All-purpose flour used to be the dominating pantry staple for all your baking and cooking needs. For many people, this enriched, processed form of flour remains the go-to, even though many other flours exist nowadays. Although every flour in the baking aisle isn’t the healthiest, there are some that may help reduce inflammation or comply with certain diets.
If your goal is to be healthier, one of the best things you can do is get rid of the white, all-purpose flour in your pantry. Refined flour is one of the primary foods that contributes to inflammation, which can cause joint pain. Alternative flours, while originally intended for people with special diets, have increased in popularity. People want to add more variety and nutrition to their diet, making almond, coconut, oat, buckwheat and more flours great alternatives.
The decision to remove all-purpose flour from your diet is a healthy one, but not all flour alternatives are equal substitutes for it. Often times there isn’t a one-to-one ratio for flour substitution. Due to the different nutritional profiles, certain flours are better for baking, while others are better for cooking, binding, or thickening. We’ve rounded up some of the healthiest flours for you to incorporate into your diet. Learn more about them below.
Chickpea flour, or garbanzo flour, is made by grinding dried chickpeas into a fine powder. It exhibits a diverse nutritional profile, as chickpeas are rich in protein and fiber. Chickpea flour stands out from other flours for its binding ability. This can be great for providing sturdy texture to muffins and breads. In the Mediterranean, the classic use for chickpea flour is to make socca, or an unleavened pancake. Keep in mind that chickpea flour can have a bean-forward flavor, so it may not be great for all sweet treats.
Similar to chickpea flour, quinoa flour is made by grinding quinoa into a fine powder. Because quinoa is gluten-free, quinoa flour is an excellent option for people who adhere to a gluten-free diet. Just like chickpea flour, quinoa flour is an excellent source of protein and fiber, but it also contains lots of unsaturated fats. Additionally, it boasts incredible antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may help improve digestive health. It can have a moist texture in baked goods, and many people enjoy using it in pancakes, pizza or pie crusts, and muffins. You can also use it to thicken soups and sauces.
Not only is coconut flour gluten- and grain-free, but it is also more calorie-dense than traditional grain-based flours. It’s a great source of protein, fat, fiber, and essential minerals like potassium and iron. The fat in coconut flour is primarily composed of medium-chain triglycerides, which may boost metabolism and reduce inflammation. Unlike saturated fats from meat or dairy products, the saturated fat from coconut affects your body differently and in a healthier way. Because of the mildly sweet flavor profile, coconut flour lends itself to many baked goods, including cakes, cookies, and breads. The gritty texture allows it to absorb a lot of liquid, which can dry out some baked goods, so keep this in mind when you use it.
Let’s clarify one thing: almond flour is not the same thing as almond meal, which is coarser because almonds are ground with their skins in tact. Almond flour is gluten-free and is made by grinding blanched almonds into a fine powder. It exhibits a nutty flavor profile and is rich in magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, iron, potassium, and calcium. Almonds are naturally higher in calories, so substituting with almond flour may drive up the calories of a certain dish. That said, it may help improve insulin resistance and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Almond flour works well in baked goods and savory dishes alike!
Buckwheat produces grain-like seeds, which are ground into a fine powder to make buckwheat flour. Despite the name, buckwheat is unrelated to wheat and is actually gluten-free. It exhibits an earthy flavor profile and contains lots of magnesium, copper, phosphorus, manganese, and iron. According to several studies, buckwheat flour may help reduce blood sugar in people with diabetes and improve biomarkers of heart health. Many researchers attribute these abilities to the anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and prebiotic properties that buckwheat exhibits. Traditionally, it’s used to make Japanese soba noodles, but it also works well in quick breads, pancakes, and even makes a great crumb coating for proteins.