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Keeping on top of our health can be a daunting task at the best of times. But if we suffer from allergies or have trouble with gluten, it can get even worse. Trying to find alternatives to some of our favorite foods is also a challenge, especially when feeding kids is involved.
Even if you are living within self-imposed food restrictions (like we are) or have a child or someone else in the home who reacts to gluten or follows a low-carb diet, there are some pretty fantastic wheat flour alternatives on the market.
Discovering you have celiac disease might cause you to panic. You may be thinking you can never have bread or some of your favorite treats again, but that’s just not true. You can still make all your favorite foods without the side effects from gluten and grains.
Why not Gluten?
Gluten isn’t great for our health even if you are not suffering from celiac disease. People have noticed reactions to gluten without having celiac. Many people, myself included, have had issues with digestion and other stomach and intestinal concerns, plus skin and even brain issues.
Gluten alone is often the culprit, but the problems can also be the way it combines with other proteins in our systems and our foods. Gluten sensitivity is common and can be directly connected to gut irritation, irritable bowel (IBS), pain, bloating, and even fatigue.
However, it may not always be gluten alone, but the way that the wheat is now grown and processed. The change in wheat since the start of modern agriculture is a change in how we react to wheat and why so many people are now reaching for alternative flours.
Where’s The Wheat?
Wheat itself has changed, and the way it is grown and processed has led to less healthy foods as a result. It is less nutritious than it once was, and this is due to the whole process of sprouting, planting, and growing the wheat.
Technology has enabled us to grow massive amounts of wheat at a lower cost, but it’s not the same wheat of yesteryear.
It is separated to take the bran and the wheat germ, and this leaves less nutrition in the wheat itself. Anytime you mess with the whole form of something to make it something else, you are disrupting the nutritional value of the food the way it was intended. Flour is also bleached now so that breads and pastas have a consistently “light” appearance, again altering the true form of the whole wheat grain.
The ability to alter the wheat biologically and genetically has changed the grain so much. It might grow faster and have more resistance to disease, but it is far less nutritious (and often more dangerous) than it once was. White flour has had almost all of the nutritional benefits taken out, so it’s no longer providing any kind of health benefits, instead causing negative health impacts making our blood sugar levels spike.
So just what alternatives are available and what makes them so great? Here’s a list of some of our favorites, the 10 most commonly used and available grain-free flours out there.
1. Cassava Flour: Cassava flour is the result of drying and finely milling the cassava (yuca) plant. It is actually the same plant used to make Tapioca Starch, but rather than just extracting the starch, the entire plant is used.
In our testing and use of many alternative flours, cassava is the closest to the “real thing” in taste, texture, structure, and smell. It really can’t be beat. The only brand we recommend is Otto’s Naturals for the highest quality and consistency. It works perfectly in baked goods, tempura batter, even making a roux for soup bases.
2. Almond Flour: This is probably the most well-known grain-free alternative flour and very widely used. It has all the minerals, vitamins, and calcium found in almonds, but in an easy-to-use bakeable form. This flour is also great for lowering your bad cholesterol levels and is great for those with diabetes. Make sure to use a blanched almond flour that is finely ground for quality results.
Great for baking, but can have a slightly soggy texture depending on how you use it. It works well when combined with other alternative flours like coconut flour or tapioca/arrowroot starches.
3. Coconut Flour: If you are familiar with the health benefits of coconut oils, then coconut flour is on the same page. It has a high level of good fats that the body uses quickly and easily and can help lower the LDL cholesterol levels, plus it is great for those worried about blood sugar level. Also very high in fiber to minimize the digestable carbs.
Coconut flour is a perfect flour alternative and can be used for gluten-free, vegan, Paleo and low-carb diets. It absorbs more liquid than regular flours so it’s not a suitable 1:1 ratio substitute. It also performs better when used in baked goods that use eggs.
4. Other Nut Flours: I mentioned almond flour, but other nuts can be used, as well. Pecans, cashews, or hazelnuts make for some excellent flours and give a variety of flavors in the end result as well.Really, you can make a flour out of nearly any type of nut that you’d like using a high-powered blender or food processor. Many health food and specialty stores will also carry other types of nut flours.
Nuts are high in fiber and protein and actually make excellent substitutes for all kinds of foods, including dairy-free milks.
5. Potato Flour: Not to be confused with potato starch. Like coconut flour, this alternative flour will absorb a lot of the liquid when used in baking and will carry with it a semi-strong potato flavor. It’s best used in bread, pancakes, and muffins where you can add sweeteners and other flavors to compensate for the potato-iness of it.
6. Banana Flour: This is a perfect alternative flour to use with your baking, and it won’t overwhelm the baked goods with its banana flavor. It’s made from green bananas and has a high level of resistant starch. Low carb and gluten-free.
As with almond and coconut flours, banana flour is best used in combination with other flours/starches for optimal performance.
7. Sunflower Seed Flour: Most alternative flours are nut-based, but not everyone can tolerate nuts, or may even have life-threatening allergies to them. Milled sunflower seeds make an excellent grain-free and nut-free alternative flour with many of the same properties.
One thing to note is that due to a chemical reaction between sunflower seeds and baking powder, some of your baked goods may turn a green color as they cool. This doesn’t mean they’ve gone bad and can’t be eaten, it’s just a neat chemical reaction and works very well around St. Patrick’s Day.
8. Flaxseed Flour: Flaxseeds are full of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. The seeds themselves easy pass through the body undigested so ground flaxseeds made into flour or meal can add those nutrients back into the system.
Flaxseed flour can be used for bread, muffins and other treats. The seeds can be ground up at home using a coffee grinder or any kind of handheld mixer and can replace the fat portion of your recipes, as well. If milling your own flaxseed flour, be sure to refrigerate it or use it soon to keep it from spoiling or going rancid.
9. Tapioca Flour/Starch: While tapioca may be thought of as a pudding dessert, it actually makes a great flour. Where it lacks in nutritional aspects, it makes up for it in performance. Tapioca flour/starch can be used as a binding agent in combination with other alternative flours.
Tapioca is not ideal as a 1:1 wheat flour replacement due to the gumminess it lends to finished baked goods. It may work in Brazilian Cheese Bread, but not in other dishes as a general rule of thumb. Combine with almond flour to improve the overall texture and crumb.
10. Arrowroot Flour/Starch: Arrowroot is very similar in it’s characteristics as tapioca, but rather than being extracted from the cassava plant, it’s extracted from the arrowroot (surprise!), also known as the Maranta arundinacea. Just like cassava/yuca, it is an underground tuber.
Although tapioca and arrowroot are similar (and perform much like cornstarch does), arrowroot works better with high-acidic foods, wheras tapioca doesn’t. Also, arrowroot doesn’t do while at high temperatures for an extended period of time, tough tapioca does.
Why Alternative Flours?
Getting out ahead of food trends can be a full-time undertaking, but when we are working to find ways of improving our health, it takes some dedication. When there are actual health factors at play, it’s not about what’s trending, but about what is actually happening in our own bodies.
Using alternative flours isn’t about taking something away. It’s about getting something back: our health. Giving up bread, pasta, and other baked goods we love because we can’t digest the wheat just seems unfair, but it’s absolutely worth the sacrifice for what we get in return.
When you have to give up certain foods, or you choose to eat in an alternative way, we can feel like we are being singled out. This is particularly noticeable at social functions, restaurants with friends/family, or a birthday party where we can’t have the cake. No cake!
People seem to like to make a big deal about our choices, but it’s mostly because they don’t understand. By choosing to use alternative flours and ditch the wheat, we can still feel like we are eating normally, and we are given a great opportunity to educate and inform our friends and family.
Often times, people may be suffering from wheat related symptoms and not even realize it. We have a chance to show people alternative ways to eat what they enjoy while in turn improving their health.
I love being able to host a party, event, or dinner and serve grain-free dishes that everyone loves, even reaching for seconds and thirds, only to find out it isn’t made with grains, sugar, or dairy and being shocked at how good it tastes. This only helps strengthen my resolve to stay on the right track of better health and helping to inform others that they can eat this way as well.
Packing a Nutritional Punch
The other benefit to using flour alternatives is that beside the fact they are gluten-free, low carb, and widely available, but they are made from foods that are far more nutritious for our bodies.
Nuts and seeds have an extra nutritional punch in them. Much higher in proteins, vitamins, and minerals, as well and being higher in fiber makes you wonder why anyone would still want to use wheat flour at all. As processed flour have very little nutritional value, why wouldn’t we want to use something better?
It’s just makes sense to use alternative flours, even if you don’t have allergies or sensitivities at all. They can be used for everything: baking, thickeners (like soups, stews, and gravies), sauces, coatings, and so much more. They add valuable nutrition, and each has it’s own unique flavor as well. You can try a few different types of alternative flours to see what one works best with your favorite recipes.
Additives, preservatives, and bleach are just a few of the things added to modern-day wheat flours. They are also “enriched” to add back some of the nutrients that were taken out during the refinement process. These thing are just adding to health problems like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, even some cancers.
It’s never too late to look at your diet and get out of it and take control. Using alternatives in our daily food preparation can make such a significant change in our health. Even if you don’t have problems that you are aware of from gluten, the proven benefits from healthier foods are as plain as your flour.
We no longer have to feel like the outsider when it comes to enjoying the good forbidden foods, because with alternative flours they don’t have to be forbidden any longer.
Check out some of your favorite foods you can still have, even on a restricted diet. From main courses to snacks to cocktails, there is always something available for everyone.