Top Alternative Flours
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The Most Popular Alternative Flours
You’ve probably seen more mentions of “alternative” flours lately in the health arena. Almond, coconut, and quinoa are just a few of the flours health food fans have been substituting in for the old white flour, and the results are pleasing.
Nutrition experts are all about it. “It’s a great idea to switch up your flours to help ensure a rotation of various nutrients,” Beth Warren, R.D.N., founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Living a Real Life With Real Food, tells SELF. “Refined flour provides no nutritional benefits.”
Jessica Cording, a New York-based R.D., agrees, telling that alternative flours are a great way to get more nutrients into your diet. Not only that, they’re ideal for people with certain food allergies and intolerances. While many of these alternative flours rose to popularity because they’re gluten-free, they have plenty of other benefits as well.
14 Great Gluten-Free Flours
1. Coconut Flour
Coconut flour is an excellent replacement to white and wheat flour. Coconut flour nutrition has a high fiber content and rich in healthy fats, so if you’re looking to go on a low carb diet to lose weight fast, one of the best things you can do is start using this alternative flour.
The health benefits are exquisite. Coconut flour’s high levels of healthy saturated fats are used by the body easily for energy and help support a healthy metabolism and more.
Coconut flour also assists in creating a healthy blood sugar level, since it carries a low glycemic load and doesn’t spike blood sugar levels. In fact, studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition show that consuming products that contain coconut flour can help lower the overall glycemic impact of the food and support stable blood sugar levels. Coconut flour also helps with healthy digestion, has a high nutrient density and can aid in heart health, too. Studies show that coconut flour has the ability to help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and serum triglycerides in people who have raised cholesterol levels. Coconut flour has this positive effect because of its high supply of both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber plus its healthy MUFA fat content.
Just like coconut oil’s tremendous benefits, coconut flour is another great option you can use in baking. Some favorite coconut flour recipes include coconut flour cookies like Mounds Cookies Recipe and coconut flour cakes like Coconut Chia Protein Pancakes Recipe. There are even wonderful coconut flour waffle recipes.
2. Sprouted Corn Flour
Now, let’s talk a little bit about sprouted corn flour. This is a gluten-free, sprouted, yellow-corn flour. If you want to make homemade cornbread, this is the flour to use.
Sprouting is when you take a grain and soak it anywhere between 12 to 48 hours. That kills off the phytic acid in the flour. Phytic acid is what binds to minerals. If you buy whole-wheat bread today, you’ll notice that the package says, “contains riboflavin,” which is vitamin B2, and contains a few other vitamins. The truth is that when you consume this, you’re not absorbing those vitamins because they’re bound to phytic acid. Imagine you have all these vitamins and minerals that are all stuck together. You may consume this seemingly healthful mixture, but it just passes right through.
However, when grains are sprouted, the process kills off that phytic acid. Now all the minerals and vitamins are free so you can absorb and digest them. That’s why Ezekiel bread and other sprouted grain bread are better than regular bread.
If that’s not enough of a reason to consider sprouted bread, wheat also contributes to belly fat because it’s really hard to digest and can cause leaky gut symptoms and other inflammatory issues in your body.
When purchasing sprouted corn flour, it is vital to buy non-GMO verified corn flour. The largest downside of traditional corn flour is that it’s often made from GMO corn, which is associated with a variety of health issues. However, organic corn nutrition is a worthy addition to a gluten-free diet — in moderation, of course.
3. Oat Flour
Next is gluten-free, sprouted oat flour. Many people wonder, “Are oats gluten-free?” If you purchase natural oats, they can definitely be gluten-free. The other night, I actually made homemade chocolate chip raisin oatmeal cookies with oat flour and absolutely loved them. This flour is even better than regular oats in terms of digestibility — the nutrients, including all the vitamins and minerals, you find in oats are easier to digest in gluten-free oat flour. Oats also help lower cholesterol, provide fiber to keep you feeling full, increase immunity and more. (6, 7, 8)
4. Rice Flour
The next flour here is brown rice flour, another gluten-free flour. Rice flour, we know, tends to be non-allergenic for a lot of people, and most people digest it well. Even though I do like the sprouted flours more, brown rice flour is fine as well. And if you hate to give up pasta, brown rice pasta probably represents the best simulation of pasta.
If possible, brown rice should always be chosen over white rice because, according to The World’s Healthiest Foods:
“The complete milling and polishing that converts brown rice into white rice destroys 67% of the vitamin B3, 80% of the vitamin B1, 90% of the vitamin B6, half of the manganese, half of the phosphorus, 60% of the iron, and all of the dietary fiber and essential fatty acids.”
5. Almond Flour
Nutritious almonds are packed with L-arginine, magnesium, copper, manganese, calcium and potassium. Studies published in Nutrition Reviews show almonds have a consistent “bad” LDL cholesterol-lowering effect, especially in individuals with high cholesterol and diabetes.
Almonds are also a high-fiber food and contain certain types of healthy fats. They’re also good for baking. Almond flour is great for making cookies, cakes and other baked goods. It’s also useful in different meals or even coating for things like chicken tenders.
6. Tapioca Flour
Tapioca is one of the purest forms of starch there is. Tapioca is typically used as a thickening agent in recipes. Although it doesn’t offer many nutrients outside of carbohydrates/starch, tapioca is a low-calorie, sugar-free option. In a quarter cup of tapioca flour, there is 100 calories, 26 grams carbohydrates and almost no sugar, fat or protein.
While tapioca flour is a great thickening agent, when compared to cassava flour, cassava flour may be a better option for some. Tapioca and cassava flour both originate from the cassava root. Tapioca, however, only comes from the starch of the root and is then bleached. Cassava contains more vitamin C and is less processed overall.
7. Chickpea Flour
Chickpea flour — also known as gram flour, garbanzo bean flour or traditionally besan — provides a number of health benefits. As a member of the legume family, chickpeas provide high levels of fiber to help with digestion and promote weight loss.
Chickpea flour also has what is thought to be an ideal ratio of magnesium and calcium, energizing B vitamins and potential benefits specifically for pregnant women as it contains large amounts of folate. Folate plays a role in DNA replication and, according to a study in The Journal of Epidemiology, fortification of foods with folate has decreased the risk for neural tube defects by 26 percent.
One of the most popular ways to use chickpea flour is to make socca, which is similar to a hearty pancake or thin bread (but gluten-free). Traditionally, it’s simply made with chickpea flour, olive oil and spices.
8. Sorghum Flour
Next, we have sorghum flour. As a heavy flour, sorghum flour works best in recipes that require a small amount of flour or when used in combination with other lighter gluten-free flours. So why use sorghum flour at all? This flour provides high quantities of fiber and antioxidants. Sorghum also helps balance blood sugar and fight inflammation and diseases. If you are looking to lose weight, sorghum contains tannins that are thought to help fight obesity.
9. Cassava Flour
Cassava flour is made by grating and drying cassava root (also known as “yuca”). One cup of raw cassava provides 71 percent of your daily value of vitamin C, which promotes healthy skin, fights free radical damage and improves the health of gums and teeth. Although cassava flour provides little other nutrients, it allows you to enjoy baked goods low in calories, fat and sugar — all at a low cost.
10. Amaranth Flour
Amaranth is a highly versatile plant. Amaranth can be consumed as a leaf, cereal grain or grain flour. Amaranth flour has a nutty, earthy flavor that tends to take on the flavors of other ingredients.
Amaranth has a number of benefits. It helps fight diabetes, supports bone health and provides the body with necessary protein. One cup of cooked amaranth grain has nine grams of protein, 160 milligrams of magnesium (40 percent DV) and manganese, phosphorus and iron. Like chickpea flour, amaranth flour also contains a high level of folate that makes it beneficial to pregnant women.
11. Buckwheat Flour
Don’t let the name fool you. Buckwheat actually contains no wheat or gluten. Buckwheat is a seed that provides so many nutritional and antioxidant benefits that it is sometimes called a superfood. This seed provides the body with B vitamins and minerals such as manganese, magnesium, zinc, iron and folate. Buckwheat helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, fight diseases and improve digestion.
12. Teff Flour
Teff, the world’s smallest grain, also provides a gluten-free flour alternative to white and wheat flours. High in iron, phosphorus, B vitamins, calcium and other essential minerals, teff flour may aid circulation, improve PMS symptoms, boost the immune system, support cardiovascular and bone health and more.
Like with sorghum flour, it might be best to use teff flour in combination with other gluten-free flours because alone it can potentially make baked goods dry and coarse. Teff is often compared to millet, so substituting teff in a recipe that calls for millet may help prevent any major difference in the recipe.
13. Cricket Flour
Yes, you read that right. Cricket flour, made by drying or roasting crickets, makes a great gluten-free flour option because it’s packed with protein. Clicket flour has three times the amount of protein as a sirloin steak and two times the amount of protein as chicken. Cricket flour also provides vitamin B2 and B12, iron, and calcium.
With all of the beneficial nutrients, you may want to give cricket flour a try. Even better, you don’t have to worry about a “buggy” taste. Cricket flour actually tastes very mild and even nut-like.
14. Basic Gluten-Free Flour
You can also just buy general gluten-free flours. Some all-purpose gluten-free flours use garbanzo bean flour, also known as chickpea flour, along with sorghum flour and potato starch. Others use rice flours in place of chickpea flour. General gluten-free flours actually have a great texture and work as an all-purpose baking flour. Typically, one cup of white flour or one cup of wheat flour is equivalent to one cup of most all-purpose gluten-free flours. You can find these in almost any local grocery store.
Although these flours are incredibly convenient, they generally do not offer as many health benefits as the other gluten-free flour options. One reason for this is that some of the flours are created with rice flours.
White rice is a refined and processed carb. Refined carbohydrates have been stripped of their nutrients and enter the bloodstream like sugar. This prompts the release of insulin, which then converts sugar into stored fat rather than energy, causing the brain and body to miss out on fuel. Rice has also been linked to a number of health problems and may also be a source of arsenic poisoning.
Another reason that general gluten-free flour isn’t the best flour option is because it contains potato starch. While potatoes do contain minerals and nutrients that make them beneficial, they are also a nightshade vegetable. It’s important to note that nightshade vegetables are healthy for most, but for some they can act similar to wheat or dairy and cause immune reactions. Alkaloids such as solanine, tomatine, capsaicin and nicotine contribute to this. When trying to avoid the negative effects of gluten, you wouldn’t want to experience these same symptoms from nightshade vegetables. With this type of gluten-free flour, make sure to start by consuming small amounts and evaluate how you feel afterward.
I think you’re going to see that going gluten-free is actually easier than you think. Plus, you’re going to reap major health benefits from doing it, so try these gluten-free flours to start. There are plenty of gluten-free recipes on my website, like my Gluten-Free Pumpkin Bread or Gluten-Free Blueberry Muffins to get you going.
From a health perspective, Warren says alternative flours should be used over white flour as much as possible.
However, she notes, white flour tends to provide the best consistency when you’re baking because of its gluten content and lower density. If you want a consistency similar to white flour but don’t want to actually use it, Warren recommends opting for whole spelt flour, which isn’t gluten-free but will give your goods a nice, fluffy texture.
For recipes you only make once in a while, like Christmas cookies, Cording says it’s perfectly fine to stick with white flour. “Trying to make too many swaps into something you eat once a year can take away from the experience,” she says. But if you bake often and want to get more nutritional bang for your buck, these flours are worth looking into.
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