Whenever you are in the mood to rustle up a batch of muffins, cookies, or pancakes, you will likely reach for the bag of all-purpose flour that’s a staple in your pantry. You may even have whole wheat flour on your shelf. And now, the rise of grain-adverse diets like paleo and keto has also propelled almond flour from an obscure ingredient to one you can now find in the baking aisle of almost every supermarket. So should you splurge on the nut flour and make it a fixture in your chocolate chunk cookies?
We sifted through nutrition facts and baking know-how to see if almond flour indeed rises above the rest.
What Is Almond Flour?
Making this trendy flour is not rocket science. It’s produced from skinless blanched almonds that are ground into a fine powder that tastes—not surprisingly—nutty. “Natural” almond flour is made with whole almonds, skin and all, that are ground into a powder. The consistency is closer to that of cornmeal than regular flour.
What Are the Nutritional Perks of Almond Flour?
In several instances, almond flour is deserving of a nutrition pat-on-the-back.
One serving—1/4 cup—of almond flour contains the following:
6 g protein
14 g fat
1 g saturated fat
6 g carbs
3 g fiber
80 mg calcium
1 mg iron
One serving—1/4 cup—of all-purpose flour contains the following:
3 g protein
0 g fat
0 g saturated fat
23 g carbs
1 g fiber
0 mg calcium
1.4 g iron
Compared to all-purpose flour, the almond version delivers twice as much protein. That makes it more satiating and helpful in repairing and building lean body mass in response to training. Still, if your diet already contains plenty of protein from a variety of sources, the little extra you’ll get from the almond flour you added to your Sunday pancakes won’t have a huge impact. And the protein in almond flour is not as high quality as what you’d get from foods such as eggs, poultry, fish, quinoa, and soy that provide a source of “complete” protein, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids you need to build strong muscles.
Where almond flour blows away its grain-based counterparts is with its monounsaturated fat content. Cup for cup, almond flour has about nine times as much as wheat flour. This is a notable nutrition upgrade, considering research suggests that monounsaturated fat can help lower the risk for heart disease, especially if it replaces some of the calories from saturated fat and refined grains in the diet. The unsaturated fats in almonds are linked to improved cholesterol numbers, which is most certainly ticker-friendly.
Just keep in mind that the higher levels of fat in almond flour contributes to its higher calorie count—about 60 percent more than whole wheat flour. So going overboard on the stuff could contribute to weight gain for the average person. That said, most research suggests eating nuts can actually help stave off extra pounds, and if you are training hard and burning up crazy amounts of calories on rides, then the extra calories almond flour provides could better help meet overall energy needs.
Since almond flour is essentially just almonds, users will also benefit from upping their intake of a range of essential micronutrients, most notably calcium and vitamin E. Though it acts as a potent antioxidant, which may help lessen the chances of developing cancer and could even aid in postride recovery efforts, diet surveys suggest that many people have inadequate levels of vitamin E. To be fair, white flour—and many of the products like bread made with it—are fortified with iron and B vitamins, giving it higher levels of these nutrients. So it’s a little bit of give-and-take when it comes to the micronutrient comparison.
Almond skins have shown to have prebiotic potential, meaning they can be a food source for the beneficial bacteria in your gut which could lead to improved digestive and immune health. But to reap these benefits, you’ll have to use almond flour made from whole unskinned almonds, since it is the fiber in the skins that act as a prebiotic.
Almond Flour Recipes to Make
Almond flour can add a nutty essence to muffins, cakes, brownies, cookies, pancakes, waffles, quick breads, crusts for quiche and tarts, and DIY energy bars. It’s also great added to the topping for crisps and crumbles or used as a breading for fish or chicken. It works in place of breadcrumbs when making meatloaf and meatballs. You can even stir almond flour into a pot of simmering oatmeal for a nutritional and flavor boost.
Since almond flour does not contain any gluten, you cannot use it as a 1-to-1 replacement for regular flour in recipes and expect the same results. Gluten contributes many important properties to baked goods, such as structure and rising. Instead, try replacing about 25 percent of flour called for in a recipe with the almond variety and see if you like the results. You can also seek out tested recipes, like flourless cakes, that are made with just almond flour to guarantee a better end product. For baking purposes, almond flour made from skinned blanched almonds will produce more consistent results.
For optimal freshness, flavor, and nutrition, it’s best to keep almond flour stashed in your fridge or freezer, which greatly delays the rate at which the fats in the flour turn rancid. It’s recommended, however, that almond flour be brought back up to room temperature before using it in baking recipes.
The Bottom Line
Most certainly, almond flour can be a nutritious addition to any diet geared toward improving health and cycling performance. But if you are already taking in a bounty of whole foods—including good sources of healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, and whole nuts—the addition of almond flour to your meals isn’t a must if you’d rather stick with the all-purpose stuff.
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