Gluten Free Flour Alternative – Almond Flour
Almond flour is a gluten-free nutritional alternative to wheat flour for baking and cooking. As the only ingredient in it is blanched, skin removed, whole almonds; it provides all the nutritional goodness of almonds with heart healthy and cholesterol lowering benefits.
Rich in Healthy Fats
The powerhouse of nutrition, almonds are low in carbohydrates but high in healthy fat and protein. Often, almonds are recommended as staple of heart healthy diet, as these are exceptionally rich in healthy unsaturated fats (omega-3 fatty acids) and bioactive molecules such as vitamins (vitamin E, ribloflavin, niacin); minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper); fiber; phytosterols; and antioxidants, which are essential for boosting your heart health and minimizing the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke.
Studies report that daily consumption of almonds helps in reducing LDL “bad” cholesterol and central adiposity, the important risk factors for cardio-metabolic dysfunction. Vitamin E and phytonutrients (flavanoids) found in almonds show strong antioxidant activity, which help in lowering oxidization of LDL cholesterol and further reducing the risk of CHD.
Rich in Essential Minerals
In addition, almonds are rich in essential minerals i.e. magnesium and potassium, which promote cardiovascular health by protecting against high blood pressure and atherosclerosis. Magnesium helps in keeping the veins and arteries healthy, which improves flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Besides, reducing the risk of heart attack, magnesium helps in preventing the free radical injury to the heart. Potassium is another electrolyte involved in contraction of heart muscles and required to maintain healthy heart function.
The healthy fat, high fiber and magnesium content also make almonds a low- glycemic food, which provide a steady source of energy without causing harmful sugar spikes. Besides reducing blood sugar levels, the strong antioxidant properties of almonds are found effective in providing protection against oxidative damage. This reduction in inflammation caused by free radicals helps in lowering the risk of chronic inflammatory diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
Though, almonds are known for their cardio-protective benefits, many people avoid them due to fear of weight gain. However, research evidence suggests that people who frequently eat nuts are actually at reduced risk of gaining weight. One study found that eating almonds with high glycemic index (GI) food actually reduces the total glycemic index of the meal, which regulates blood sugar levels after eating and reduces food cravings. Further, high fiber, protein and fat content of almonds besides helping you feel full and satisfied for longer, increases your metabolism, these qualities have been found significantly effective for weight loss.
Low Carbohydrate & High Protein
The low-carbohydrate and high protein combination in almonds is perfect for people want to follow low-carbohydrate meal plan and looking to supplement their protein intake for building muscles. Almonds help in planning low-carbohydrate diets by replacing grains. Additionally, the array of B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B6 and Folate) in almonds help in boosting energy levels by harnessing sustained energy from the food you eat.
Thus, almond flour is an excellent nutritional alternative to wheat flour, for people, who:
- Have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or wheat allergy;
- Have diabetes;
- Follow Paleo diet;
- Want to bake without grains;
- Want low-carbohydrate alternative to wheat flour
- Choose to go gluten-free to improve their digestion and lose weight.
It is far better than gluten-free goodies (bread, muffins, brownies, or cakes) made of corn, tapioca, potato, and rice starches; as these starches can cause sugar spikes in your blood and lead to increased risk of visceral fat, hypertension and heart disease.
Almond Meal or Almond Flour
You may find the term “almond meal” is often used interchangeably with “almond flour”. However, almond meal or “ground almonds” is a coarser version, made of almonds with their skins intact. Whereas, almond flour is a finely ground product with uniform consistency, made of blanched, skin removed almonds.
You can either purchase almond flour from the market (do look at the ingredients list, it should have only one ingredient i.e. almonds) or make almond flour at home by:
- Blanching: Cover whole almonds with boiling water;
- Removing skin: Rinse the skin off the almonds;
- Drying: Let almonds get dry completely;
- Processing: Process dried almonds into fine flour in a grinder or blender.
Almond flour is a versatile alternative for all kind of baking, as it can be used to bake cookies, cakes, muffins, pastries, pie crusts and breads. It adds a sweet nutty flavour, light texture and more moistness to your baked goodies. You can also use it for coating meatballs, chicken or fish; just like bread crumbs.
Wheat Flour Replacement
Though, almond flour can replace wheat flour in your baking recipe, you need more binding and leavening agents, as the gluten in wheat flour is a leavening agent that causes ‘rise’ in the baked items. Generally, with almond flour your final baked products will be flat. Also, almond flour absorbs liquid differently than wheat flour, so you may need to keep the texture of almond flour batter a little thicker than wheat flour for appropriate baking. Experiment with almond flour by substituting 25 percent of the wheat flour in your baking with almond flour. As you get comfortable baking with it, you’ll know what ratio works best to get the taste and texture of your liking. It’s better to store remaining almond flour in your refrigerator to preserve freshness.
Consume in Moderation
On a final note, though almond flour is a heart healthy, gluten free, nutritional alternative to wheat flour, it is also high in calories and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which can be harmful in large amounts, so consume it in judicious moderation. Also phytic acid, enzyme inhibitors and high fiber content in almonds can cause irritation in your gut, if consumed in large amounts. Although experts now feel that phytic acid also known as IP-6 may have merit as a quasi nutrient. Also, nut trees are extraordinarily efficient at extracting trace minerals from the soil which ay explain why studies with the Seventh Day Adventists show that the more nuts these people ate, the longer they lived.
Almonds are among the eight food types that are considered major food allergens in the U.S., so almond flour is not recommended for people who have tree nut allergy. Symptoms of almond allergy include: stomach pain or cramps, nausea and vomiting, problems swallowing, diarrhea, itching, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.