Almond flour is a little darling of grain free, Paleo/Primal, and low carb baking. It easily rivals conventional flour in its ability to produce tender and fluffy baked goods. Unfortunately, almond flour has numerous detrimental health consequences. It is important to understand these aspects of almond flour, so you can make the decision to avoid almond flour or choose to use almond flour with judicious moderation.
1. Almond flour skews perception about quantity
Get this: A cup of almond flour contains about 90 almonds! I calculated that by dividing 640 calories in a cup of almond flour by 7 calories in an almond. Almond flour disguises the consumption of the nuts.
For example, this ever-popular Almond Flour Pancake recipe from Elana’s Pantry calls for 1 1/2 cups of almond flour and yields about 4 servings (or 2-3 servings, if you have a hearty pancake appetite).
There are about 135 almonds in the entire batch, and 33 almonds per serving (for 4 servings). That is like 3 big handfuls of almonds, eaten at one sitting!
Imagine sitting down and mindfully chewing 33 almonds at one meal. After perhaps a big handful, your body would tell you “Okay. I’m full. That’s enough almonds for right now.” As you may know from experience, your body loses that perception and communication when consuming almond flour.
2. Almond flour is very high in inflammatory PUFAS
About 20% of the fat in almonds is polyunsaturated fatty acids (Omega 6 or PUFAs). Unfortunately, our modern diets tend to overburden our bodies with polyunsaturated fats which leads to numerous health issues.
Here are a few reasons why it is important NOT to go overboard with polyunsaturated fats.
- PUFAS in suppress mitochondrial energy production. In non-chemistry language, PUFAS slow down the metabolism
- PUFAS encourage an inflammatory response in the body
- PUFAS cause digestive issues by impairing the action of certain digestive enzymes
- PUFAS slow down thyroid function
- PUFAS inhibit detoxification enzymes
- PUFAS deplete antioxidants in the body
- PUFAS inhibit production of progesterone and androgens while activating production of estrogen. This encourages estrogen-dominancy in the body and this contributes to many health issues like weight gain, PMS, hormonal acne and more.
Polyunsaturated fats aren’t inherently evil, only harmful when consumed in excess. According to nutrition expert Sébastien Noël at Paleo Lifestyle,
In an effort to optimize health and longevity, one should strive to keep a total PUFA intake under 4% of total calories and an omega-6/omega-3 ratio very close to 1:1. On an average 2,200 calorie diet, 4% PUFA means only about 5 to 8 grams of omega-6 per day to maintain the proper ratio with omega-3 fats. Read more.
The consumption of almond flour is an easy way to overload the body with a detrimental amount of PUFAS.
3. The fats in almond flour aren’t heat stable
Okay, quick chemistry reminder. Saturated fats have single bonds between all the carbon molecules of the fatty acid chain. Monounsaturated fats have one double bond replacing a single bond in the carbon chain. Polyunsaturated have more than one double bond in the carbon chain.
Double bonds are more unstable than single bonds. The more double bonds in a fatty acid, the more unstable it is (polyunsaturated is the least stable, followed by monounsaturated, followed by saturated being the most stable). When the double bonds break, the fatty acid undergoes a process called oxidation.
Processing, heat, light and pressure all cause these double bonds to break. Raw (or soaked and dehydrated) almonds have their polyunsaturated fats intact, and so the only fat issues are those discussed in the previous section. But putting almond flour in a hot environment–like an oven–is going to break some of those double bonds and create oxidized fatty acids.
Why are oxidized fats bad? In a nutshell, oxidized fats = free radicals. Free radicals = cell damage. Of course, we will inevitably have some free radicals in our body. Fortunately, we can consume sources of antioxidants (like fresh fruits and veggies) to combat free radical damage. But if too much oxidized fats, like from large amounts of almond flour, are consumed, our body is depleted of antioxidants and damage to body cells ensues.
Want to know what fats are safe and healthy to heat? Check out my Guide to Choosing and Using Good Fats.
4. Almond flour is high in oxalates
I’ve already written a helpful overview on oxalates. I don’t want to repeat the whole article here, at the risk of making this post even longer.
If you are a bit overwhelmed with almond info, here are the main points about oxalates:
- They are primarily an issue for those with leaky gut , gut dysbiosis, arthritis and behavioral issues like A.D.D
- Almond flour has a ton of oxalates
Read my full oxalate post here.
5. Coconut flour is healthier than almond flour
When it comes to grain free baking, coconut flour is my top choice. Unlike almond flour, the fat in coconut flour is primarily saturated fat. That means it is safe to heat and it is not toxic to the body. The coconut oil in coconut flour is a veritable superfood, celebrated for weight loss, candida control, metabolism boosting and more. While the fats in almond flour slow metabolism, the fats in coconut flour actually speed up metabolism!
Additionally, a littles goes a long way. Coconut flour seems pricey at first, but it stretches. One batch of my popular Coconut Flour Pancakes with Gelatin use only 1/4 cup of coconut flour for 2 generous portions.
Want to get started with coconut flour? First, here is the brand of coconut flour I recommend at a great price.
Second, remember not to over-do the coconut flour. I limit myself to 2-4 tablespoons of coconut flour per day, mostly because it can be pricy when consumed in abundance. But more importantly, coconut flour is very high in fiber and that is not necessarily a good thing. Please read my post, Is a High Fiber Diet a Health Hazard? for more info.
Third, it is important to start with reliable recipes when using coconut flour. Two of my favorite introductory recipes are:
What about phytic acid?
As you may know, phytic acid is an anti-nutrient that prevents your body from absorbing minerals. Almonds, like all nuts and seeds, have high levels of phytic acid if they aren’t soaked and dehydrated. But in almonds, most of the phytic acid is in the brown skin which is removed before the almonds are processed into flour. So phytic acid is a minor issue when it comes to almond flour. You should, however, consider the health detriments of phytic acid if you are using another nut/seed flour that is not made from soaked and dehydrated nuts.
Almond flour and MODERATION
Almond flour should be used in judicious moderation. Perhaps that means one almond flour treat once a month. Maybe set aside the almond flour just for special occasions. I would also suggest giving your body a break from almond flour for a month, and see if you feel… different. You may feel more energy or have less pain and inflammation. You may not. We’re all unique, so you have to experiment and discover what best fuels your body.
Do you bake with almond flour? Have you used coconut flour? Which do you prefer?
Peat, Ray. Suitable Fats, Unsuitable Fats. 2007. http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/unsuitablefats.shtml
Enig, Mary. Know Your Fats. 2000. Bethesda: Bethesda Press.
Fallon, Sally and Enig, Mary. Nourishing Traditions. 1999. Washington DC: New Trends Publishing.