Going gluten-free? Whether out of medical necessity or simple preference, a gluten-free diet can be challenging. When you’re used to eating bread, pasta, baked goods and other foods with wheat flour, finding new and satisfying alternatives is tough. Sure, you could skip the flour entirely—but with these six wheat flour alternatives, you can replicate your favorite gluten-laden treats.
Why do people avoid gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. It contributes flavor, texture and protein. It also helps processed foods and baked goods hold their shape.
Most people can process gluten just fine. Protease, a digestive enzyme, helps break down gluten and process its protein. The remaining undigested gluten moves through the small intestine. While most people can tolerate the undigested gluten, it can cause serious issues for others. Gluten can trigger bloating, diarrhea, skin rashes, headaches and even an autoimmune response.
While more research is needed, it appears that gluten intolerances could stem from issues with the small intestine. When the lining is too permeable, undigested gluten and bacteria can move through the intestinal lining to the bloodstream. This causes inflammation.
Gluten isn’t inherently bad, unless you have an intolerance or allergy. If it makes you sick, choosing wheat flour alternatives will help you enjoy tasty treats without the pain.
Wheat flour alternatives
Each type of alternative flour has different properties and flavor. Not every flour will be right for each cooking or baking product—be sure to research gluten-free recipes to find out which you should choose.
Here are six popular alternative flours:
- Almond: Almond flour is commonly used in French macarons. Made from blanched, ground almonds, it can be substituted at a 1:1 ratio for wheat flour in many recipes—just add one extra egg to baked goods. It’s a good source of minerals like copper, manganese, iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium. Almond flour is loaded with vitamin E and contains monounsaturated fat. However, it has a higher calorie content than wheat flour.
- Buckwheat: Buckwheat isn’t actually wheat. It’s a pseudocereal with a rich, nutty flavor. Because buckwheat flour is crumbly, it’s best to combine this type of flour with other gluten-free flours when baking. Buckwheat has a high antioxidant content, as well as folate, iron, manganese, fiber, zinc, B-vitamins and magnesium.
- Arrowroot: Arrowroot is made from tropical Maranta arundinacea extract. This “flour” is often used as a thickener, and can be mixed with coconut, almond or tapioca flour for baked goods. Arrowroot flour is packed with iron, B-vitamins and potassium.
- Brown rice: This type of flour is made from dried, ground brown rice. It’s a whole grain that can be used in baked goods, pasta or as a thickener. Brown rice flour is high in protein and fiber, as well as B-vitamins, iron, manganese, magnesium and lignans.
- Chickpea: Chickpea flour is often used in Mediterranean cooking, like falafel, hummus and socca. High in fiber and protein, it also contains plenty of magnesium and potassium.
- Corn: Corn flour is used to make tortillas and breads. It can also thicken sauces and soups. High in fiber and carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, you’ll also get tons of selenium, vitamin B6, theanine, manganese and magnesium.
What to do when gluten is everywhere
There are many more gluten-free flour substitutes available. This guide offers a quick overview of flour types, including flour blends.
Because gluten can show up in unexpected foods—like soy sauce, potato chips and salad dressing—knowing what to watch for can help. The Cleveland Clinic has put together a list of common, sneaky sources of gluten. These include:
- Chips and fries
- Restaurant eggs and omelets
- Soup and gravy
- Meat and fish substitutes
Many gluten-free people end up doing a lot more cooking than their gluten-tolerant counterparts. Investing in a good gluten-free cookbook or finding a helpful recipe website can be a sanity saver.
Finally, get familiar with common gluten-free swaps, like this list. Knowing what you can eat makes it a lot easier to satisfy a craving, whether you want a perfect loaf of bread, a rich, thick gravy or soy-like flavor for your stir fry.
Gluten might not be inherently bad, but it’s dangerous for anyone with an allergy. Luckily, wheat flour alternatives are still loaded with nutrients. In some cases, they’re a lot healthier than white flour! Whatever the reason you’re avoiding gluten, rest assured that you’ll still have plenty of healthy, delicious foods to enjoy.