Have you ever felt frustrated or disheartened after checking out gluten-free cookbooks? I know I have – way too many recipes call for an odd mix of starches, various flours, thickeners, and gums. And a staggering number of gluten-free recipes contain hefty amounts of nut flours that can be pro-inflammatory. That’s why I almost always use coconut flour when I bake. The only issue with coconut flour is that it can be quite tricky to use. So before you start using this flour with impressive health benefits, check out this article. Bonus: You’ll also find a list of mouth-watering recipes at the end of the article.
What is coconut flour
Highly prized in the Paleo community, coconut flour is not your traditional ‘flour’. It contains absolutely no grains and no nuts. Although the name may be confusing, the coconut is not a true nut but a one-seeded drupe. And pure coconut flour is simply coconut meat that has been dried and ground into a powder or flour.
Coconut flour is typically manufactured using one of the following methods:
- Dry process. In this method, the coconut meat is first ground and dried before most of the oil (about 88%) is extracted.
- Wet process. Manufacturers who use this method will first extract the coconut milk from the meat before drying and grinding it into coconut flour. About 52% of the oil will be extracted from the coconut meat in the wet process method.
Nutrition info for coconut flour
According to the USDA Food Composition Databases, 1 ounce (about 28g or a 1/4 cup serving) of coconut flour contains approximately:
- 120 calories
- 4 grams of protein
- 4 grams of fat
- 16 grams of carbohydrates
- 10 grams of fiber
- 2 grams of sugar
Coconut flour vs. other gluten-free flours
Let’s see how coconut flour compares to other popular gluten-flours.
Per 1/4 cup serving size:
- Almond flour contains 160 calories, 6 grams of protein, 14 grams of fat, 5 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of fiber.
- Amaranth flour contains 110 calories, 4 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat, 20 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of fiber.
- Buckwheat flour contains 94 calories, 3.5 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat, 20 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of fiber.
- Chickpea flour contains 110 calories, 6 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat, 18 grams of carbohydrates and 5 grams of fiber.
- Hazelnut flour contains 180 calories, 4 grams of protein, 17 grams of fat, 5 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of fiber.
- Rice flour contains 145 calories, 2.2 grams of protein, 0.6 grams of fat, 32 grams of carbohydrates and 1 gram of fiber.
Coconut flour: the exotic flour with impressive health benefits
One of the most appealing characteristics of coconut flour is that it does not contain gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale.
You’re probably thinking ‘not much of a health benefit since only individuals with celiac disease or gluten intolerance should go on a gluten-free diet’.
Well, not exactly. You see, research has linked gluten with a shockingly broad spectrum of symptoms and conditions including:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Autoimmune conditions like fibromyalgia, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and endometriosis
- Autism spectrum disorders
- Inflammation – this can increase the risks of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes
- Skin conditions such as dermatitis
So, even if you don’t have celiac disease and aren’t gluten intolerant, you might want to try a gluten-free diet for a month to see how you feel without gluten. Since many gluten-free products are nothing but processed foods, make sure to eat REAL FOODS. You may find the list of recipes at the end of this article pretty useful.
Allergies to peanuts and tree nuts such as almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts and cashew nuts are relatively common. And because of the ‘nut’ in coconut, many people mistakenly believe that they’ll also be allergic to coconuts if they are allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. However, as mentioned earlier, the coconut is not a true nut. As such, coconut flour should be safely consumed by most individuals, even those with a diagnosed tree nut allergy.
This being said, although extremely rare, some cases of coconut allergies have been reported. So, if you suspect an allergy to the coconut, don’t try any recipe containing coconut flour before talking to your physician.
3. Can improve your metabolism
When most people think of their metabolism, they think of their body weight. Or how many calories they can eat without increasing the number on the bathroom scale. Well, metabolism is so much more than that. In a nutshell, the metabolism refers to the essential biochemical reactions (such as digestion and production of hormones) that regulate how our cells use and store energy.
In a way, you could picture the metabolism as an ongoing ‘discussion’ between your brain and the cells throughout your body. So, when your metabolism is working optimally:
- You’ll find it easier to maintain a healthy weight because your body is efficiently using energy
- Your hormones will be more effective – this includes leptin and ghrelin, the hormones that help control your appetite
- Your immune system will be stronger
- New cells will be generated at an increased rate to replace old ones (hello beautiful skin!)
- You’d be at lower risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease
- Compared to long chain fatty acids, MCFAs are way less likely to be stored in the body’s fat deposits
- MCFAs enhance the body’s ability to burn fat as energy (improved metabolism)
- Studies suggest that MCFAs can help regulate appetite
- MCFAs have been found to possess anti-coagulating effects which could reduce the risks of atherosclerosis (the hardening and narrowing of the arteries)
4. May enhance blood sugar control
Although coconut flour is high in carbohydrates, it can improve your blood sugar levels since:
- Most of these carbohydrates come from the flour’s high fiber content – coconut flour is 60% fiber and can, therefore, slow down the absorption of sugar in the body
- MCFAs have been shown to improve insulin’s function, making it more sensitive
However, do keep in mind that coconut flour is not a magical food. Dumping loads of sugar, honey, maple syrup or fruits in your batter will cause your blood sugar levels to skyrocket.
The fiber in coconut flour is 56% insoluble and 4% soluble. Research suggests that the high levels of fiber in this flour do not impede mineral absorption. When we eat foods that naturally contain soluble fiber (but not foods with added fiber), the beneficial bacteria in our digestive tract will feed on (and ferment) these fibers to produce short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate. These fatty acids have been found to:
- Tone down inflammation which, if left unchecked, can lead to a host of health complications like heart disease
- Improve insulin sensitivity and thus enhance blood sugar regulation
- Reduce the risks of neurodegenerative diseases like
- Ameliorate resistance to stress
- Improve the body’s immune response
Note: Coconut flour can prove to be an amazing addition to your diet provided you eat slowly and mindfully.
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