Flour alternatives are popping up on store shelves more and more. Made from foods such as brown rice, chickpeas, almonds, cassava, coconut, and even hazelnut, these flour varieties offer a wide range of nutrients, tastes, and textures.

But how do these alternatives stack up to wheat flour and are they worth trying? To find out, we consulted with two culinary registered dietitians: Jackie Newgent, R.D.N., author of The Clean & Simple Diabetes Cookbook and New York-based registered dietitian and chef, Abbie Gellman, M.S., R.D., C.D.N..

The experts walk us through six flour alternatives, what they taste like, their nutrition stats, how you would use them instead of wheat flour, and if they make sense to incorporate into your diet for performance.

1. Chickpea Flour

Chickpea flour has a similar nutritional profile to wheat flour, with one standout nutrient: fiber. Both wheat flour and chickpea flour have about 20 grams of carbohydrates and 5 grams of protein per 1/4 cup, but chickpea flour has 5 grams of fiber compared to wheat’s 1 gram.

And, just like you’d probably expect, chickpea flour tastes slightly more bean-like or earthy than all-purpose wheat flour, according to Newgent.

For runners who want to get a bit more fiber in their lives, chickpea flour can be a good swap. It’s not too much fiber that it will cause GI issues, and it may blunt the post-meal blood sugar spike and subsequent crash that accompanies wheat flour, according to Newgent.

“You can often use chickpea flour in a 1:1 ratio (ideally by weight), however since it’s slightly heartier and richer tasting than all-purpose flour, and it’s gluten-free, you may want to use 50 percent chickpea flour mixed with another flour,” Newgent says.

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2. Almond Flour

Since almond flour is made from 100 percent blanched, skinless almonds that have been finely ground, it’s not a “flour” in the technical sense, according to Newgent. Regardless, it’s used as a flour substitute and has a nuttier taste.

Some of the standout nutrients include unsaturated fat, fiber, and vitamin E, Newgent says, but there is a downside for runners. A 1/4 cup of almond flour only has about 6 grams of carbohydrates, as compared to the 24 grams in wheat flour. So muffins made with almond flour may not be your best bet before a morning run.

“While you can use it as a 1:1 swap for wheat flour, almond flour will result in a denser baked good if no other changes to the recipe are made,” Newgent says. She recommends using a mixture of equal parts almond flour and wheat flour or adding more baking powder or baking soda.

“It may actually improve the taste of recipes where a slightly denser texture still works fine, like in pancakes,” Newgent adds. She also says almond flour can add a nice texture in savory dishes, like when you use it to coat your chicken with breadcrumbs.

3. Cassava Flour

Cassava flour is mild and neutral with a hint of earthiness so it works well as a substitute for wheat flour. Made from the cassava root, which is similar to a potato, cassava flour is actually richer in carbs than wheat flour, with 31 grams per 1/4 cup. Not to mention, it has 0 grams of protein and only 2 grams of fiber, making it a good option for any runner who is carb-loading or running long distances and worried about GI issues.

“You can generally use cassava flour as a 1:1 swap for wheat flour—no other adjustments needed,” Newgent says. She adds that cassava flour can absorb more liquid than wheat flour does in baking, so using slightly less cassava flour or adjusting liquid may be helpful for ideal results.



4. Coconut Flour

Made from drying the meat of coconut then finely grinding it, coconut flour is slightly sweet and has a hint of coconut taste.

“Coconut flour is an excellent source of dietary fiber and plant-based iron, and it has more protein than wheat flour, however it also has more fat than wheat flour and many coconut products contain high levels of saturated fats,” Gellman says.

For runners with a sensitive stomach, the 10 grams of fiber in 1/4 cup of coconut flour may be too much to handle. It’s also a bit lower in carbs than wheat flour—18 grams compared to 25 grams.

“It is frequently used for dredging [coating a food in flour], but can also be a gluten-free alternative to wheat-based flours in baking,” Gellman says.

She also notes that you might find it mixed with other gluten-free flours to make a blend. Since coconut flour is very fibrous, the batter may be dense and require more liquid. A general rule of thumb is 1/4 to 1/3 cup of coconut flour for every 1 cup of wheat-based flour, according to Gellman.

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5. Brown Rice Flour

Brown rice flour has a mild, earthy, nutty flavor. “It contains more carbohydrates than all-purpose wheat flour—30 grams versus 25 grams—but since it is a whole grain, it has more nutrients such as zinc, phosphorous, iron, and vitamin B6,” Gellman says.

It makes a good gluten-free substitute for runners who want to maintain their carb intake. But brown rice flour doesn’t contain gluten, so it won’t absorb liquid or fat and can’t be swapped in a 1:1 ratio for wheat flour.

“Generally, you can swap 25 percent of the total wheat flour for brown rice flour in a recipe,” Gellman says. “If trying to make a gluten-free recipe, then the brown rice flour works best when mixed with other gluten-free flours plus a binder like xanthan gum,” she adds.

6. Hazelnut Flour

Like almond flour, hazelnut flour is made from finely ground whole raw hazelnuts. It has a sweet, buttery, nutty flavor and a dense texture that works well in both sweet and savory dishes.

“This nut-based flour is a good source of dietary fiber, plant-based protein, and healthy unsaturated fats,” Gellman says.

But the downside for runners is that it’s a low-carb flour, with just 8 grams per 1/4 cup. You may not want to use it in fueling recipes, but you can sub hazelnut flour in for bread crumbs in recipes to give a protein or healthy fat a boost.

“The general conversion is [a] 1:2 [ratio]—for example, 1 cup all-purpose flour would swap out for 2 cups hazelnut flour,” Gellman says. “But because nut flours lack the binding of gluten, other binders such as eggs may be necessary.”

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