Grain-Free Flour Series Part 2: Nutrition Facts for 12 Lectin Free Flours
This post is Part 2 of a 3-part series on grain-free, Plant Paradox approved flours. In Part 1, I introduced all 11 compliant flours with a brief description of each, but now it’s time to get our hands dirty and really compare the nutritional benefits between all these flours. There are three main components to any food: protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Of course, it’s not quite that simple, because there are different proteins (lectins are proteins!), varied forms of carbohydrate, and good and bad fats.
The good news is, if the flour made this list in the first place, it has harmless or no lectins, good fats, and is low glycemic (in moderation). Go ahead and stock up on all of them. But if you’re looking for the cream of the crop, gold star flour, this post contains the information you’ll need to make that decision!
Protein in Grain-Free Flours
If this ain’t your first health rodeo, you’ve probably experienced the hero-worship of protein. It’s like, if all else fails, at least get your 40 million grams of protein for the day. When I was pregnant, my birth coach literally suggested I eat two steaks for dinner at night. Turns out, the “power of protein” was a little overhyped. Especially animal protein. The stats don’t lie, folks: Vegans live the longest. And it’s not because they’re mixing protein powder and liquid and calling it a meal. They’re getting protein from non-animal food sources like…nut flours, for example.
Which makes a lovely segue into our chart for protein content in flour. Here’s a comparison of the protein content among the 12 grain-free flours (cassava and tapioca are now separate categories, because of the different processing method). Each number represents an average taken from at least three brands of one flour type, and all are per 1/4 cup serving.
It appears sesame flour is the dark horse of protein-rich food. I assumed all the nut and seed flours would have similar numbers. I was surprised to see sesame not only in the lead, but also double the next highest (almond). If you’re looking for sources of non-animal protein, you may consider incorporating sesame flour into your grain-free baking.
Fat in Grain-Free Flours
Thanks to the newfound popularity of the keto diet, people are looking for more ways to sneak fat into their diet. From bulletproof coffee to fat bombs, methods are getting more creative and meals are getting tastier because who doesn’t love fat!? Combining MCT oils and fatty grain-free flours in baked goods can give you a double dose of the right type of fats your body needs to burn fat for fuel. Here’s a look at the fat content in our 12 grain-free flours:
Back in the realm of normal expectations, almond and hazelnut are leading the way with fat content at 12 grams per 1/4 cup serving. The surprise in this chart came from the tiger nut flour–root flours are known for being starch and little else. Tiger nut flour may turn out to be a “rule-bending” flour in more ways than one.
Carbohydrates in Grain-Free Flours
No, not the evil carbs! If you’re trying to avoid carbs, don’t automatically dismiss flour with a high carb count. Some of these flours are more resistant to absorption as glucose than others. Let’s first take a look at the general carbohydrate content for our 12 grain-free flours. Then we’ll delve a little further into what percentage of these flours we actually absorb as a carbohydrate.
If you are leading a low carb lifestyle, and you want something that’s high in fat, but low on fiber and other beneficial carbs, almond, hazelnut, and sesame flours are your best bet. However, these flours by themselves do not yield the best baked goods. We often need a starch to get the right kind of texture. You’ll soon learn that some carbs are better than others.
Different Types of Carbs
Sugar is sugar, no matter how you ingest it. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting sugar via fruit or Skittles. The body digests it the same way, by absorbing it as glucose or fructose. Some of these flours do contain naturally occurring sugars. If you’re aiming to avoid all sugar, take a look at this chart for comparison.
Keep in mind, though, that there are factors that can affect the glycemic index of a food source. Just because a vegetable or nut has naturally occurring sugars, doesn’t mean it will spike your blood sugar when consumed. Things like protein/fiber content, processing method, and makeup of the starch can all have a positive impact on sugar content. Remember, all of the 12 grain-free flours discussed in this article are low on the glycemic index.
Although fiber is a carbohydrate, it doesn’t contain any calories because the human body doesn’t break it down. It’s resistant to digestion and absorption into the bloodstream; therefore, it does not raise blood glucose levels. If you are counting carbs, you can subtract the number of grams of fiber from the total carb count. Let’s take a look at the dietary fiber content in our 12 grain-free flours.
And now you can see why grape seed flour is so beneficial in small amounts. I wouldn’t suggest making an entire loaf of grain-free bread out of grape seed flour. Not only would it taste awful, but you’d likely be doubled over with gastrointestinal cramps for several hours.
Coconut and tiger nut flours have a beneficial amount of dietary fiber, making their already moderate “carb count” significantly lower. Tiger nut flour, however, has even more benefits in the form of a starch that acts much like dietary fiber.
Starch is not all bad. The key to understanding which starches are good for our body is to look at something called the amylose/amylopectin ratio.
There are two types of starch:
- Amylopectin or “rapidly digested starch” is the one we most want to avoid–its molecular structure is easily digested and absorbed into the bloodstream as glucose, causing a temporary spike in blood sugar, followed by a “crash.”
- Amylose or slowly digested starch has a structure that is harder for enzymes to break down, leading to slower absorption and a slower rise in blood sugar. The higher the amylose content is of a particular food, the higher it is in something called resistant starch. Resistant starch is nature’s “carb-free” gift to the starch world. Much like dietary fiber, it resists digestion and absorption and instead produces short chain fatty acids in the large intestine, which means longer satiety and no spike in blood sugar.
The high carb flours that will feed our healthy gut bacteria and make us feel full the longest are the ones that have a lot of fiber and/or a high amylose and resistant starch content. Scientists are able to extract starch from various foods and analyze it to determine the amylose/amylopectin ratio. Results vary widely, depending on the species of tuber/fruit and the method used to extract and analyze.
It’s impossible to say exactly how much resistant starch a particular flour has. We can, however, look at a range of numbers taken from different studies. The following chart represents an average percent amylose content for each starchy food, taken from multiple studies (listed after):
I want to stress again that this chart is not the end-all-be-all of resistant starch content. There are many factors that can affect the resistant starch content, including species and maturity of the root/fruit. Bananas, for example, are the highest in resistant starch when green. However, when they begin to ripen, that starch is converted into amylopectin, and all those beneficial gut feeders are turned into glucose bombs.
You may have heard that raw potato starch is very high in resistant starch, and it is. Raw. As soon as it’s heated, all of that resistant starch is converted, and who wants to eat raw potato starch?
There is no holy grail to grain free flour. There will never be a loaf of bread as chewy and gluten-y as that last piece of wheat bread you ate (however long ago it was). You can, however, have baked goods and compliant treats that not only taste good, but also treat your body the way it deserves to be treated. You can feed your gut bacteria the stuff it wants and enjoy the taste and texture.
In the final post of this series, I’ve considered all the nutritional facts, and I’ve compare the tastes/textures of the creations I’ve made with these flours and given out some “awards.” Most importantly, I’ve provided links to the best brands and the most convenient places you can buy these flours, so you can start making your own scrumptious grain-free, lectin free baked goods and dishes!
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