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Low-Carb Flour Alternatives

Posted Mar 06 2013 3:21pm

Traditional flours, including whole-grain flours, are especially high in carbohydrates. For example, whole-wheat flour can set you back as much as 22 to 24 grams of carbohydrate per quarter-cup serving. For that reason, many low-carb products take advantage of wheat flours that have had the starch removed or modified. Resistant wheat starch, vital wheat gluten, oat fiber, whey protein, and modified corn starches are common low-carb flour alternatives used in low-carb baking mixes, bread mixes, and other baked goods.

But what can you use at home?

Whether you’ve sworn to avoid all forms of wheat or just want to know how to cut the carbohydrates in your diet, there are a wide variety of low-carb flour alternatives and substitutes to choose from. Which low-carb flour is best depends on your budget, carbohydrate allowance, and the texture you’re looking for, as well as taste. Product availability, or whether you have the ability to grind nuts, seeds, pork rinds, and other low-carb choices also matters.

Like gluten-free cooking and baking, mixing more than one flour type can often give you a better result than using a single flour on its own, but that depends on what you’re using it for. Breading chicken strips or fish, and thickening a sauce won’t be as critical as trying to bake a loaf of bread or a cake. While many people find breads made with vital wheat gluten far too spongy, don’t be too quick to dismiss potential alternatives, as breads made with large amounts of wheat protein or wheat starch make acceptable bread crumbs, or cubes for turkey dressings and bread puddings.

Of all the possibilities, coconut flour is the most difficult to work with. Recipes use a lot of eggs because it will soak up the amount of liquid in a recipe quickly and make the finished product come out dry. It takes quite a bit of experimentation unless you’re using a tried-and-true recipe created by someone else. The same thing could be said for flaxmeal (ground flax seeds) or oat fiber. They will soak up a lot of liquid, so you’ll want to start with just a little bit, or follow a recipe you can trust.

Coconut flour does work especially well for breading chicken or fish, alone or in combination with other flours. And if you don’t want to use vegetable gums to thicken your stews and sauces, almond flour, coconut flour, oat fiber, and dried parmesan cheese make good alternative thickeners.

Commercial nut flours, soy flour, and coconut flour have had some of the fat removed, so if you try to grind them yourself, you’ll have to take that into account. Many people say that homemade ground coconut is far too greasy to use, and that nut flours can easily turn into nut butter if you’re not careful. I’ve never had almonds turn into almond butter, but I did buy a few bags of almonds from Walmart a couple of years ago that were so hard to grind, they burned out the motor of my new coffee grinder after only using it a couple of times.

To grind your own flours, you can use a blender, food processor, or strong coffee grinder. They also make a special grinder just for nuts now that would work well. You simply throw your oats, flax seeds, nuts, pork rinds, or whatever you want to process into the machine and whirl it until it’s as fine as you want it. Almond meal is about as fine as you’re going to get almonds at home. If you’re eating a more moderate level of carbs, you can also use a wheat grinder to grind your own dried corn, white beans, brown rice, or dried black soybeans, but a wheat grinder won’t work for nuts or coconut because the oil will ruin the machine.   

The following list includes many of the typical low-carb flour substitutes that most low-carb bakers use, but it’s certainly not all-inclusive:
  • vital wheat gluten (wheat protein isolate 8000)
  • wheat protein isolate 5000
  • resistant wheat starch
  • almond meal or flour (flour is a finer grind)
  • pecan, walnut, hazelnut, or other nut meals
  • soy flour
  • coconut flour
  • carbalose flour
  • carbquick baking mix
  • cocoa powder
  • crushed pork rinds
  • dried parmesan cheese
  • hemp protein powder
  • soy protein powder
  • whey protein powder
  • konjac flour (glucomannan)
  • flaxmeal (ground flax seeds)
  • oat fiber
  • oat flour (ground oats)
  • wheat bran

Although there are nutritional controversies surrounding some of these meals and low-carb flours, personal taste will be a matter of experimentation. Most people find yellow soy flour far too strong, but we like the ground black soybeans, which are quite mild.

In addition to the single flours above, there are many companies that make low-carb baking mixes, bread mixes, cookie and brownie mixes, pie crust mixes, and pancake mixes. In addition to tons of other stuff:
  • Bob’s Red Mill
  • Atkins’ Nutritionals
  • Dixie Diner
  • NOW
  • Tova
  • LC Foods
  • Nutiva

However, many low-carbers find that using too many low-carb products causes their weight loss to stall. The same goes for many of the breads and dessert recipes floating around the web. Staying within your personal carbohydrate tolerance is important, but there are many additional factors involved in weight loss than just carbohydrate restriction.

Originally, a low-carb diet was not designed to include any of these types of foods. Dr. Atkins did allow soy flour recipes for those who had it available in their area, and many of the creative cooks who were following a low-carb diet in the early 2000s learned how to use protein powders and almond meal to make muffins and other baked goods.

Used sparingly, these products and recipes can help to make your low-carb diet more enjoyable. But if you try to use them to replace the type of diet that got you fat in the first place, it could easily backfire.

I have no financial interest in any the following companies who sell low-carb products online. These are just the online companies that I like to use myself because they have great shipping rates:

  • Vitacost
  • iHerb
  • Netrition

In addition, many health food stores also carry low-carb flours such as almond flour, flaxmeal, coconut flour, oat fiber, and protein powders. Standard grocery stores often have a health-food section where you can also find some of these low-carb flours. Our local grocery has a huge Bob’s Red Mill display, as well as a gluten-free section.

Most stores don’t carry specific low-carb flours such as Carbalose, Carbquick, or resistant wheat starch. Those types of flours can only be ordered online. But health food stores and health sections in your grocery store do carry whatever health enthusiasts in the area are looking for. You can often find vital wheat gluten in the regular baking aisle. Sometimes, if you ask the store manager for a particular low-carb flour product, they can order it for you.
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