From bagels to biscuits and pastries to pretzels, it’s hard to avoid white flour, but because it’s refined, many of its good-for-you qualities have been stripped away.
But wait! Not only are there many gluten-free flour alternatives, they’re loaded with vitamins and minerals, and are absorbed much more slowly and effectively, benefiting both your health AND your waistline.
Rye flour: People have been noshing on this grain since the Middle Ages – and with good reason. When used in baking, it contains much less gluten than wheat or barley and holds on to more of its vitamins and nutrients when milled. It contains phosphorus, magnesium, zinc and iron, and heart-friendly dark rye flour has been proven to help regulate cholesterol levels and significantly lower obesity.
Spelt flour: Bronze Age Europeans were on to something when they began to cultivate spelt. It’s thought to do wonders for our immunity as it’s high in thiamine, which helps to maintain muscle tone on the walls of the digestive tract, where much of our immune system is located. It also contains iron – essential for digesting and absorbing nutrients from food. Like its close relative wheat, spelt flour does contain gluten, but seems to be more easily tolerated.
Quinoa flour: The ancient Incas called it ‘the mother of all grains’ and who are we to argue? OK, so they were wrong about the grain bit, it’s actually a non-grassy plant that’s used like a cereal, but it sure packs a punch nutritionally. Naturally gluten-free, it’s known as a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids, and is also high in fibre. NASA declared quinoa the perfect food for a long voyage in space, so time to tuck in, Earthlings!
Rice flour: We all know when it comes to rice, brown is up there with the best. Brown rice flour has the husk intact, providing insoluble fibre that helps waste material move through the intestine, so encourages regular bowel movements. This naturally gluten-free flour could aid weight loss too, as a fibre-rich diet helps reduce hunger pangs and helps you feel fuller for longer.
Coconut flour: Naturally gluten-free, coconut flour is made from coconut flesh, which is then dried and finely ground. Although it does contains saturated fat, it’s made of medium-chain triglycerides, shown to reduce abdominal obesity and increase the metabolism. Researchers found substituting regular flour with coconut when baking lowers the glycaemic index; its high fibre content means it doesn’t cause the spike in blood sugar that can occur with regular grains. Look for coconut flour – without sweeteners or sulphites – to add flavour to cakes and bakes, and a velvety texture too.
Almond flour: Ancient traders snacked on the sweet nuts from the wild almond trees growing on the Silk Road that connected central China with the Med, and the humble almond has been treasured since Biblical times. The flour is made from blanched almonds (with skins removed), which are then finely ground and sifted. Almonds are packed with magnesium, which can help lower blood pressure. Use almond flour instead of sugar and wheat for great low-carb, naturally gluten-free desserts and cakes.
Buckwheat flour: Don’t be confused by the name, this seed flour has nothing to do with wheat. Traditionally only popular in Asia, we are finally waking up to the benefits of buckwheat in the West. It’s full of nutrients and antioxidants, so much so it’s known as a ‘superfood’, and is said to clean and strengthen the intestines and improve appetite. It is gluten-free, with a naturally sweet flavour that makes it a great base for pancakes, muffins and quick breads. So, buck up and get baking with buckwheat!