Often, I get flooded with questions about gluten-free flours. It can get so confusing with all of the information out there- which gluten-free flour is the best? Can I just substitute any gluten-free flour for regular flour? Which ones are the healthiest?
Gluten-free does not automatically equal healthy.
I’ve compiled a list of a few of my favorite gluten-free flours and shared how to use these flours so you can feel like a pro in the kitchen.
Gluten is a family of proteins commonly found in wheat and rye products. It is typically used as a ‘glue’ to bind and hold the shape.
Because products containing gluten are usually refined or processed, overconsumption of processed flours can be associated with inflammation and blood sugar dysregulation.
No - I do not believe so. We are all different and some people can tolerate gluten without any trouble. A lot of the sequela we see from gluten may be a) it tends to be processed b) wheat is a highly sprayed crop and so the pesticides may be causing gut issues rather than gluten itself.
About 1% of the population suffers from Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disease where gluten consumption severely damages the small intestine. The diagnosis is usually made on biopsy via an endoscopy where destruction of the intestinal structure can be seen.
While Celiac is a serious condition requiring absolute abstinence from gluten, more and more people are starting to struggle with gluten sensitivity.
Non-Celiac Gluten sensitivity is a clinical syndrome characterized by intestinal and extra-intestinal (outside of the gut) symptoms that go away with gluten exclusion, and re-appear on gluten introduction. There is yet no reliable test and so diagnosis is usually via clinical history in the hands of an experienced clinician, with an elimination/reintroduction. Symptoms may include brain fog, migraines, skin issues, bloating, diarrhea.
So, for those of us who cannot tolerate gluten - what are some of the options?
While there is plenty of cup-for-cup gluten-free flour blends on the market, I like making my own blend so I have more control on what goes into it.
When it comes to premade flour blends, they often include a lot more ingredients than just flour. They can contain preservatives and additives that provide structural aspects similar to using regular all-purpose flour. It is absolutely fine to use these once in a while, but I don't want to use them regularly.
Remember- not all flour is produced equally. Gluten-free flours differ significantly in type and brand, so one almond flour may not yield the same results as another brand of almond flour.
Because of this, if you are trying to recreate a specific recipe and not get the results you want, make sure you are using the same flour brands. It might seem tedious, but it actually does make a difference in appearance and texture.
Also, if you are actually allergic to gluten or have celiac, make sure to research the brand beforehand. Some gluten-free flours may be produced in warehouses where gluten products are made, creating a cross-contamination risk.
By far, the most popular flour on the market today and especially popular trends like keto and paleo. Almond flour is a great gluten-free baking flour (if you don’t have a nut allergy). You cannot merely substitute it 1:1 with regular flour, but it still provides a smooth and buttery consistency with a slightly nutty flavor.
It can contain extra nutrition like magnesium, iron, and calcium because it is made solely from almonds. However, almonds roasted at high temperatures may produce acrylamide - a carcinogen. The acrylamide content of roasted almonds is highly dependent on the process and temperature. Roasting at a temperature of 310°F (154°C) or above will lead to an exponential increase in acrylamide. It can also be hard to find organic almond flour - which may contain glyphosate and PPO (Propylene oxide).
I don’t aim for perfection in my house as you know, so I still use almond flour in place of whole wheat flour in desserts (especially cookies!), and you can even use it as breadcrumbs! I just make sure to switch it up with the other flours too.
Cassava flour is the closest consistency to regular flour that you will find. It is made from the cassava root and is soft and light, as well as neutral in flavor and texture. (food matters), and can be subbed in recipes in place of wheat flour.
As a plus, it is nut-free and provides dietary fiber - in particular, resistant starch, which is a prebiotic that helps to feed your gut microbiome, and has been found to help improve insulin sensitivity.
Tapioca flour is similar to cassava flour, but the key difference is in the flour is made from the starch extracted from the root of the plant. It is a healthier version of cornstarch and can be used as a binder in baking and frying recipes.
For texture, I like adding a little of this in a mixture with other gluten-free flours in my baking.
Coconut flour is commonly used in baking recipes, and I prefer it to almond flour because it is easier to get organic coconut flour, and I don’t have to worry about acrylamide. Coconut flour is nut-free, so it is perfect for those with a gluten and nut allergy.
It is super fluffy and adds a great texture to desserts and bread, but it does absorb more water than most other gluten-free flours, so keep that in mind when using it - you may need to add more of the wet stuff.
Even though ‘wheat’ is in the name, there is no wheat in buckwheat flour, making it gluten-free!
It is a very hardy flour, and it is perfect for baking bread- a quick bread or with yeast. It does tend to crumble a bit, so it is best when combined with other flours or binders. I often use buckwheat groats too, for example, to make pancakes and crepes (you can find my buckwheat crepe recipe in my Comfort Foods ebook).
It is high in antioxidants, particularly gut-healthy polyphenols rutin and quercetin, contains B vitamins, magnesium, iron, and is a source of complete protein too.
Arrowroot flour is less common, but a perfect flour to substitute cornstarch in baking or ‘fried foods. It provides a lovely crisp and helps thicken the batter.
It is excellent to combine with almond flour to make a batter for all of your favorite ‘fried’ foods. It also has a gooey texture when mixed with water, handy if you want to make things 'gooey and sticky'.
One benefit of arrowroot flour is it could provide immune-boosting properties because it stimulates immune cells. It is rich in potassium, B vitamins, and iron too!
Oat flour is one of my favorites! When searching for oat flour ensure that they are marked gluten-free if you need to be strict with gluten avoidance. You can buy oat flour or grind up rolled oats in your high-speed blender to make oat flour yourself.
Oat flour comes with a range of benefits from including being high in fiber, beta-glucans which is a prebiotic that can support our immune system, reduce cholesterol levels, and helps control blood sugar levels.
Oat flour can be exchanged equally in recipes that request rice flour, millet or sorghum flour. In most baking recipes you don't need to combine oat flour with any other gluten-free flour option unless the recipe requires rising.
Rice flour comes in a few varieties and this is white, brown, and sweet. The biggest difference is that in white rice the husk is removed while in brown rice the husk remains intact which boosts the nutritional profile and more fiber. The sweet rice flour category contains more starch and a bigger blood sugar spike.
Rice flour is often used in gluten-free baking due to its light texture, it is very versatile.
Brown rice flour will add some nuttiness and maybe a grainey texture, whereas white rice flour is smoother and lighter.
If you eat a lot of rice already, be mindful of the fact that rice can be a source of arsenic. So if your diet already includes a lot of rice, maybe use one of the other flours when baking.
There are so many gluten-free flour options available now; the list could go on for miles. But these are fantastic to use in the kitchen and have become my go-to’s over the past few years.
If you are in need of inspiration, check out my recipe e-books, all my recipes are gluten-free.