Coconut flour - the secret ingredient!

A nutritious, gluten-free alternative to regular flour

What if you could transform cakes and muffins into health foods with the addition of one ingredient? The secret is coconut flour.

Coconut flour is gluten-free and nutritionist Steph Lowe, who specialises in gluten-free and sugar free eating, says this is one of several great reasons to choose the highly nutritious flour.

"We know gluten is inflammatory and causes a lot of health issues that stem from what happens in our gut. Gluten is really hard for our bodies to digest and can interfere with the lining of our small intestine." Which means it struggles to absorb all the nutrients we need.

As awareness of the dangers of gluten grows, gluten-free flours have gone mainstream, but Lowe points out one advantage that coconut flour has over the others.

"Other gluten-free substitutes like potato flour and corn flour are really high in starch whereas coconut flour is extremely low." Large amounts of starch play havoc with our blood sugar and energy levels.

"We want to eat foods that support a healthy hormonal environment that don't give us those really high spikes in blood sugar which can lead to insulin resistance in the long term and to fat storage in the short term", advises Lowe.

Another boon offered by coconut flour to those of us avoiding weight gain is its figure-friendly serving of fibre and protein that help us to feel satisfied after a meal. Compared to wheat flour, coconut flour has about twice the protein and an impressive ten times more fibre. Even when compared to almond flour, one of the most popular gluten-free alternatives, coconut flour again comes out on top with only two-thirds of the calories, but more protein and more than six times the fibre.

The fibre in coconut flour also instantly lowers the glycaemic index of whatever foods it's eaten in and keeps our blood sugar on an even keel. This is great news if the other ingredients are high in carbs, like fruit and honey. Scientists have demonstrated that macaroons, carrot cake and even brownies can be transformed into significantly low GI foods just by including some coconut flour.

With such blood-sugar lowering powers, it might seem artificial, but coconut flour is simply the dried coconut meat left after harvesting coconut milk. Lowe says, "It's not refined and processed and devoid of nutrition like some of the wheat flours that we get. It's actually packed full of nutrients."

Just as important as the things that treats made with coconut flour contain is what they leave out - omega-6 fatty acids. Even the health-conscious among us find it far easier to consume omega-6, in nuts and seeds, than omega-3. This imbalance is linked to chronic illness and inflammation. Almond flour contains at least four grams of omega-6 per cup and no omega-3 fatty acids, giving them the worst possible ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. Eating a few almonds is healthy, but eating them by the cupful in baked goods can send our ratio dangerously high. Lowe reveals, "If I eat almond flour I keep it for a treat, then it doesn't become an issue. The (gluten-free) ingredient you use the majority of the time needs to be coconut flour so you don't have the worry of excess omega-6."

If you think coconut flour is starting to sound like the perfect partner for nutritious baking then Lowe agrees with you. "It's fueling our bodies with what we need."

How to use it
Lowe cautions, "Because it's dense and absorbs a lot of liquid, it's a bit trickier to use. If you're changing an already created recipe you can't just sub it one for one."

Eggs are used to provide the extra moisture for coconut flour and take over the role of gluten in binding the cake together. After it's soaked up all that liquid a little goes a long way - you might only need a quarter of a cup to bake a cake. The eggs also add valuable protein on top of what's provided by the coconut flour. "You're turning a muffin which is traditionally not very healthy into something that's really nutritious."

Bake these delicious coconut flour treats for a long afternoon tea with friends and you'll all be nourished in both body and spirit. 

By Louise Wedgewood

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