There are many reasons why you might want to use gluten-free flour substitutes. Maybe you have celiac disease and must avoid gluten, or you’re just trying to eat a healthier diet.
This article takes you through the best ones to include in your diet, plus their health benefits.
Whatever the reason, gluten can cause so much damage to your body, especially your gut, which can cause a series of health issues.
What is Gluten Free?
As the word suggests, gluten-free flour contains no gluten. Gluten is a protein naturally occurring in some grains, such as wheat, rye, and barley. It is a binder responsible for the stretchiness you see when kneading wheat flour. Without it, the dough can rip easily.
While most people can handle gluten without any obvious issues, research shows that it can trigger serious autoimmune responses leading to conditions like celiac disease in some individuals.
Other Effects of Gluten on The Body
1. It can cause celiac disease
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, meaning it occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the body.
In celiac disease, the immune system perceives gluten as a threat and attacks it. This causes severe inflammation in sensitive individuals, causing damage to the cells lining the small intestines leading to celiac disease.
The key signs of celiac disease include
- Chronic diarrhea
- Pain in the abdomen
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lactose intolerance due to the damaged gut lining.
This damage may also interfere with nutrient absorption, leading to nutritional deficiencies.
2. It can affect people without celiac
The fact that people with celiac should avoid gluten completely doesn’t mean those without the condition are good to go. While the symptoms may be subtle, gluten can be very damaging whether you have an autoimmune condition or not.
3. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity
Also known as non-celiac gluten intolerance, non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a condition that describes various non-specific symptoms that resemble those of celiac disease but without clinical evidence of celiac disease.
Research estimates that about 6%-&% of the US population is affected by NCGS. Research has also found that these people respond well and improve their symptoms once they go gluten-free.
Common symptoms of NCGS include:
- Brain fog
- Bloating or gas
- Joint pain
In other words, NCGS occurs when there’s a symptomatic response after consuming gluten but without clinical evidence of celiac disease.
4. Gluten disrupts the normal gut flora
According to various research, gluten can cause several changes in the gut microbiota. In one study, an analysis of fecal microbiota and dietary gluten consumption decreased healthy gut bacteria while increasing unhealthy ones.
5. Gluten causes inflammation in the gut
Inflammation is the root cause of most chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. Consuming gluten irritates the gut lining, causing an inflammatory response, which can result in various symptoms, including those experienced in celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
6. Gluten can cause fatigue
Fatigue or extreme tiredness is an under-recognized symptom of celiac disease. But for some people, it can be the only symptom. This often occurs as a result of not getting enough nutrients from food. As seen above, gluten causes inflammation in the gut which interferes with the absorption of nutrients, including those that help maintain energy levels.
7. Gluten weakens the immune system
About 70% of the immune system resides in the gut, and with gluten disrupting the normal gut flora and function, your immune system will definitely be disrupted. This may cause the harmful bacteria to grow out of hand, thus increasing your risk of falling sick.
8. Gluten can cause brain fog and difficulty concentrating
If you struggle to concentrate, stay focused, or retrieve your memory after ingesting gluten, you could be dealing with brain fog.
It’s a common occurrence that people often brush off, but if not addressed, brain fog can affect your mental health and overall quality of life. In some cases, it can increase the risk of memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease
10 Best Gluten Free Flour Substitutes
While gluten allergies and intolerances may leave you wondering whether you can enjoy your favorite wheat flour recipes again, you have not run out of options. There are plenty of gluten-free flours to help you continue enjoying the recipes you like most.
1. Almond Flour
Almond is a common nut that you can find in almost all health food stores. Its flour is also always available, or you can easily make your own at home.
To make almond flour, you must first blanch your nuts to remove the skin. To do this, bring some water to a boil, toss in the almonds, and cover for exactly one minute, don’t let them sit for long as they can become soggy.
After one minute:
- Drain off the hot water and rinse with cold water to prevent cooking.
- Squeeze out the almonds with your fingers to remove the skin. The almonds will pop out.
- Let them cool completely before grinding them to make the flour.
Besides being a great alternative to gluten-rich flours, almond flour is rich in nutrients, including fiber, manganese, calcium, copper, potassium, and magnesium.
It is also less starchy than other flours and contains more monounsaturated fat and protein. As such, almond flour is a perfect option for people on a keto or low-carb diet. You can use it in baked goods such as pancakes, breads, and muffins to balance the carbohydrates.
2. Sorghum Flour
Sorghum is a gluten-free and a very nutritious ancient grain rich in essential nutrients, including fiber, antioxidants, and minerals such as copper, zinc, riboflavin, folate, iron, magnesium, and potassium.
While it can be used as a whole grain in dishes, sorghum can also be made into flour.
Like the grain itself, the flour is a good source of dietary fiber and antioxidants such as apigenin, gallic acid, and luteolin. This helps your body combat oxidative stress and damage responsible for causing illnesses, including diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
You can use the flour to make different recipes, including pastries, meal mush, breakfast porridge, and thickening stews.
3. Corn Flour
Corn flour is a household name. Besides its versatility, the flour is a powerhouse of nutrients such as calcium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and potassium.
Research shows that this gluten-free flour helps reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This is because it contains bioactive compounds such as carotenoids, lignins, and xanthophylls that act as antioxidants.
With a high dietary fiber content, corn flour also enhances your digestive health and ensures that your body can take up nutrients as required. Further research shows that this flour has a laxative effect that prevents constipation.
The flour is versatile and can make pancakes, biscuits, breads, waffles, and pastries. You can also use it to coat fried foods and puddings.
4. Amaranth Flour
Amaranth is another ancient grain that has recently gained popularity. It is a dietary staple that existed more than 8000 years ago in Maya, Inca, and Aztec regions.
The flour has a nutty, earthy flavor that works perfectly for most dishes.
Amaranth flour is highly nutritious and packed with fiber, protein, manganese, phosphorus, iron, and magnesium. With a high-calorie content, this gluten-free flour will keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Due to the high amounts of manganese in the flour, research shows that it enhances your brain function and protects you from neurological conditions. It is also rich in antioxidants such as gallic acid, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, and vanillic acid. These protect your body from free radicals that expose you to cancer and heart diseases.
Amaranth flour is a perfect thickener for soups, gravies, and stews. If you use it in bread making, use a natural binder like psyllium husks or ground flax to prevent breakage.
5. Arrowroot Flour
Arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea) is a tropical root vegetable native to Indonesia.
It is packed with starch similar to cassava, sweet potato, taro, potato, and yam.
Like most starches, its flour is a rich source of B vitamins, including thiamin, niacin, ad pyridoxine, and minerals like phosphorus, iron, copper, and magnesium.
Research further shows that it contains more protein than other tubers and is a powerhouse for folate. As such, it is an excellent option for pregnant women as it reduces the risk of congenital disabilities.
With more than 32% resistant starch, arrowroot flour also aids in weight loss, keeping your stomach fuller for longer.
Additionally, it has a generous amount of soluble fiber, which enhances digestion and protects you from gastrointestinal issues such as constipation and diarrhea.
The flour is a great thickening agent for soups, sauces, jellies, and stews. You can also mix it with other gluten-free flour as an ingredient in baked items such as cookies and cakes.
6. Buckwheat Flour
Despite the name, buckwheat is a gluten-free pseudo-grain, unrelated to wheat.
The seed looks like a small granule almost the size of rice, but with a triangular shape and a hull that’s often removed before consumption.
Research shows that buckwheat flour has a rich antioxidant profile better than any other cereal. One such antioxidant is rutin (quercetin-3-rutinoside), a very potent flavonoid.
Besides being an antioxidant, rutin also contains anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, which can be very beneficial to the entire body.
It also has more protein, B vitamins, and dietary fiber than whole wheat flour or oats.
Additional research shows that buckwheat is low in the glycemic index, implying a minimal effect on blood sugar levels. It can help lower your blood sugar levels by making your body more responsive to insulin.
Also, its high fiber content enhances your cholesterol balance. In fact, it contains more dietary fiber than oats. This can help lower cholesterol, supporting a healthy heart and decreasing the chances of developing cardiovascular diseases.
7. Teff Flour
Teff is a fine grain from Ethiopia and Eritrea in Africa that is traditionally used to make injera, an Ethiopian sourdough bread.
The seeds are tiny, almost the size of a poppy seed, and come in multiple colors ranging from white, red, and dark brown.
Flour made from light teff seeds has a mild flavor, while the darker ones deliver a more earthy taste. Due to the color and flavor variance, teff flour is versatile and can be used in different recipes, including pancakes, breads, snacks, and cereal.
In addition, the flour contains a good amount of calcium, protein, and fiber, which can help keep you fuller longer and promote better blood sugar management.
8. Oat Flour
Oats are a staple in most homes and are a celebrated breakfast cereal, but have you tried oat flour? Like whole oats, oat flour is packed with soluble and insoluble fiber.
These help your body fight coronary heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions. This is because it contains beta-glucans, which lower bad cholesterol.
Oat flour can also be very beneficial in regulating blood pressure and controlling blood sugar levels.
As a gluten-free flour substitute, it can be used in various recipes, including pancakes, muffins, fruit crumbles, waffles, and crisps.
9. Tapioca Flour
Also known as tapioca starch, tapioca flour is extracted from cassava root. Besides being gluten-free, it is a powerhouse for calcium, copper, phosphorus, and iron. Calcium is crucial in maintaining strong bones and preventing the occurrence of osteoporosis.
The iron in tapioca is vital in transporting oxygen throughout the body, thus promoting better metabolism and productivity. The flour also boosts your heart health and prevents cardiovascular risks.
Tapioca flour is versatile and fits different dishes. It is easy to digest and ideal for people with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) alongside other digestive issues. You can use it in baked goods and to thicken sauces, soups, and gravies.
10. Brown Rice Flour
Brown rice flour comes from the whole grain of rice that contains the brain and germ, with only the inedible husk removed. It is packed with nutrients, including magnesium and B vitamins.
With a generous amount of fiber, this rice helps the body regulate digestion and enhances the feeling of fullness and high energy.
Brown rice flour is versatile and can be used in various recipes. This includes baking goods, breads, pancakes, and thickening soups and sauces.
Whether it is by choice or health restrictions, there are many healthy and nutritious gluten-free flour substitutes to choose from.
We have covered some of the best ones alongside their unique health benefits, and I hope you’ll try them.
You can try a few of them, if not all, and determine which ones you prefer most.
To ensure you get the right balance of flavor, texture, and moisture content, be open to experimenting and adjusting the recipe accordingly.
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