Gluten-free flour alternatives to try today
Gluten-intolerance, or coeliac disease, causes an adverse reaction when eating foods containing gluten - the condition is surprisingly common, affecting 1 in every 100 people in the UK (1). If you're switching to a gluten-free diet to control your symptoms, you'll find most supermarkets stock a wide range of foods, but when you're baking or cooking at home using recipes that include flour, what do you do? Luckily, there are gluten-free (and wheat-free) flour alternatives that will give you the same result, without making your symptoms flare up. We thought we'd look at a few of the readily available alternatives to traditional flour. It's worth remembering that many gluten-free flours are best used in combination with each other to create the desired effect.
Also referred to as Arrowroot Powder or Arrowroot Starch, this flour is a white, powdery substance not dissimilar to cornflour. It comes from a plant found in South America and is so-called because it was once used to treat wounds from poison arrows and was valued for its healing properties. It is commonly used as a thickening agent for sauces, soups and stews and can be substituted for cornflour. Remember to heat Arrowroot gently as it's more delicate than cornflour (2).
Brown Rice Flour
Milled from the unpolished grains of brown rice, this flour is more nutritious than white rice flour as it still contains bran. Naturally gluten free, it can be combined with other flour for baking or can be used to thicken sauces and soups. It does have quite a grainy texture, which makes it ideal for baking gluten-free bread at home. Brown rice flour has fewer calories than wheat flour and contains more essential amino acids - it also absorbs more water than wheat flour, leaving you with lighter, fluffier results. The springy texture of food baked with brown rice flour means that you'll need to spend more time chewing, which can help to satisfy your appetite, leaving you less likely to reach for salty, sugary, fatty snacks.
Naturally high in protein, nut flours can be used in combination with other gluten-free flours to add nutty flavour to bread, home-made pasta, cookies and other baked goods. Almond flour is one of the most popular nut flours - it's easy to bake with and has a subtle flavour that's not too overpowering. Beware though, as it can burn easily, so you may need to bake on a lower temperature than usual (3). Whilst it can be expensive to buy, you can make your own almond flour at home using a grain mill for a fine consistency. Almond meal (which is different to almond flour) can be used as a substitute for milk powder if you're on a dairy-free diet.
High in protein, soy flour is made from ground soy beans, making it also naturally high in fat, although low-fat versions are available. Soy flour is best used in small quantities in baking, and consuming it could help to lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Whilst it's high in fat, it's low in saturated fat and is a good source of calcium, magnesium and potassium as well as beta-carotene (which the body converts into vitamin A, essential for healthy vision) and vitamin K, which helps blood to clot and is important for the development of strong bones (4).
Amaranth flour is a less-commonly used gluten-free and wheat-free flour. Made from the seeds of the Amaranth plant, a leafy vegetable, it's packed with protein, so if you're training and eating a high-protein diet, baking with this flour is a healthy choice. Research carried out by Russian scientists in 1996 (using chicken) revealed that including amaranth in the diet could decrease LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and total cholesterol in animals suffering from hypertension and coronary heart disease (5). Studies carried out in Australia showed that the leaves of the plant were loaded with luteine and beta-carotene, both essential to maintain healthy sight.
You've probably heard of (and eaten) buckwheat pancakes at some point or another as they're frequently used with savoury fillings. Buckwheat flour, despite its name, is wheat-free and gluten-free and comes from the buckwheat plant, a relative of rhubarb. The plant's seeds are ground to make flour with a distinctive nutty taste that some find quite bitter. Buckwheat flour is generally used in small quantities to add flavour to recipes, and is popular for making galettes (savoury pancakes) across the Channel in France!
Chia seeds are tiny powerhouses of nutrition, so it makes sense that grinding this superfood into flour gives you all the fibre, calcium, protein and omega-3 - ready to bake with! Great for boosting your energy levels (try baking some healthy energy bites or post-workout snacks), you'll find chia flour in most health food stores or online, or you could grind your own at home in a processor. When baking with chia flour, we recommend increasing the quantities of liquids slightly, as they're super-absorbent, and baking for a little bit longer than usual.
We already know that quinoa is good for us as an alternative to rice or pasta - it's a complete protein! When ground into a flour, it retains its nutritional values. The Incas called quinoa 'the mother seed' and it played an important part in their diets. Quinoa flour is wheat and gluten-free, making it ideal for baking bread, brownies and more.
Lupin grains have been billed as 'the next super grain.' High in fibre and protein but boasting low GI, lupin grains are 40-45% protein. A study carried out in Melbourne looked at the effects of Lupin on a group of obese people. Half the group were asked to eat lupin-enriched pasta, bread and biscuits whilst the other half ate wholemeal versions. Over the course of a year, both groups underwent the same three month weight-loss diet. When they study concluded, those who had eaten lupin showed improved insulin sensitivity and significantly lower blood pressure. Lupin can also help you to control your appetite - you'll feel fuller more quickly and for longer (6).
It's easy to find lupin flour in health food stores but beware if you suffer from allergies, particularly peanut allergies. Lupin is a member of the nut family, so using lupin flour is risky if you're an allergy sufferer.
As you can see, there are plenty of alternatives to wheat flour out there, but in most cases you'll need to adjust the quantities of gluten-free flour that you're using, adapt your recipe or find recipes specifically designed with these flours in mind, to ensure you get the perfect result you're looking for. Eating a gluten-free diet doesn't have to mean you're limited when it comes to cooking delicious meals and baking sweet treats - you may just need to look into some of these alternatives to find out which ones are right for you.
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