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Gluten-Free Nut and Seed Flour Alternatives

On a gluten-free diet? Or just want to try some alternative flours for baking, thickening soups and stews or other applications? Then you’ve come to the right place. There are many gluten-free flour alternatives, some of which are also whole grain. In this piece, we’ll review gluten-free nut- and seed-based meals/flours such as almond meal/flour, peanut flour and flaxseed meal/flour.

Gluten-free nut-based meals/flours:

Almond meal (almond flour) is made from blanched almonds is low in carbohydrates and high in protein. Completely gluten-free, it contains heart-healthy unsaturated fats and makes crusts crunchy, adds moisture and a nutty flavor to pastries, baked goods and dessert fillings. A 3/4 cup serving offers 6g protein, 3.5g fiber, 14g fat (nearly all unsaturated) and a whopping 10 IU (International Units) of vitamin E (roughly 35% of the Recommended Daily Value). The typical American diet, even a fairly healthy diet, often comes up short on this important antioxidant. Because of its unsaturated fat content, almond meal has a short shelf life.

Peanut flour is made from crushed peanuts that have been partially or fully defatted. Peanut flour is high in protein, offering 8g per 1/4 cup, defatted. Use this gluten-free alternative to thicken soups, sauces and stews, add a nutty flavor to baked goods or savory main dishes.

Gluten-free seed-based meal/flour:

Flaxseed meal, made by milling whole flaxseeds, is available at many grocers bagged and ready-to-use. Add flaxseed meal to smoothies, yogurt and cereals. The health benefits of naturally gluten-free flaxseeds are many. They offer anti-cancer benefits (particularly breast cancer as they contain lignans, compounds with antioxidant and anti-estrogen properties). Flaxseeds are a rich source of dietary fiber (4g per 2 tbsp. of flaxseed meal) and are an excellent plant source of the heart-healthy omega-3 essential fatty acids (1.8g per tbsp. ground flaxseed). In baked goods, you can use flaxseed meal in your gluten-free baking as a fat or egg substitute. Flaxseed meal also has a short shelf life and should be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Gluten-Free Diet Q&A

What is a gluten-free diet and who is it best for?

Registered dietitians (RDs) and medical doctors recommend those with diagnosed celiac disease adhere to a gluten-free diet. Individuals with celiac disease suffer from a variety of symptoms, gastrointestinal and otherwise, whenever they consume gluten, a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, barley and (possibly) oat. It is an immune system response.

Even if a physician is able to rule out celiac disease, you can still suffer from a ‘gluten sensitivity.’ This is hard to prove or disprove because it is based on numerous non-specific symptoms such as gas, bloating and abdominal pain, headaches and skin conditions (without another likely cause)…even depression. If symptoms become less severe or disappear by following a gluten-free diet, it might be right for you. However, following a gluten-free diet is not easy and can be expensive. In addition, and gluten-free food products are not necessarily healthier, despite popular belief.

Why have gluten-free diets gained popularity within the past decade?

A combination of factors is likely responsible for the gluten-free diet’s popularity. The number of official diagnoses has increased significantly in the 10 to 12 years. This is mainly due to an increase in Celiac disease incidence and increased public awareness.

According to the University of Chicago, it is estimated that just over one in 130 individuals suffer from Celiac disease in the U.S., but twice as many individuals experience ‘related’ symptoms. Celiac disease runs in families, particularly among first degree relatives. Some [experts] believe that Celiac disease is related to our development and foods we ate when we were young. The theory is that some decades ago we were not exposed to certain antigens in the environment that are present today. In past years the environment/food supply was “cleaner” than it is now. Whether or not this is true, these theories are transmitted through media and appear in books, fueling the gluten-free diet rage.

Because of increased public awareness and diagnoses, bookstores, restaurants, supermarkets and products have followed suit, attempting to keep up with the demand by jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon. There is also the celebrity trend angle. The gluten-free diet has become a popular venue (with celebrities) for promoting overall health, alleviating numerous ailments and aiding in weight loss. It is not a weight loss diet, however, celebrity diets tend to influence the public. Finally, there is the ‘eating gluten-free is healthier’ belief. At least 1/3 of those that purchase gluten-free products believe that they are actually healthier than conventional options. Gluten-free food products may be less nutrient-dense, lower in dietary fiber and higher in calories than their whole grain counterparts.