Q What are the merits of coconut flour in gluten-free baking?
Ah, coconut flour! One of the most talked about foods of the last year. This merit on its own usually divides people into two camps: those who are desperate to try it and those who are naturally sceptical, claiming it’s another overpriced and popular food that doesn’t deserve its good press. So what’s the answer?
One of the easiest ways to manage a gluten-free diet is to choose naturally gluten-free foods and coconut flour is one of them. Not only is it great for those who must avoid gluten, it’s also good for people who can eat gluten and aren’t keen on inferior substitutes. In other words, if you cook just one meal for the family and they hate the gluten-free flour you’re currently using, coconut flour might just be your saviour.
So what health benefits can you expect? For starters, paleo-friendly coconut flour has nearly twice the amount of fibre found in wheat bran, it contains protein (albeit only a small amount) and the fat content is rumoured to aid the metabolism. It’s also an alternative to almond flour, which is particularly good for those with nut allergies, or those who prefer a more subtle taste.
However, there are those who are allergic to coconut, so the news isn’t all good. If you suffer from IBS or digestive problems in general, the high fibre content may irritate your gut and you may wish to start with very small amounts (if at all) before deciding whether you can tolerate it. Every year there are new food groups that become fashionable and catch the eye of nutritionists.
But make sure you eat foods because you feel better for eating them and, perhaps more importantly, because you like the taste. It’s amazing how many people think healthy food should taste bad! What you put on your plate should benefit you nutritionally and mentally, otherwise the good you get from eating will be sabotaged by your desire to have something you really like, and there’s nothing worse than spending money on an expensive superfood only to find it staring at you from the cupboard six months later.
About our expert: Ali Walsh was diagnosed with coeliac disease nearly 20 years ago, at a time when free-from food was scarce. She started her own cake business because there was a lack of fresh gluten-free cake on offer. Ali feels if you can’t eat a particular food, you shouldn’t feel deprived, and has created recipes so delectable that even people without dietary requirements clamour for her bakes. A regular on BBC radio, Ali often advises on managing diets. www.thebristolbakehouse.com.