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Healthiest Flour for Baking

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 09, 2021

Flour is a pantry staple for baking, used to make baked goods, desserts, bread, and more. However, the most well-known flour, refined white flour, offers almost no nutritional value.

So, it’s worth considering other types of flour that can offer a healthier option when you bake.

Flour And Your Health

While there are many types of flour, white flour is the most common in the US. Over 85% of the grains consumed in the average American's diet are highly processed grains like white flour.

White flour is used in many staple foods like bread, pasta, crackers, and cereal. But, this flour is highly processed — with many of its essential nutrients removed during the refinement process. This leaves behind a high amount of starch. 

Even though refined white flour is high in calories, it offers few nutritional benefits and almost no fiber, protein, or healthy fat. The refining process can also remove necessary nutrients like B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and vitamin E.

Processed white flour can also create a spike in blood sugar, which over time can increase your risk of chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Harmful Effects of Refined White Flour

In addition to a lack of nutrients, a diet based on refined white flour can lead to health complications.

Weight gain and obesity. In the U.S., two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. Refined flour promotes fat and prevents the body from burning fat for fuel. It may also promote inflammation in the gut, which damages your metabolic system and lead to weight gain.

Type 2 diabetes. Refined carbohydrates increase the chance of getting insulin resistance, followed by diabetes. Although many people switch out refined flour for whole grains, this leads to only minor improvements in blood sugar.

Hypertension. Like type 2 diabetes, a significant contributor to high blood pressure — or hypertension — is insulin resistance. Eating refined carbohydrates is linked to an increased risk of insulin resistance. Cutting out refined carbohydrates like refined flour can help you lower your blood pressure.

Cardiovascular disease. The increase in blood sugar caused by refined carbohydrates can lead to inflammation in blood vessels and arteries and an increase in cholesterol. Eating a lot of carbohydrates including refined flour can cause cardiovascular disease, which can ultimately cause death.

Food addiction. The term food addiction is surrounded by some controversy. It is related to certain foods that can trigger the reward system in your brain, encouraging you to eat more than your body needs for energy. Foods that are processed, high in fat, or high in sugar — including refined flour products — are more likely to trigger food addiction. 

Depression. A diet high in refined carbohydrates is linked to increased chances of getting depression. If you’re depressed, you might reach for high-carbohydrate foods for comfort. But, refined flour may promote inflammation and blood sugar spikes, which can contribute to depression.

Healthiest Flours for Baking

Although many alternatives to refined white flour were initially created for those with food allergies, these flours also appeal to those who want to add more variety and nutrition to their diets. Here are a few of the healthiest flours you could try in your baking.

Almond flour. Almond flour is made from peeled and ground almonds. Known for its high levels of protein, healthy fats, and fiber, almond flour helps you feel more full and satisfied. It also prevents changes in blood sugar after a meal.

Coconut flour. Coconut flour — made by milling dried coconut meat into a powder — is a grain- and gluten-free option. It’s more calorie-dense than other grain-based flours and offers a healthy source of protein, fat, fiber, antioxidants, iron, and potassium

Although coconut flour contains high levels of fat, this fat is primarily saturated, which has a bad reputation but is not actually linked to heart disease. It’s also primarily made up of medium chain triglycerides, a kind of fat that may lessen inflammation and support healthy metabolism.

Oat flour. Oat flour — made from ground-up rolled oats — is a whole-grain flour that is gluten-free. It contains high amounts of fiber and protein, especially compared with regular flour. It also contains minerals like iron, potassium, and calcium.

Quinoa flour. Quinoa flour is made from quinoa — a gluten-free seed with a nutty flavor, ground into a fine powder. Quinoa flour is a good source of protein, fiber, iron, and unsaturated fat. Quinoa may be helpful for promoting digestive health, lowering inflammation, and reducing the overall risk of disease.

Buckwheat flour. Buckwheat is a plant known for its grain-like seeds. Despite the name, buckwheat has no relation to wheat and is gluten-free. Buckwheat flour is a good source of fiber and protein as well as some micronutrients like manganese, magnesium, and iron. It has some anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. It may also promote healthy bacteria in the digestive system.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

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American Journal of Epidemiology: "Dietary carbohydrates, refined grains, glycemic load, and risk of coronary heart disease in Chinese adults."

Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism: "Acute and second-meal effects of almond form in impaired glucose tolerant adults: a randomized crossover trial."

The BMJ: "White rice consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: meta-analysis and systematic review."

Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology: "Comparison of hypertension, dyslipidaemia and hyperglycaemia between buckwheat seed-consuming and non-consuming Mongolian-Chinese populations in Inner Mongolia, China."

Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: "Comparative effects of different dietary approaches on blood pressure in hypertensive and pre-hypertensive patients: a systematic review and network meta-analysis."

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USDA FoodData Central: "OAT FLOUR."

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