Thursday, November 8, 2012

Almond Flour's Dirty Little Secret ?


Lately I've received a number of emails with questions concerning the high omega-6 levels in almond flour and the related concerns about this causing inflammation and other health issues. There's a lot of science wrapped up in this issue but rather than link you out to a bunch of stuff to read I'm just going to give you my simplified answer. 

The key to the "omega" issue is balance. Here, I am ONLY addressing almond flour in regards to almond flour baked goods which often have up to 1/4 cup or more of nuts per serving. Because of this some people are suggesting that we shouldn't eat these tasty baked goods. I say, it depends!

Since I have no intention of giving you a full education on this omega fatty acid ratios today, if you would like to read more on the topic of omega 6/omega 3 ratios, check out this article by Chris Kresser. That said.....

YES, almond flour is high in Omega-6's and can cause inflammation when eaten in excess or when consumption is out of proportion to the appropriate omega 6/omega 3 ratio. Of course this is the case with many nuts and seeds and let's not forget....a host of other foods. And then of course there is the issue of some believing almonds are not so healthy when heated, roasted, baked and such. But to be honest this argument could be made for most foods especially any smoked or even cooked meats done at a high heat such as frying, grilling, baking and more. Despite this issue, many of us still include moderate amounts of these kinds of "cooked" foods in our diets…because we like them.

So you see this issue over almond flour (one of the oldest used mediums for great pastries) will not be deterring me from making and posting great gluten and grain-free almond flour recipes on my blog. 

Nuts themselves can be a great part of a healthy diet. But when it comes to nut flour baked goods, and I think we all know this....sweets, breads, cakes and the like should always be eaten sparingly and in moderation regardless of  their gluten/grain-free/Paleo status because…. A treat's a treat, no matter how "well dressed" it is.

So How Much Almond Flour Can I Eat Safely?

It is important though for us to remember that nuts are a concentrated food, making one small handful of them enough for your daily intake. (I think that's like half an almond flour cookie. Kidding....ok, maybe I'm not.) We easily ingest more than this amount when eating an almond flour muffin or say a few cookies or a slice of cake. This doesn't mean we have to black list almond flour from our lives and the lives of others. We just have to keep it in it's rightful place.

The way I approach it is, if eating almond flour makes you feel bad, then eat less of it or don't eat it all. This is especially true if you have any inflammatory or auto immune issues, like I do. Even with my diet being extremely rich in omega 3's, I have to watch my intake because of my inflammatory condition. But really, almond flour baked goods shouldn't be "everyday food" anyway. However if you are eating a healthy balance of veggies and high omega-3 foods you should be fine with nuts (in reason) and able to handle a cookie here or a treat there without being too concerned. Only you can know what works for you and your body.

Really, this is part of a much larger worldview with regards to healthy living. For every 'best' there is always a 'better'. What I mean is that you will never satisfy the quest for healthy living. There will always be a "better way" to do any given thing. This can be a terrible trap if it's not moderated by a solid understanding of your long term goals. Without that, your quest for perfection can quickly consume your life leaving you unable to move, breath, sleep or in this case, eat. In order to navigate this "healthy living" path you must first establish your purpose for doing so.

What's Your Goal?

For some people, the goal is to lose weight. For others, it's to heal, feel better, gain discipline or even just try something new. And there are still others who just want to find a great tasting gluten/grain-free treat to share with their kids on a birthday or Christmas morning.

We all come to the table to eat. But we all come with different goals and needs.

We must ask ourselves: What am I coming to the table for? This answer will make all the difference in finding the right balance of nutritional choices for you and your family.

To quote myself, (yea I'm that kinda girl....)
"The secret to vibrant living is not in what you do or don't eat. It's learning to hold your health in one hand and your joys and passions (or celebrations) in the other, and sometimes we delightfully find that they are one and the same."
So that's it, almond flour's dirty little secret. Ok, so it's really not all that secret and it's not that dirty either. But it does present some challenges and possibly some much needed redefining of our diets if we've gotten a little too "treat happy". As for me, I'll still have my almond flour at the end of the day (or month) and eat it too!


Note: There are other nut flours out there that are lower in omega 6 than almond flour. However, the issue remains the same. Nut flours and even coconut flour based recipes are often very high in calories and sugar and should not be our "everyday" foods. Instead we should focus on nourishing our bodies with healthy fats, pastured meats, fish, eggs, fresh veggies and  fruits.

18 comments:

  1. I've found that using an almond/coconut flour mix in my muffins and cakes reduces the O6 content (not to mention the calories AND the cost;) and also gives a great texture.

    But, really, I don't make baked goods often enough to worry about the almond flour. Like you said, treats should be eaten in moderation!

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  2. Great post. Good info.

    By the way, I referenced you as one of my favorite recipe sourches in my last blog post: http://fullerwayoflife.com/2012/10/25/recipe-for-successful-meals/

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  3. Thank you for the information, perspective and reminder that treats are treats :)

    Do you have any info to share regarding coconut flour, versus fine shredded, versus..... Can I just grind fine shredded or flaked and have coconut flour? Sorry, this is all still new for me. Thank you.

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    1. I LOVE this article by Nourished Kitchen on Baking W/ Coconut Flour. She even gives instructions on how to make your own if so inclined. I prefer to just buy mine. http://nourishedkitchen.com/baking-with-coconut-flour/

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  4. I like how you stated the information. It is easy to get caught up in the statistic or scientific concerns with nutritionism but its a nice reminder this is a baked good or ingredient not necessarily a "health food" but a "healthier" alternative.

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  5. Most excellent :) Wonderfully worded. I like how you point to this being a balancing act. I'd like to add that, as you alluded to, that balancing act will look different for everyone. Some will add in a little more almond flour treats to the "treats" hand and some will choose other things to put there. The best thing we can all do is be educated about what's in our food and what it does when it goes in our body. I like to tell people who ask me for nutrition advice "I will never be your food BOSS, I will always be your food EDUCATOR."

    http://brownsbootcamp.com/blog/

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  6. I am new-ish to the paleo lifestyle, but not to almond flour, and while I love the stuff, I've been waffling lately on how much I really want to use it. You've brought all my thoughts and concerns together and given great answers, so thank you! You make a great point--no matter how healthy your treat is, it's still never healthy enough to stuff your face with huge piles of it.

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  7. I like my almond flour. But for me nightshades are the real inflammatory culprit. I have a friend however, who has Chrones (I believe) and has problems with almond flour. She does use Honeywell which another friend (you like all this third hand, sorry) called and found out they sprayed the nuts while they are drying. So is it the omega 6's or the spraying?

    Loved the post and glad I came across your blog!

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    1. Yes absolutely! There are many things that can cause inflammation especially in regards to autoimmune conditions. I have many of foods that I have to abstain from for this reason. This article however only touches on almond flour. I have other articles that talk more broadly on this subject.

      To clarify, Honeyville NEVER uses any chemicals or sprays in the processing of their almond flour. It is simply blanched in a hot water bath and dried and the skins are removed (with nothing else added). I have worked with them for years and talked to them often. However their product is NOT organic which means that the almonds are sprayed while still on the tree. The blanching and removing of the skin does help to remove some of the pesticides but I am sure not all. This could spell trouble for some individuals. If so, there are a number of organic almond flours out there to choose from.

      So YES, it can be pesticides that cause inflammation or gut irritation, but again this article was about the omega 6 issue and almond flour only. Excessive amounts of omega 6 not balanced by a proper amounts of omega 3 is a recipe for inflammation. That does not mean it can not be brought into proper balance through moderation and supplementation for most people though. "Moderation" will look different for everyone.

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  8. I think that the abundance of food blogs out there can give people the impression that the foods or recipes they see are what normal everyday eating habits are "supposed" to look like. If a person focuses their reading on baking blogs, they're going to eventually assume that they need to have baked goods in the house all the time. And therefore eat them all the time. Homemade gourmet? Self imposed pressure to whip up gastronomical delights 7 nights a week can make anyone's stress level go through the roof.

    Having authored a food blog for nearly 2 years, I've seen the other side of the coin. You can't eat food that looks like it does on the computer screen at every meal. Unless you're paying a personal chef, or maybe if you're retired...

    There's a lot of simple food in the background of a food bloggers life (mine anyways) it's not all photogenic and serve-it-to-your-inlaws worthy (and remember that an expensive camera can make food look better than it actually looks in real life! Reminds me of an article I read years ago exposing crisco as the photoshoot stand-in for ice cream...) Moderation, people...

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    1. Haha, totally agree!!! I try to tell people.... yea my food does NOT look this good everyday. In my dreams maybe.

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  9. Really interesting information. I've been hearing a bit about this as I've started going paleo/primal, and it's just another thing we have to take in stride AND in moderation. Macadamia nuts are pretty low in Omega-6s (and so darn delicious anyway), although they wouldn't be a good flour sub. in baking...

    In other news, I've nominated you for a Beautiful Blogger Award! Congratulations, keep up the good work, and check out my blog post about it for more details on how to spread the love. xo

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    1. Macadamia nut flour is great for baking actually. A bit expensive but it is a great option for people who are concerned about almonds. Of course there would still be the issue that baked goods are pretty high in calories and usually contain more than your average dose of nuts. Thus still needing to be eaten in moderation.

      Thanks so much for nominating me! How wonderful. I will check it out.

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  10. Well said! I could not agree more. Baked goods and sweet treats, whether they are gluten-free/grain-free/Paleo/vegan, should all be consumed in moderation. Also, your point about individual goals and needs parallels (one of) my health and wellness mantra, "find what works for you."

    Last spring, I completed my Master's degree with a thesis on nutritional literacy and confusion. The topic - along with my own personal experiences with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus - helped to inspire my blog, Live Free From.

    http://lifefreefrom.blogspot.ca

    All that aside, I found your blog during my search for grain-free "oatmeal" cookies (I can't wait to try yours!). After sifting through many of your recipes and discovering that you use predominantly almond and coconut flours, I couldn't be more excited! While I've dabbled with a primal/Paleo diet in the past, I'm only now trying to fully adapt. It's reassuring to know that there are delicious alternatives to some of our favourite treats - even if we only enjoy them every once in a while!

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  11. "We all come to the table to eat. But we all come with different goals and needs." - I think I stopped and read that about three times even though it's something I know, and I know I know it, but seeing it put in different words can give you that reminder that we need sometimes. Thank you! This is only the second thing on your blog that I've read and I'm already enamored :)

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  12. Although you may consider bread a treat, everyone I poled after reading your post does not consider bread a treat. It is, in some form or another, a staple of most diets in most countries.

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  13. Well here we are talking about nut based breads. These should NOT be eaten in the same manner as the bread you are speaking of. This article and blog I s specific to grain free diets for people who can not tolerate grains at all. So you see in this case, baked goods really are a treat. And this article was addressing the belief that grain free people should never enjoy a nut based bakes good ever. I was not addressing a world wide dietary plan.

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