The Problems with Almond Flour
If you are a regular reader of Primally Inspired, you’ve most likely noticed that I tend to avoid cooking, baking and creating recipes containing almond flour.
In past posts and status updates on Facebook, I’ve touched lightly on the problems that I have with almond flour and why I choose coconut flour for my grain-free baking. Lately, I’ve been receiving questions asking “is almond flour healthy?” Or “why don’t you use almond flour?”
So I decided to dedicate a whole post about some of the problems with almond flour. This information is not always known in the Paleo and grain-free communities, especially if you are new to Paleo or eating a grain-free and gluten-free diet. It still surprises me to still see Paleo recipe after recipe and Paleo cookbooks containing large amounts of almond flour baked goods. I hope this post will help you take a closer look at almond flour and help you make an informed decision whether or not to include almond flour and almond flour baked goods in your diet.
Problem #1: Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA)
Almonds contain a large amount of omega-6 PUFA’s. Omega-3 and omega-6 fats are PUFA’s and they’re both essential to your health, but in very small amounts. As part of a healthy diet, one of the best things you can do is reduce your PUFA and omega-6 intake.
And if you don’t think you consume excess PUFA because you are already eating well and don’t consume industrial oils, there’s a good chance you may be wrong. In this article, Chris Kressler explains why and suggests,
“the best approach is to limit n-6 intake as much as possible, ideally to less than 2% of calories”
On an average 2,200 calorie diet, 2% PUFA means only about 4 to 5 grams of omega-6 per day. This is very low and consuming anything with almond flour will quickly raise the amount to unhealthy levels. Just ¼ cup of almonds or one small serving of an almond flour baked good puts you at the 2% threshold and that’s assuming you aren’t consuming any other forms of omega-6. And when omega-6 is consumed in excess, it becomes problematic.
A diet with excess omega-6:
- produces an inflammatory response in the body
- slows down metabolism (hello weight gain!)
- impairs thyroid function
- depletes antioxidants
In other words excess PUFA’s = inflammation, weight gain, hormonal problems, and free radicals.
In fact, Dr. Weil says PUFA’s
“may explain the rise of such diseases as asthma, coronary heart disease, many forms of cancer, autoimmunity and neurodegenerative diseases, all of which are believed to stem from inflammation in the body.”
If you are eating Paleo or concerned about eating healthy, you likely go to great lengths to avoid vegetable and seed oils because of the high PUFA content. Yet many of us on Paleo or grain-free diets consume almonds and baked goods with almond flour to excess and don’t think twice about it.
Be mindful of how many nuts and almond flour baked goods you are consuming. A small handful of nuts a few times a week is a healthy solution.
Problem #2: Oxidation
Polyunsaturated fats are extremely vulnerable to damage from heat, light, processing, pressure and oxygen. When exposed to these elements for too long, the fatty acids in the oil become oxidized, a scientific term that simply means that the oil becomes rancid.
Not only does this rancidity diminish the nutritional value, but the oxidation of fatty acids produces free radicals.
Under most circumstances, the problem of rancidity only arises when the fats are removed from their natural food package (not eaten in whole form). For example, the hard outer shell of the almond protects the fats from heat, light, and oxygen. Almonds also contain antioxidant compounds, such as vitamin E, that provide additional protection against oxidation. But when the protective coating is stripped and then ground to become almond flour, the delicate, unstable fats begin to become vulnerable to the elements.
If your almond flour isn’t already oxidized by the time you get the bag (from processing or light hitting it on the storage shelf), putting it into a hot oven or hot skillet is a way to cause the fatty acids to begin to oxidize.
Do you know why oxidation is so detrimental to our health? Oxidation creates free radicals. Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, professor of nutrition at Tufts University in Boston sums it up nicely,
“The problem is, free radicals often injure the cell, damaging the DNA, which creates the seed for disease.”
Foods rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids like almonds and almond flour should be stored in dark place with tightly closed containers in the refrigerator or freezer to prevent oxidation.
If they are not frozen, they should be used within a week of opening to prevent oxidation.
In addition, it’s recommended that these fats should never be heated on the stove or baked, especially with high temperatures or for long periods of time.
Even simpler solution:
Trade in your almond flour for coconut flour. Coconut flour is my grain-free baking flour of choice. Not only does it have a long list of health benefits, but consuming it actually boosts your metabolism. You can find my favorite coconut flour and other coconut products HERE. I also have plenty of grain-free baked good recipes on my blog that use coconut flour. If you have been turned off by coconut flour recipes in the past, please click on these baked good recipes listed below. I’ve been told that these will turn anyone into a coconut flour lover.
Problem #3: Difficult to Digest because of Anti-Nutrients like Phytic Acid and Lechtin
If you are following a Paleo or grain free diet, you probably know all about the dangers of anti-nutrients. In fact, anti-nutrients like phytic acid and lectins are some of the top reasons we stay away from wheat and grains. The reason phytic acid is so detrimental to our health is that humans can’t digest it. Not only does phytic acid cause digestive upsets by inhibiting enzymes that we need to digest our food, but it also binds to minerals and prevents us from absorbing nutrients.
But the real kicker is that almonds and other nuts contain more anti nutrients like phytic acid than grains! An almond flour muffin contains almost seven hundred milligrams of phytic acid (source).
Ramiel Nagel, author of Cure Tooth Decay, states,
In the context of a diet rich in calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin C, good fats and lacto-fermented foods, most people will do fine on an estimated 400-800 mg (of phytic acid) per day. For those suffering from tooth decay, bone loss or mineral deficiencies, total estimated phytate content of 150-400 mg would be advised. For children under age six, pregnant women or those with serious illnesses, it is best to consume a diet as low in phytic acid as possible.
Many people mistakenly think blanched almond flour doesn’t contain anti-nutrients because the skin has been removed. While the almond skin does contain the majority of the anti-nutrients, blanched almonds still contain anti-nutrients that make them difficult to digest and block mineral absorption. If you try to sprout blanched almonds, you’ll see that they will still sprout. That means the enzyme inhibitors that cause digestive upsets and harm were still present prior to sprouting.
Soaking and dehydrating almonds and nuts is recommended to reduce these anti-nutrients and make them easier to digest. But keep in mind that many sources seem to think that only somewhere between 10-30% of the phytic acid is removed during the soaking process.
If nuts are causing you digestive upsets or if you struggle with leaky gut or autoimmune conditions, bone loss, tooth decay or serious illness nuts and nut flours are not recommended.
You can also purchase already soaked nuts HERE.
Problem #4 High in Calories
Let me begin by saying that I’m not a fan or advocate of counting calories (read what I do instead HERE). But one mistake I often see from those following a Paleo or grain-free diet is to consume foods on the Paleo list with unabashed excess just because it’s Paleo.
Almonds and almond flour baked goods are some of the biggest offenders. I often see people eating large handfuls of almonds everyday or consuming almond flour baked goods on a regular basis thinking it’s ok and healthy because it’s “Paleo.” If you aren’t losing weight or your health problems aren’t getting any better, take an honest look at your nut and almond flour consumption and see if that may be the case for you.
Almonds are high in calories and can be easy to overeat, especially if you are consuming almonds in the form of almond flour. A small handful of almonds every other day or even every day definitely fits in a healthy lifestyle, but did you know there’s approximately 90 almonds and 720 calories in a cup of almond flour?! That’s a lot of almonds! Not only do most baked good recipes call for at least 2 cups of almond flour, but almond flour baked goods are very easy to eat in excess. That means that 1 almond flour cookie you just consumed has about 30 almonds in it.
If you have been trying to lose weight unsuccessfully and/or still experiencing signs of inflammation, but are still consuming almond flour baked goods, almond flour could be the culprit. Try eliminating almond flour baked goods for a month to see if you notice any improvements.
But wait a minute! Aren’t almonds a real food and therefore healthy?
Yes! Almonds in their whole form contain many beneficial nutrients and antioxidants and are very healthy! They are a good source of manganese, copper, magnesium, vitamin E and riboflavin. They provide a great nutritional profile of carbohydrates, protein and fat making them an excellent snacking choice.
Almonds can become problematic when you eat them in excess, heat them or don’t prepare them properly, which are all easily done by consuming almond flour baked goods.
What do you think about almond flour? Do you include it as part of a healthy diet or do you prefer to use other grain-free flours?
Further web reading: