Are you running out of room for your gluten free flours?
Confused about which are healthiest?
This is an article that I have been intending to write for quite some time to help gluten free cooks and bakers make smart choices when it comes to navigating the wide world of flours! There is no question that there are more flours available now, commercially, than at any other time. People are not only interested in expanding home cooking and culinary adventures, but are savvier when it comes to nutrition and the benefits of food-based wellness. Many of us are learning how to cater to food intolerances in our home kitchens and taking responsibility for eating well. There are an almost overwhelming variety of flours, starches and meals which can be combined or used alone to bake, thicken and coat. You may think that flour is flour and that some are merely gluten free or grain free, but the truth runs deeper than that.
There is some confusion about flours versus starches. In some cases (such as with tapioca flour/starch) they are one and the same, perhaps because tapioca is virtually all starch to begin with. In general though, the difference between starches and flours seems to be that flours are made from dried and ground grains (or tubers or nuts) and have the protein and fiber intact, whereas the starches have the fiber and protein removed, leaving nearly pure carbohydrates. Starches are excellent for smoothly thickening sauces and gravies, and are often ingredients in gluten free baking mixtures. However, people who are aiming for a low-carb diet, either for weight loss or because they are diabetic (or want to avoid BECOMING diabetic) will find that starches and certain flours quickly topple the daily allowances and spike blood sugars.
Flours and meals are not created equally (since all foods are not created equally) and flours are merely ground up versions of the food as a whole. You will notice that the flours made from nuts and legumes are in the top of my chart, having the lowest net carbs and highest protein counts. Starches and rice flours which are often used in gluten free baking are at the bottom of my chart because they have such high carb counts and very little protein.
You can also see by the placement of traditional flours that even if you are not on a gluten free diet, wheat flours are far from the healthiest of choices! For instance, even whole wheat flour (which seems to be the darling of the grain industry), has more than SIX times the net carbs of almond flour. Pastry flour which is found in many commercial baked goods has NINE times as much. All those carbs convert to sugar, which spikes insulin… repeated insulin spikes lead to insulin resistance, which in turn can lead to diabetes, visceral fat, inflammation and obesity.
While it is true that the healthiest alternative flours require different methods of preparation and even to some degree their very own recipes, it is well worth the effort to learn to bake with them. My personal favorite flours are almond flour, coconut flour, garbanzo bean flour, flax meal and occasionally buckwheat flour. I am open to learning more, always, and that list very well may expand in the near future!
ABOUT THIS CHART: I have created the chart above to summarize some of the common (and uncommon) flours that are frequently used in gluten free baking, as well as to compare them to the old standards (in red, not gluten free.) This chart uses Bob’s Red Mill products nutritional information as a source because it was readily available online; however, this is not a specific endorsement of their products. I do use Bob’s Red Mill occasionally, but I also use Nuts.com as well other specialty brands and bulk products. Other manufacturers may vary somewhat, but because the flours are derived from the same sources, the numbers should be similar, and the spot checking I did to compare to other brands showed the exact same results. The ratings are my own opinion only, based on net carbs and protein.
Serving size in the chart above is ¼ cup (4TB). Number values represent grams (other than calories.) Note that Net Carbs is equal to Total Carbs minus Fiber, which is why flax meal can have a net carb count of zero. Low Net Carbs and high Proteins are the best choices when looking to keep blood sugar levels balanced; even though that may mean the flour is higher in calories, it also means that it is much more filling, and it doesn’t drive cravings. While this chart may be a good starting point, obviously these numbers don’t tell the whole story, and different flours have different nutritional benefits unique to their source, and I hope to highlight some of my favorites in upcoming articles. When choosing flours, personal taste is also a major factor, as the flavors can be quite different from the wheat flours we have been conditioned to eat.
I hope that this answers some questions that you may have had about why I, or other gluten free bloggers, choose the flours that we do, and helps you to make good choices in your own kitchen! Stay tuned for a super delicious PIZZA recipe featuring garbanzo bean flour very soon :) This is a socca style done in a pan or on a griddle, and met with rave reviews from the guys…