Rice flour? Whole-wheat flour? Flour selection can be confusing for those of us who grew up eating white flour foods. So, which healthy flour options should you include in your meal planning? Never fear! We’ve got a quick-guide to flour and your health to help you understand your options.
First, and foremost, it’s important to point out the reasons why that white staple we’ve come to know isn’t our most nutritious option. The refining process that creates white flour removes the bran and germ parts of the grain to increase shelf life. The problem with this process is that the bran and germ are home to several nutrients the body needs, including fiber, vitamins B1, B3, and B5, as well as folate and riboflavin.
Manufacturers sometimes add a few vitamins back into the flour, creating “enriched” white flour. However, while vitamins can be re-added, generally fiber is not, which means you’re missing out on its benefits, including its ability to aid digestion and lower cholesterol. (Check out Fiber & Weight Loss- Reasons You Need More Fiber in Your Diet.) What’s even more, white flour products have a high glycemic index, which means they spike blood sugar quickly.
This is why choosing healthy flour meals and recipes is an important part of losing weight or staying fit. It’s even more important to make the right selections for those living a gluten-free lifestyle. Choosing the wrong flour can trigger the uncomfortable symptoms of celiac disease. Gluten-free dieters should be aware, though, that gluten-free options lack the gluten that gives texture to baked goods. Recipes using gluten-free flours typically need an additional binding agent, like xanthan gum, guar gum, or tapioca powder, to give a recipe the right texture. If you buy a gluten-free flour mix, read the ingredients; some may have a binding agent already added.
Flour and Your Health: Understanding Your Options-
Health Benefits: Whole-wheat flour hasn’t been over-processed, so this flour is high in fiber and nutrients. Flours made with whole wheat also have a lower glycemic index, keeping blood sugar more stable and preventing the crashes that lead to snack cravings.
Best For: Whole-wheat flour is a heftier ingredient, so it’s a good choice for pancakes, waffles, bread, or pizza dough. For baked goods with a lighter texture, like pie crusts or cakes, using just whole-wheat flour can make the mix too dense. Start with a mixture of 50% white flour and 50% whole-wheat flour. If the recipe turns out well, gradually increase the percentage of whole wheat each time you make it until you find a density you like. Try healthy flour meals at breakfast with Whole-Grain Banana Blueberry Pancakes.
Health Benefits: This gluten-free alternative is made by grinding almonds until they have a grainy consistency that mimics traditional flour. It offers healthy monounsaturated fats, which lower blood cholesterol and may help regulate insulin levels, and vitamin E.
Best For: Try almond flour in recipes for cakes, pancakes, muffins, or these Broccoli Tarts.
Black Bean Flour
Health Benefits: Black Bean Flour is an excellent source of dietary fiber, as well as protein and additional nutrients. Plus, it’s gluten-free, so it can be eaten by people suffering from celiac disease.
Best For: Use black bean flour in enchiladas, tacos, burritos, and other Mexican favorites.
Brown Rice Flour
Health Benefits: Made from grinding brown rice grains, this flour option is high in protein, as well as fiber, which helps move food through the digestive tract. Brown rice flour is also gluten free, making it a popular ingredient choice for people living with celiac disease.
Best For: This flour is good for many baking recipes, including biscuits, rolls, and breads.
Health Benefits: Tapioca flour is made from the South American cassava plant. Because it’s grain free, this starchy flour can be used as part of a gluten-free diet.
Best For: In baked goods, it’s often used to bind gluten-free recipes or add texture to cookies or cakes. Tapioca flour is also used to thicken sauces or soups.
For gluten-free baking tips (including recipes for 2 basic flour blends), check out Going Gluten Free? Tips for Great Gluten-Free Cooking.
For more delicious and nutritious recipes from Skinny Ms., check out our Skinny Ms. Recipe Collection of 101 Fan Favorites.
Do you have a favorite Skinny Ms. recipe? We’d love to hear about it. Tell us what you think in the comments section below.