Refined flour aka white flour is one of the most commonly used ingredients in baking. It’s made by removing the bran and germ from whole wheat grains, which leaves only the starchy endosperm. This process also bleaches the flour to give it that bright white color that we’re all so familiar with.
While refined flour may be convenient, it’s not exactly healthy (6). It’s been stripped of most of its nutrients and fiber, and since it is quickly digested and absorbed it can cause spikes in blood sugar levels. Over time, this can lead to weight gain and associated health problems like obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
If you’re looking for a healthier alternative to white flour, there are plenty of options available.
Let’s take a look at some of the healthiest substitutes for white flour.
Whole Wheat Flour
Whole wheat flour is a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It also has a nutty flavor that can enhance the taste of your baked goods. It produces denser baked goods with a more robust flavor.
When substituting whole wheat flour for white flour, you may need to use less of it because it’s heavier and absorbs more liquid. You can start by replacing half of the refined flour with whole wheat flour and go from there. If you want to use 100% whole wheat flour, you may need to increase the amount of liquid you add.
Almond flour is made from whole almonds that are blanched and ground into a fine powder. It’s a good source of protein, fiber, and healthy fats. It offers double the protein and triple the fiber that refined flour offers. Almond flour is also lower in carbs than white flour, making it a good choice for people who want to reduce their carb intake (2).
When substituting almond flour for white flour, you’ll need to use less because almond flour has a finer texture and poor binding ability. Start by adding 1/3 cup almond flour per cup of white flour for recipes that require yeast. For recipes that don’t require yeast, 1/4 cup is a good starting point.
Baked goods made with almond flour are more moist, tender, and have a nutty flavor. They are extremely delicate when they first come out of the oven, so to avoid them from falling apart, let them cool completely before cutting or handling.
Oat flour is made from whole oats that have been ground into a fine powder. It’s a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Oats can help regulate blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol (1). Oat flour has an earthy flavor and produces chewy, fluffy baked goods.
Oat flour is the easiest substitute you can make at home. Using a blender or food processor, simply grind oats into a fine powder. You can also buy oat flour at most supermarkets.
Because this whole grain flour is denser than white flour, use 1/5 less when substituting it in recipes. For example, if a recipe calls for a cup of white flour, use 20% less and replace it with 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of oat flour.
When oat flour is used alone, baked goods don’t rise or hold as well as they do with other types of flour. For best results, add extra baking powder (up to 2.5 tsp) per cup of oat flour. You can also combine oat flour with other types of flour to lighten the texture while still getting the health benefits.
Buckwheat flour is made from ground buckwheat groats, which are the seeds of a plant in the rhubarb family. Despite the name, buckwheat is not related to wheat and it’s gluten-free. It is a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Buckwheat flour is a good source of magnesium, copper, and zinc. It also contains all eight essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Buckwheat flour is also high in fiber and has a low glycemic index, which means it won’t cause spikes in blood sugar levels (3).
Traditional Japanese soba noodles are made with buckwheat flour.
For best results, this flour should be used in combination with other flours. If you don’t have a problem with gluten, you can swap up to 25% of the white flour with buckwheat flour. If you have Celiac disease or a wheat intolerance and want to use buckwheat, you’ll need to find a specific recipe that mixes buckwheat with other gluten-free flours. Just be aware that baked goods made with buckwheat flour will have a denser, coarser texture.
This flour is made by grinding quinoa into a fine powder and can be used in place of white flour in most recipes.
Quinoa flour produces moist, tender, and slightly chewy baked goods. It can be used to make pancakes, waffles, muffins, quick loaves of bread, pies, and more. This flour can also be used as a coating for chicken or fish. It has a slightly bitter aftertaste that can be diminished by toasting the flour before using it.
Substituting 50% quinoa flour for white flour is a good starting point. You may need to experiment with the amount of quinoa flour you use to get the desired texture and flavor.
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Coconut flour is made from ground-up coconuts and is a very popular flour substitute, especially for those following a Paleo diet. It’s high in fiber and protein, and has a lower glycemic index than white flour, making it a helpful option for blood sugar control. It’s also more calorie-dense than other flours, so a little goes a long way (4).
This flour can be used in many recipes that call for white flour, but keep in mind that it absorbs moisture more readily, so you may need to add extra liquid to your recipe. It also has a slightly coconutty flavor, which may or may not be desirable depending on the recipe.
When substituting coconut flour for wheat flour, use 1/4 of the amount called for in the recipe. For example, if a recipe calls for a cup of wheat flour, use 1/4 cup of coconut flour and 3/4 cup of wheat flour. You may also need to add more liquid to your recipe, so adding an egg for every 1/4 cup of coconut flour is a good rule of thumb.
Chickpea flour, also known as garbanzo bean flour or besan, is made from ground chickpeas and is popular in Indian cuisine. It has a nutty flavor and a slightly grainy texture. Chickpea flour is high in protein and fiber and low in carbs, making it a healthy replacement for white flour (7).
This flour can be used to make flatbreads, pancakes, breading for meat or vegetables, and more. It’s also a popular ingredient in vegan and gluten-free recipes. It stands out for its binding ability which helps give structure to gluten-free baked goods, so it’s often used in combination with other gluten-free flours. It also makes a great thickener for soups and sauces.
To substitute chickpea flour for white flour, use 1/4 less chickpea flour than the recipe calls for. For example, if a recipe calls for a cup of wheat flour, use 3/4 cup of chickpea flour. You may also use it as an egg replacer to bake egg-free goods.
Due to its flavor, it doesn’t taste well in sweet treats. It’s more suited for savory recipes.
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Cassava flour is made from the root vegetable of the same name. It’s a popular replacement for wheat flour, as it’s gluten-free and grain-free.
Cassava flour is slightly lower in calories than wheat flour, but it has a similar nutritional profile otherwise. It’s a good source of fiber and contains some vitamins and minerals.
Because cassava flour is made from a starchy vegetable, it’s not as low-carb, high protein, or high-fiber as other flour substitutes on this list. However, it’s still a healthier option than white flour (9).
It has a neutral flavor and soft consistency, making it a good all-purpose flour alternative. It can be used to make bread, pizza dough, pancakes, and more.
To substitute cassava flour for wheat flour, use a 1:1 ratio. For example, if a recipe calls for a cup of wheat flour, use a cup of cassava flour. You may need to add more liquid to your recipes, as cassava flour is more absorbent than wheat flour.
Rice flour is made from ground rice and is a popular gluten-free flour. It has a slightly nutty flavor and can be used in many recipes that call for wheat flour. Its consistency is similar to wheat flour, making it a good option for baking.
This flour is lower in calories than wheat flour. It’s a good source of fiber and vitamins B1 and B3. Although it contains less folate, like whole wheat it contains lignans that may help fight cancer (8).
Rice flour can be used to make bread, cakes, cookies, and other baked goods. You’ll need to add more rising agents to recipes made with rice flour, as it doesn’t contain gluten. It can also be used as a thickener for soups and sauces.
For a 1:1 substitution, use the same amount of rice flour as wheat flour. For example, if a recipe calls for a cup of wheat flour, use a cup of rice flour. You may need to experiment with the proportion of liquid to add, as rice flour absorbs liquid differently than wheat flour.
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The Bottom Line
White flour is a refined grain that has been stripped of its fiber and nutrients. It’s not the healthiest choice and should be limited. There are many healthier substitutes for white flour, including whole wheat flour, almond flour, coconut flour, chickpea flour, cassava flour, and rice flour.
These healthiest flours are higher in fiber and nutrients and some are lower in calories than white flour. When substituting one of these flours for white flour, you may need to experiment with the proportion of liquid to add, as some of these flours absorb liquid differently than wheat flour.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- A Review of Health-Beneficial Properties of Oats (2021, nih.gov)
- Appetitive, dietary and health effects of almonds (2013, nih.gov)
- Buckwheat as a Functional Food and Its Effects on Health (2015, nih.gov)
- Effect of Coconut and Chestnut Flour Supplementations (2021, nih.gov)
- Nutritional evaluation and functional properties of quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) flour (2021, nih.gov)
- Perspective: Refined Grains and Health: Genuine Risk, or Guilt by Association? (2019, nih.gov)
- Nutritional quality and health benefits of chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.): a review (2012, nih.gov)
- Rice Flour: A Promising Food Material for Nutrition and Global Health (2019, nih.gov)
- Study on quality characteristics of cassava flour and cassava flour short biscuits (2020, nih.gov)
- Whole Grains (n.d., harvard.edu)