The Power of Alternative Flours

September 22, 2016 Megan Wroe, MS, RD, CLE

alternative-floursWhite flour is a pantry staple in most kitchens, necessary for everything from sauces to pancakes to homemade cookies. But while white flour can be a key ingredient in delicious dishes, its nutritional profile isn't as appetizing.

"White flour is not an optimal choice for a healthy diet," says Megan Wroe, MS, RD, CLE, a pediatric dietitian at the St. Joseph Health Center for Health Promotion. "White flour is made from wheat stripped of fiber and some of the protein and nutrients during processing. Plus, white flour is converted into sugar in the body, and too much blood sugar can cause insulin spikes and weight gain. It can also raise triglyceride levels, and high amounts of triglycerides can lead to hardening of the artery walls, which raises the risk of heart disease and stroke."

Fortunately, when it comes to finding a replacement for white flour, today's consumers have a variety of choices on supermarket shelves. These alternative flours come from several sources, including nuts, legumes and whole wheat that includes more of the grain than its refined counterpart. Here are some of Wroe's recommendations:

Chickpea: Because it's made from beans (aka garbanzo beans), chickpea flour is high in fiber and protein, with 10 grams and 21 grams, respectively, per 1 cup serving (that's compared to 3.4 grams of fiber and 13 grams of protein in white flour). "It's gluten free, and is ideal for sauces and savory baked items such as bread or crackers," Wroe says.

Coconut: Another gluten-free option, coconut flour has become popular over the past few years as part of the craze for all things coconut. In this case, coconut flour delivers fiber as well as a low carb count--something that can't be said for most flours. "Use it in baked goods such as muffins or biscuits, in pancakes or as part of a coating for poultry or fish for cooking," Wroe says. Chickpea flour can often replace white flour entirely in certain recipes and does well as a thickener for soups and sauces as well. As an added bonus, it also tends to be the least expensive gluten free flour in the supermarket!

Oat: Just like a bowl of oatmeal is good for your health, so is oat flour--the grain provides some protein, is low in fat and is packed with good-for-you soluble fiber. "It can be added to any baked good; pancakes and bread are other naturals for oat flour," Wroe says. If you can’t find oat flour at the store, make your own by simply pulsing rolled oats in your food processor for a few minutes. If you can’t find oat flour at the store, make your own by simply pulsing rolled oats in your food processor for a few minutes.

Almond: Aka almond meal, this gluten-free option is both high in protein and low in carbohydrates (24 grams of each per 1 cup; the latter is especially impressive considering that the same amount of white flour has 95 grams of carbs). "This is a great flour for anyone with a sweet tooth who wants some alternative flour choices," Wroe says. "Cakes, piecrusts and muffins can all be enhanced with a subtle nutty flavor, as can cookies--perhaps the most well-known example are French macarons." Almond flour does not act as similar to white flour as other alternatives, however, so be cautious with how much you substitute in a recipe.

Whole wheat/white whole wheat: All parts of the wheat berries are milled for these flours. (The "white" in white whole wheat refers to the color of the wheat used; regular whole-wheat flour is made from red wheat.) "These are all-purpose types of flours, but because they are very thick with a grainier texture they stand up well in sturdy breads and rolls, pizza crusts, scones and muffins," Wroe says.

Brown rice: This flour is nutrient rich, with a lot of iron, vitamin B, magnesium and potassium, among others. "Try it in breads, crackers, sauces and homemade pasta; many stores sell brown rice noodles, as well," Wroe says. Rice flour lends a light, spongy texture to baked goods, so it’s a fun excuse to try new recipes, such as Japanese mocha cakes!

Quinoa & Sorghum: Both of these gluten free grains have similar carbohydrate contents to white flour, but their higher protein and soluble fiber properties make them good choices for a lower glycemic load. Swap out the full amount of white flour for either of these alternatives in baked goods, or try them in more savory dishes, such as pizza crusts or breaded fish and chicken.

Anyone trying an alternative flour for the first time should keep a couple of things in mind, Wroe says. "First, some of these flours can tend to spoil more quickly than white flour, because of their oil content. Either store the flour bag in the refrigerator or only buy a little at a time. Generally, alternative flours stored in the refrigerator can last up to four months."

It can also be tricky for novices to bake with alternative flours at first. "Many of these flours have a different texture and flavor profile than white flour, which can alter the end result of a recipe that traditionally calls for white flour," Wroe says. Some of these flours, such as whole-wheat, absorb more liquid than white flour, and some of the gluten-free options may need a stabilizer such as xanthan gum to keep doughs and batters holding together and not separating.

Wroe suggests starting small when incorporating alternative flour into a recipe that doesn't call for it. "For instance, mix a little oat flour with the white flour; when flours are combined like this, the alternative flour should generally make up no more than 25 percent of the total flour used. Another option, of course, is to find a recipe designed to use an alternative flour--that's an easier task than ever, thanks to the growing use of these flours and the wealth of recipes available on the Internet." For an example, see the box below.

To speak with a registered dietitian to learn more about what diet and programs may be right for you call the St. Joseph Health Center for Health Promotion at (714) 618-9500!

Gluten-Free Banana Oat Pancakes


  • 3 small bananas, mashed (that's 9.5 ounces or a scant 1¼ cup mashed banana)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil or butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (about 1 small lemon, juiced)
  • 1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup oat flour*
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • In a small mixing bowl, stir together the mashed bananas, coconut oil (or butter), lemon juice and honey (or maple syrup).


  1. Beat in the eggs. (If your coconut oil goes back to its solid state like mine did at this point, just warm the mixture for short 20 second bursts in the microwave, stirring between each, until it is melted again.)
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oat flour, baking soda, salt and spices.
  3. Form a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. With a big spoon, stir just until the dry ingredients are thoroughly moistened. Do not overmix!
  4. Let the batter sit for 10 minutes. You may want to thin out the batter a bit with a touch of milk or water.
  5. Heat a heavy cast iron skillet/non-stick pan over medium-low heat, or heat an electric griddle to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly oil the surface with coconut oil, butter or cooking spray. (If you're using a non-stick electric griddle, you might not need any oil at all.)
  6. Once the surface of the pan is hot enough that a drop of water sizzles on it, pour ¼ cup of batter onto the pan. Let the pancake cook for about 3 minutes, until bubbles begin to form around the edges of the cake.
  7. Once the underside of the pancake is lightly golden, flip it with a spatula and cook for another 90 seconds or so, until golden brown on both sides. You may need to adjust the heat up or down at this point.
  8. Serve the pancakes immediately or keep warm in a 200 degree Fahrenheit oven.

Courtesy of 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.


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