one in the recipes as written, so a little jiggering around and guesswork will have to come into play to make some of them work. Likewise with the new Swerve sweetener, which is erythritol and oligosaccharides; it’s pretty easy to use as it measures spoon for spoon like sugar. I’d add these alternatives with an eye not necessarily to completely avoid using sucralose (thought I recognize there are those who would argue for that) but to limit using any one of them to excess.
A little of this; a little of that. Not a lot of any of them.
The better choice all the way around for health is to eat plenty of good quality fat, meat, fish, poultry, game, eggs, and fresh greens and green vegetables and low-sugar fruits as the mainstay of your daily diet. And treat all sweetened things–even faux ones–as occasional treats, not every day staples. Then no matter what you sweeten (or bake) with, you won’t get too much of it.