Tiger Nut Flour: The Trendy Keto Alternative That Protects Your Gut Lining
Never heard of tiger nuts? They’re actually not nuts. But keto and Paleo cooks are nuts about it because it’s gluten-free and research shows it may be great for gut health.
Tiger nuts are having their 15 minutes of fame. They might not be in the same A-list, red-carpet category as other major health trends in recent years like intermittent fasting, bone broth and collagen powder. But you should expect to hear more about tiger nuts.
As more and more people realize what a gut-wrecker gluten is, alternative flours will continue to soar in popularity. And if you need a reminder of why gluten is so potentially problematic, here’s a brief lesson…
Many people are sensitive to gluten because of two reasons. The first reason is that gluten, the sticky, fluffy protein in wheat (glutenin is the other component)—has been modified over the years. The gluten molecules in today’s processed and packaged foods are bigger. And it could be that because of this genetic altering, gluten is triggering more sensitivities than ancient wheat.
But another reason gluten could be dietary public enemy number one is its effect on another protein called zonulin. Zonulin, when activated, opens up the intestinal barrier. In other words, zonulin triggers a leaky gut response.
That’s a good thing if you eat something with a dangerous pathogen like e. Coli bacteria.
Zonulin, by opening up the intestinal barrier will trigger diarrhea so you eliminate the pathogen. But when we eat gluten, the zonulin won’t necessarily lead to runny poop. What will happen, however, is that by opening the tight junctions in the gut lining, zonulin will trigger a systemic inflammatory response, leading to symptoms as benign as a runny nose to the more severe like a rheumatoid arthritis flare-up.
Or could it be the herbicides and pesticides that are sprayed on modern wheat? Make that three reasons.
Anyhow, this is how tiger nuts have become a trendy alternative to wheat flour. Tiger nuts may not yet have dethroned coconut and almond flour, but it’s cache is on the rise.
What are tiger nuts?Tiger nuts are the desiccated testicles of tigers, ground into a fine powder. Just kidding! Tiger nuts are neither from the largest wild cat in the world nor are they nuts. Tiger nuts are actually tubers, or root vegetables. And when these faux-nuts are ground into a powder (that part was true), tiger nuts resemble almond flour.
More accurately, according to a 2014 Oxford University study, our pre-human ancestors in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa subsisted on tiger nuts almost 2.5 million years ago.
The tiger nut health fad dates back only a blink of an eye. But humans have been going ape for tiger nuts for millions of years.
Admittedly, tiger nut flour, which is rich in many vitamins and minerals, is not ultra low in carbs. You still have to watch your net carb count when you bake with it. But at only 9 net grams of carbs per cup, tiger nuts contain just one-tenth the net carbs of wheat flour. In comparison, a cup of wheat flour contains a whopping 92 grams of net carbs!
In fact, almost 80% of the diet of early hominis consisted of tiger nuts. It’s fascinating how things come back full circle. It’s a bit of a minor miracle that bell bottoms have become trendy again. (Only this time, the pant style is called “flares.”) But a food that pre-homo sapiens survived on only now becoming a superfood? Talk about a Paleo-approved food!
Besides their low carb count and nutrient-dense profile, tiger nuts are good for the gut in more than one way. First, they contain prebiotic fiber. Prebiotic fiber is like healthy soil or fertilizer for your beneficial gut bacteria. When your friendly bacteria eat the fiber that your own digestive system can’t fully break down, the bacteria release (poo) short-chain fatty acids or SCFAs.
Benefits of Tiger Nuts
SCFAs or postbiotics as they’re also known are actually what provide us with all the health benefits that probiotic supplements take the credit for.In addition, tiger nuts, according to this 2020 study in the journal Nutrients, protects epithelial barrier function by reducing bacterial invasion. In other words, tiger nuts prevent leaky gut; tiger nuts won’t activate zonulin because they are gluten free.
For those who follow the keto lifestyle or for those who just want to start eating healthier but don’t want to give up baking, go nuts with tiger nuts. This versatile root vegetable, when ground into a powder, serves as a gut-healthy, low-carb alternative flour.
And for those with tree nut allergies, to repeat, tiger nuts are not nuts. Moreover, tiger nuts are not grains. Thus, anybody doing an elimination diet to fix leaky gut symptoms is good to go with tiger nuts.