Last week, I talked about gluten-free products and the many questionable ingredients that find their way into them. So this week, it feels only right to shed light on gluten-free products that ARE worth your money and can actually benefit your gut health. Namely, I want to talk about gluten-free flours, which can be a great way to mix up your gluten-free routine.
By far the most common gluten-free flours are almond flour, sorghum flour, and white or brown rice flour. These flour alternatives are fine for most people, but I often have gluten-free patients come in with complaints of constipation after consistently using these flours. I also have patients coming in just feeling bored by these bland flours and the recipes they have in their rotation.
But here’s the thing that people don’t realize — there are so many other gluten-free flours out there!
And some of them have amazing health benefits that are worth learning about.
5 Lesser-Known Gluten-Free Flours
Here are some of my favorite lesser-known gluten-free flours, and recipes that incorporate each of them.
1. Mesquite Flour
If you frequent health food stores, you may have seen mesquite flour or powder on the shelves. Even though it looks like a supplement powder—like spirulina or maca—mesquite powder is the same thing as mesquite flour. (Which is the same as mesquite meal and algarroba — this flour has many names!) Mesquite flour comes from the mesquite plant, which is native to the United States, and it contains a number of essential nutrients, like magnesium, calcium, potassium, iron, and zinc. Despite its naturally sweet, nutty flavor, mesquite flour has a low glycemic index because of its high fiber content, which makes it a suitable alternative for people with diabetes and high blood pressure.
2. Montina Flour
Montina flour is made from milled Indian ricegrass. Despite the name, it’s actually not related to rice flour, and it’s gluten-free! One food that I’ve realized is difficult to make a gluten-free version of is pizza. Gluten-free pizza just never tastes the same! Montina flour, though, is a great option for pizza dough (Food For Net has a stellar recipe). In terms of health benefits, Indian ricegrass is high in protein and fiber, which is good news for your gut health. It can be more difficult to find montina flour in grocery stores than other gluten-free flours, but it can be purchased online.
3. Teff Flour
Teff flour is one you might not have heard of — and yet it’s so good for your body and your gut! Popular in North African cuisine, teff flour is high in protein and fiber, which feed and satiate the gut, balance blood sugar, prevent anemia and diabetes, and help with sugar cravings and weight loss. Teff flour also contains polyphenols, which are disease-fighting compounds packed with antioxidants. You can use teff flour to make injera—an Ethiopian crepe-like flatbread—or turn it into porridge or a vegan, gluten-free stew.
4. Coconut Flour
Coconut products in general have become staples in gluten-free and plant-forward cooking and baking—and coconut flour is no exception. Studies have shown the benefits of coconut flour for weight loss and lowering bad cholesterol, and it’s surprisingly high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, so it’s certainly gut-friendly. Plus, because it’s a better known gluten-free flour, there are limitless recipes out there! Seriously, any recipe that you love that uses regular all-purpose flour (think pancakes, muffins, breads, etc.), I would bet you there’s an equally delicious — or even more delicious — recipe that uses coconut flour.
5. Plantain Flour
You have probably seen or eaten plantains before… but did you know they make plantain flour? It’s similar to green banana flour, except it’s made from plantains. Plantain flour is made from unripe plantains, making it a resistant starch—it resists digestion and functions like soluble fiber. As a result, plantain flour can help reduce blood sugar levels and benefit your gut microbiome. Plantains also contain many important vitamins and minerals, including potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin B-6, and magnesium. Plantain flour is often used as a gluten-free flour replacement in breads and pancakes, but I’ve seen it used in brownies and coconut bars too. Note: Green banana flour (or just banana flour) can be swapped out for plantain flour in most recipes!
Tips for Baking & Cooking With Gluten-Free Flours
Baking and cooking with gluten-free flours isn’t just about using the lesser-known flours above, there are other tips and tricks to making the most out of your gluten-free experience! Over years of experimenting with these flours, I’ve found that these tips really help keep things interesting and delicious.
1. Don’t Default to Almond and Coconut—Get Creative!
Believe it or not, there are even more gluten-free flour alternatives than what I’ve listed in this article. Quinoa flour, oat flour, chia flour, arrowroot flour, tigernut flour… the list goes on and on. I encourage you to do a little research on them and experiment with different kinds to see what you like and what makes your body feel good. If you experience painful bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or an upset stomach every time you eat these flours, that’s a pretty clear signal that they don’t agree with you, and you should try something else.
2. Use the Right Amount
Some gluten-free flours can be high in fat, making them difficult for some folks to digest in large quantities. This can lead to loose stools or diarrhea, because fatty foods cause contractions in the GI tract. On the other hand, some can also become quite thick and result in a chunky mass in the intestines that causes constipation. Of all the gluten-free flours out there, nut flours are usually the biggest culprit for this. Also, almond flour in particular is high in phytic acid, which is an antinutrient. These antinutrients can lead to nausea, bloating, gas, abdominal pain, headaches, rashes, and even nutritional deficiencies. Not to mention, nut flours are also very calorically dense, so it’s best overall to use them in smaller quantities when needed as opposed to eating them for every meal, every day.
3. Use the Right Type of Flour for the Recipe
When it comes to cooking and baking, not all gluten-free flours are created equal. They aren’t a 1:1 conversion. Certain flours have different hydration needs, meaning they soak up different amounts of water. When used in the wrong quantities, they can leave your pancakes, baked goods, and breads super dry or undercooked. There are tons of websites that will do the flour-to-gluten-free-flour conversions for you, but I find it’s best to just Google “gluten free pancakes” or “recipes that use plantain flour” and see what comes up. These are usually pretty tried and true, and will keep you from wasting food. (I personally love these Almond Flour Pancakes from Ambitious Kitchen.)
4. Mix Gluten-Free Flours
Going off of the last tip, sometimes recipes require a mix of gluten-free flours to get the right consistency. If you’re a serious baker or know gluten-free flours well, you can feel free to experiment! Otherwise, there are plenty of recipes online and resources on how to mix flours. The Gluten-Free Banana Bread from The Big Man’s World, for instance, uses coconut flour and almond flour to achieve the cakey, light texture of banana bread. And one of my favorite gluten-free bakers, Meredith’s Bread, uses a combination of teff flour, sorghum flour, sunflower seed flour, sweet rice flour, black chia seeds, and psyllium husks to make their delicious gluten-free breads that have the same bounce and consistency as regular wheat bread.
5. Use Gut-Friendly Flours First
As we’ve already learned, not all gluten-free flours are gut-friendly flours. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy the full spectrum of gluten-free flours, but I do recommend opting for gut-friendly gluten-free flours — like coconut, plantain, mesquite, teft, and montina flours — most often. If you can master incorporating these gut-friendly options into your routine, you’ll be doing your gut a world of good. Then, save the less gut-friendly gluten-free flours for special occasions or when you’re really craving a specific recipe that requires them. Using a less gut-friendly flour now and then isn’t going to harm you or your body, but if you’re using that all the time for a long period of time, they can contribute to GI issues.
To give you a little inspiration, here’s my go-to recipe for Plantain Flour Pancakes, courtesy of Aubrey’s Kitchen, with slight modifications to make it Happy Gut®-approved!
Plantain Flour Pancakes (Gluten-Free, Grain-Free)
Serves 2 people
- 1 cup banana flour (green banana flour or plantain flour)
- 2 tbsp allulose or coconut sugar
- 2 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tbsp oil (extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil)
- 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk, vanilla or plain
- 1-2 tbsp oil to grease pan
- (Optional) 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- Combine dry ingredients using fork or whisk.
- Add wet ingredients and slowly mix until thoroughly combined. [Note: banana flour is a very fine powder so you will want to mix slowly to minimize mess.]
- Mix until there are no lumps. Unlike a more classic pancake, because banana flour is a very fine powder you don’t want lumps.
- Grease frying pan with oil and heat pan to medium-high heat.
- Add 1/4 to 1/3 cup batter for each pancake.
- Cook for approximately 1-2 minutes and flip, cooking another 1 minute or so.
- Add optional garnishes such as pecans, walnuts, sliced bananas, and honey or maple syrup.