Out with plain ol’ all-purpose flour, in with happenin’ flour substitutes. It seems like everyone is baking with ancient grains and other fake flours—but are they really worth it?
“Alternative flours can be used as substitutes for regular wheat flour if you have an allergy or intolerance to wheat flour, or if you just want to add more variety to your diet” says Abby Langer, RD.
These flour substitutes are typically made with foods like almonds, coconut, or even beans that are ground up to resemble the texture and consistency of flour. And Langer says they can add different nutrients (as well as slightly different flavors) to your cooking. “Almond flour, which is one of my favorites, has more protein than all-purpose wheat flour and gives a nutty flavor,” she says.
One thing to note: Since flour substitutes aren’t quite the same texture-wise as flour (duh), you usually can’t do a straight swap in gluten-free baking, Langer says. You might have to do a little math ~shudders~ to get that conversion right. “I recommend that you research the substitution ratios for alternative flour before using it in a recipe that’s meant for regular flour,” Langer says. You’ll often find this information on the back of the package of alterna-flour you want to use.
These are the best flour substitutes, according to nutritionists.
You’re already a fan of nut butters, now it’s time to give nut flour a go. When baking, sub in two cups of blanched flour for every one cup of white to score a nutty, sweet flavor that’s perfect for treats. It’s a solid source of calcium and magnesium (the latter helps you absorb the former). Use unblanched (meaning the skins haven’t been removed) for “breading” on chicken or fish.
Per 1/4 cup serving: 150 calories, 10 g fat (1 g saturated), 9 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 1 g fiber, 7 g protein
Fans of keto and paleo diets, rejoice! This slightly tropical tasting powder is low in carbs, meaning it can help prevent your blood sugar from spiking and keep your appetite in check (read: free of hunger swings). Because it’s super absorbent, however, you can’t substitute it one-to-one for other flours. For example, you can bake a whole loaf of banana bread with just a half-cup of coconut flour, explains Desiree Nielsen, RD, author of Un-Junk Your Diet. She recommends looking for recipes that specifically list coconut flour.
Per 3 tbsp serving: 90 calories, 3 g fat (0 g saturated), 9 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 8 g fiber, 15 g protein
This ancient grain is a variety of wheat, so it contains gluten, but fewer of the hard-to-digest carbs called fructans. As such, it’s a better option for those who avoid gluten but don’t have celiac disease. Unlike gluten-free flours, spelt offers a hearty and fibrous bite for doughy things like pizza crust.
Per 1/4 cup serving: 110 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated), 23 g carbs, >1 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 5 g protein
Banana’s cousin injects sweets like pancakes with a tangy, complex note. Plus, the flour substitute is higher in resistant starch than regular flour, which doesn’t totally break down in the body, so you feel fuller longer. Since it’s dense and grain-free, you may need a half teaspoon of baking soda for cakes to rise.
Per 1/4 cup serving: 90 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 31 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 10 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 1 g protein
Protein-packed (about 28 grams per cup!) and high in fiber, this gluten-free powder stars in savory dishes thanks to an earthy flavor from its bean roots. Swap it in for white flour when you’re preparing meatballs or veggie burgers—all that protein makes for a super strong food-binding agent.
Per 1/4 cup serving: 120 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated), 17 g carbs, 3 g sugar, 20 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 7 g protein
Not only is this gluten-free flour high in iron and protein, but it’s also loaded with soluble fiber—a.k.a. the real star here. That’s because soluble fiber (as opposed to reg fiber) forms into a “gel in the gut” that, according to Nielsen, has the power to slow the rate at which nutrients are absorbed into the blood stream and bind to cholesterol in the gut, carrying it out of the body. The result? Lower cholesterol and stable blood sugars. Now that’s some pretty powerful powder.
Per 1/4 cup serving: 90 calories, 2.5 g fat (0 g saturated), 16 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 3 g protein
Like spelt, this flour substitute contains lower levels of gluten, making it a better choice for those with sensitivities (not celiac disease). More good news? It’s an easy one-to-one swap for regular flour and has a rich and slightly sweet taste that does wonders in cookies, pancakes, or muffins—all while boosting the baked goods’ nutrition with lots of anti-inflammatory iron.
Per 1/4 cup serving: 90 calories, 0.5 g fat (0 g saturated), 22 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 4 g fiber, 3 g protein
Millet flour is rich with energizing nutrients such as iron and B vitamins thiamine and riboflavin, Nielsen explains. It also plays well with others, meaning it has a neutral flavor that blends nicely with gluten-free panko crumbs (1:1 ratio) to create a cornmeal-like texture for coating anything from chicken and tofu to asparagus.
Per 1/4 cup serving: 130 calories, 1.5 g fat (0 g saturated), 25 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 4 g protein
You may love creating nutrient-rich grain bowls with quinoa at the base, but have you ever considered using this grain as a flour substitute? Quinoa is packed with protein, fiber, iron, and magnesium. Plus, the ancient grain has a low glycemic index, which means it will keep your blood sugar in check, and your heart healthy. And as far of the flour goes, it has a nice nutty flavor, which is great for gluten-free baking, as well as both sweet or savory cooking.
Per 1/4 cup serving: 110 calories, 1.5 g fat (0 g saturated), 18 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 8 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 4 g protein
While its name may imply otherwise, buckwheat isn’t actually related to wheat. It’s a pseudocereal, not a grain, which means it’s totally gluten-free. This flour substitute is also a great source of fiber and essential amino acids. It’s known for classic recipes like buckwheat noodles and crepes, but it also makes for an easy one-to-one swap for wheat flour in gluten-free baking.
Per 1/4 cup serving: 110 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated), 21 g carbs, >1 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 4 g protein
Like its super-grain cousin quinoa, amaranth packs all kinds of perks. “It has more calcium, magnesium, iron, carotenoids, and fiber than most vegetables or grains,” Sonya Angelone previously told Women’s Health. It’s also one of the most protein-packed plant foods, and contains vitamin C and 22 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B6. In its flour form, amaranth adds a slightly sweet, nutty, earthy and malt-like flavor that’s great in baked goods. On their website, Bob’s Redmill says amaranth flour works well as part of a blend, especially in bread dough. And you can use it in cookies, savory crackers, or even amaranth tortillas.
Per 1/4 cup serving: 110 calories, 2 g fat (.5 g saturated), 20 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 6 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 4 g protein
This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Women’s Health. For more great advice, pick up a copy of the issue on newsstands now.
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