Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Replacements



I have been asked explanations on my reluctancy to use nut flours as a replacement to traditional flours in preparations such as muffins, bread, pizza-crust, etc. As well as alternatives to milk such as white concoctions based on soy, rice, almond, coconut, etc. Topic what I intended to develop anyway, so it is with pleasure that I satisfy the request.

Just one recommendation: feel free to share your perplexities, approvals, disapprovals, etc in the comments area, not because I don't like being asked in the corridor or via email, it is just that this way it will be possible to animate an open discussion. If you feel embarrassed, remember: there are no stupid questions... and even for the almost-stupid ones, you can still post as anonymous ;)

Let's begin...

Nut flours

I already mentioned in one post that I am not an avid grain eater and I recognize that modern wheat has some problems. Notable problems of modern wheat are: higher gluten content (compared to the wheat of 100 years ago), and pesticides of course. Additionally, the way wheat is prepared today does not follow the traditional preparations (sprouting, soaking, lacto-fermentation).

Although my take is that gluten allergy and gluten intollerance are a bit exagerated by the media and often even by people pretending "to have it", the problem stays: gluten is inflammatory.

Let's face it, who right in their mind wakes up in the morning and says:
  • "I want to start the day inflamed"
... and eats some food that inflames? It is not a joke, it is a serious question and the answer is: anybody having bisquits or slices of white bread for breakfast.

Another problem with cereals are phytates. Phytic acid is a compound that binds some essential minerals (calcium, iron, zinc, ...), thus limiting their absorption in the gut. In short: bread may have iron and zinc, but you won't absorb them, bringing to a silent epidemic of mineral deficiencies.

In the health movement, and in particular in the gluten-free and paleo, wheat has been abolished. And that's fine, you can live without bread, pasta, bisquits and pizza. I do very well with just two or three homemade rye sourdoughs per year and I confirm that cereals are not such an important brick in the food pyramid.

The problem is that some people can't psychologycally get rid of the cravings for the treats and commodity foods they are leaving behind. Check any blog about paleo recipes and you'll see that nine dishes out of ten are treats with alternative paleo-approved ingredients. Enter nut flours.

Nut flours are nuts (very popular is the one from almonds) which are ground and used for preparations as a replacement for traditional flour: bread, muffins, pizza crust.

Why do I keep saying that they are not a healthy replacement? Let's analyze the content (100g, bleached almonds):

Proteins21.9 g
Carbohydrates19.9 g
Fats, total50.6 g
Saturated fats3.9 g (7.7%)
Monounsaturated fats32.3 g (63.8%)
Polyunsaturated fats ω-30 g (0%)
Polyunsaturated fats ω-612.1 g (23.9%)

If you have read my post on fats it should be obvious where I am going: the fats contained in almonds are easily oxidized with heat. Rancid fatty acids are inflammatory and potentially cancerogenic, to which I prefer gluten that is just inflammatory.

Even unroasted, the obvious unbalance between ω-3 and ω-6 does not really make it a good food to abuse, unless you are also eating plenty of cold water fish.

Will almond flour at least save you from phytates? Not even that: in the same amount of ground flour, almonds contain three times the phytic acid as wheat.

So, what's the solution?
  • The first is obvious: don't bake at all. There are literally dozens of thousands of recipes that do not involve baking, theoretically you can eat a different recipe every meal for the rest of your life and enjoy variety in the process.
  • Bake with other replacements. Some people claimed success with tapioca (cassava flour) as well as with plantain. In my quest to speak only about things I know, I tried both: tapioca makes a very gummy texture, not something I will ever become a fan of. However, tapioca is an excellent replacement to wheat flour in pancakes or to thinken sauces. The texture from plantain is more acceptable but won't inflate much, expect a very compact bagel from it.
  • Follow the traditions. Ditch refined modern wheat without much regret and use instead whole rye from organic produce. Take your time to knead a sourdough, let it lacto-ferment for 36-48 hours and bake it. Rye contains a milder type gluten and the lacto-fermentation process makes it more digestible even for people with REAL gluten intolerance. Rye also contains much more phytase than any other cereal, seed or nut: phytase is an enzyme that is activated with soaking and destoys phytic acid (yes: you absorb iron and zinc from rye sourdough).

Alternatives to milk

This is not the long awaited post in defence of dairy. Not yet. Today I am speaking about milk replacements and why I would be very careful with them.

Milk replacements are juices from nuts, cereals or pulses that are write or ivory in colour and have a ratio of proteins, fats and carbohydrates that mimics that of animal milk. There are also cheese and yogurt replacements, examples are: tofu, soy yogurt and almond feta... these too have a P:F:C ratio that looks appealing.

In our culture we have been brainwashed to believe that what matters are the macronutrients and some milk/dairy replacements look pretty fine from this point of view. Unfortunately it is not the way it works, nutrient density is what really matters.

Some considerations about alternative milks:
  • Vegetable milks don't contain Vit-A, Vit-D3, Vit-K2 and Vit-B12 (all of them are of animal sources and milks are no exception).
  • Even when fortified with calcium, the same cannot be absorbed and utilised by the body due to the lack of liposoluble vitamins.
  • Even considering milk from grain-fed cows, the balance ω-3:ω-6 is still better than vegetable milks. Grass-fed milk is clearly an even healthier choice.
  • CLA is only found in animal milk (traces are found in some mushrooms).
  • Raw milk also contains enzymes and natural probiotics that are not found in milk replacements. These enzymes play an important role in the digestion of milk and in gut health.
  • Rice milk is high in sugars and pretty low in proteins.
  • Coconut milk is a fairly good replacement for heavy cream and I use it a lot in South-Asian recipes and curries. It is however just this: a thickener for sauces with plenty of medium chain triglycerides which lacks fundamental micronutrients. In other words: don't drink a cup of coconut milk for breakfast thinking "it does a body good".
  • Soy and all its products deserve a dedicated article, the health issues coming from its consumption will make you think twice before having a single serving of it ever again.

Should everybody start drinking gallons of raw full-fat grass-fed milk right away? Obviously no, I don't do it neither. My point here is that people should not drink gallons of vegetable milks thinking that they are healthier that raw milk from grass-fed animals or traditional aged cheeses (parmesan, pecorino, gruyère, asiago, cheddar, gouda... just to name a few).

One important point I cannot discuss here (but I will, in a dedicated article) regards caseins allergy, lactose sensitivity and milk intolerances in general. They exist, although much less widespread than we have been led to believe. Obviously, for those people, both milk and some types of dairy products are definitely taboo, but that should not be a green light to nut milks for the reasons I mentioned above.

Conclusions

I realize that my posts are getting longer and longer. If you arrived to the end of this: thanks, sincerely. It costs me time and effort to write them but as I see the increasing number of visits, I know I am doing a good job helping people to get oriented in the confusion that reigns in today's nutrition.

In fact I'll tell you something: you didn't need to read it all, the picture on the top is already a good summary: the food pyramid should be about eating real food, replacement are not. That's the core message of the whole article and what I hope stays after you read it.

Eat well and... stay tuned!

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