Baking with Whole Grain Flours on the Trim Healthy Mama Plan
Written By: Meadow Hall (Pearl’s daughter) and Pearl Barrett
The current trend among modern diets is to replace grain-based flours with nut or seed flours. Don’t get us wrong… this can be a great approach for S-fuel baked treats (“S” stands for “Satisfying” and refers to low-carb/ample fat on Trim Healthy Mama). There are thousands of THM recipes that use our Baking Blend flour or other nut or seed flours to make delicious low-carb cakes, cookies, muffins and other awesome creations. But THM is all about fuel variety and balance. One of the biggest distinctions between Trim Healthy Mama and other ways of eating (such as Keto and Paleo) is that we’re not afraid of some good, wholesome, slow burning grains! No way are we about to throw them out the trendy “no grain” window.
We are all different… Some of us have to be completely gluten free, others of us do not. But even if you must be completely gluten free (which is easy to do as a Trim Healthy Mama) always remember that healthy carbs are both slimming and healing. Gluten free or not, carbs are essential for the well-being of your adrenals, your thyroid and they are crucial for your happiness as they elevate serotonin levels in your brain. Carbs are also a must if you are pregnant or nursing or facing any form of body challenging season. On THM you get to enjoy wonderful carbs in the form of fruit, sweet potatoes (and other colored potatoes such as yellow, red and purple) and of course in the form of whole grains and whole grain flours… whole being the key word here.
Ancient grains have been nourishing civilizations and cultures for thousands of years. Even the Bible has many verses on grains. Deuteronomy describes them as the “…harvest of the field”. Jesus himself said, “I am the bread of life…” Common sense tells us it seems kind of crazy to suddenly come out and say that all grains are unhealthy and everyone else in history up until now has been wrong about them.
It is true though, that modern wheat has been messed with. Many people are sensitive to the higher amounts of gluten in current wheat-based products compared to ancient grains. The sad fact is that it is also often high in levels of nasty stuff like glyphosate. So, what’s a person seeking health to do?
Rather than just putting a big X in front of all grains… we can just get smart about which grains we choose and how we prepare them. We can tune into our own bodies and figure out which grains we thrive on and which ones we don’t react as well too. The most important thing is to make sure we eat them in the kindest way possible for our blood sugar levels.
All whole grains are part of the THM way of eating. This means grains like brown or wild rice, can be cooked up and consumed in their natural form. But when it comes to using grains as flours, it is important to know what you are dealing with. Most grain-based flours need to either be sprouted or of a true sourdough variety. The reason for this is that any grain in flour form causes a speedier rise in blood sugar. This in turn causes a larger rush of insulin which is your fat storing hormone. Sprouting and souring flours slow down the rise of blood sugar and helps create a more balanced glucose level which is always our goal. Sprouted grains contain higher protein and lower carb levels and are more digestible in a number of ways. Sprouting even breaks down enzyme inhibitors within the grain and enables your body to better absorb the nutrients you need!
The exceptions to this need for sprouting or souring are whole rye flour, whole barley flour, oat flour, or quinoa flour. These are naturally gentler on your blood-sugar, so you don’t have to worry about sprouting or souring them. This means easy recipes like our oat-based pancakes (Trim Healthy Pancakes) are perfect and slimming… just three basic ingredients and a blender needed! This also means easy to find rye crackers such as Wasa Crackers or Ryvita crackers, which are simply made from whole rye flour, water and salt are wonderful for topping with creamy spreads, protein, veggies, seasonings and spices for quick snacks or meals.
Below is a list of grain flours you can use on Trim Healthy Mama. Also included are notes about some of their health benefits and whether they are gluten-free or not. Just remember that grains fit into the E-fuel category on THM (“E” stands for “Energizing” and utilizes gentle carbs and lower amounts of fat). But if you are not concerned with weight loss, you can also use grains in Crossover settings (which means a mixture of good carbs and fats together).
List of Healthy Grain-based Flours:
Oat Flour – GF:
An economical option, easily found at any grocery store (if you grind your own oats in a blender into flour) and also easy to find as a great GF option. Oats are extremely nutritious and high in fiber! Try making our delicious Banana Cake (BAM Cake) made with oat flour on page 298 in the Trim Healthy Mama Cookbook.
Ancient Wheat Flours (Einkorn, Spelt, Kamut, Freekah, and Emmer):
These flours have lower amounts of gluten than modern wheat and are often better digested which sometimes (but not always) allows for gluten sensitive people to be able to use them. They work beautifully for breads and other baked goods. They are chock full of B vitamins and contain higher protein levels and greater micronutrients such as polyphenols and minerals when compared to modern wheat. They are best sprouted or soured to lower blood sugar rise.
Whole Wheat Flour:
While modern wheat can be used on THM as it is usually a less expensive option compared to the ancient wheats and is often a chief component in our “on-plan-approved” store-bought sprouted breads, it is inferior in our minds to ancient varieties. Please be sure it is always sprouted or soured.
Whole Rye or Pumpernickel Flour:
Rye has an earthier and stronger taste than regular wheat… but that’s what many people love about rye! Rye is another ancient grain, but we think so highly of it, it deserves its own write-up. Research shows rye has the ability to help control diabetes, aid in weight loss and it helps fight cancer and cardiovascular disease. According to one interesting human study, rye lowers markers of chronic inflammation, such as interleukin 1 beta (IL-1ß) and interleukin 6 (IL-6). It contains phenolic compounds, such as ferulic acid and caffeic acid, which have been shown to slow down the release of sugar and insulin into the bloodstream, further aiding blood sugar control. Studies from Europe, where rye is a more common bread flour, have shown that it also keeps people feeling full for longer amounts of time than wheat.
Rye is rich in nutrients such as selenium, manganese and B vitamins, and it is high in fiber. Once again, it is much lower in gluten than modern wheat. Make sure that the rye flour you are using is the healthier choice, since rye labels can be tricky. White or light rye flour is not a whole grain, so it isn’t on the THM plan. Choose whole rye flour, rye meal, or pumpernickel instead, as these will have the germ and bran from the rye kernels. “Dark rye” flour could mean that it is 100% whole grain, but depending on the brand, this is not always the case. Some breads use dye to darken the color. The grocery chain store, Aldi, has some wonderful, perfectly natural, dark rye breads from Germany that come in seasonally and are very inexpensive. The brand name is Deutsche Kuche. Also, be sure to check out Serene’s Artisan Sourdough bread recipe in Trim Healthy Cookbook, page 206.
Hulled Barley Flour:
Barley benefits us with its high selenium, magnesium, B-vitamins and antioxidant content. The beta-glucans in barley give it a high fiber, cancer fighting content, which also lessens hunger and improves digestion. Barley fractions, which are the outer layer and germs, are also very high in folate. Natural folate intake (through food rather than supplements) is critical for anyone with MTHFR mutations. People with these mutations (up to half the population) have trouble methylating properly. Methylation is important for all functions of the body, especially detoxification and for fighting inflammation. Folate helps our bodies methylate. The main two types of barley are hulled and pearled. Hulled barley contains more nutrition as it still has the bran and germ intact, while pearled barley is the more processed form.
Brown Rice Flour – GF:
Rice flour is the most commonly used flour when it comes to GF baking since it has a light texture and a mild flavor. Brown rice flour contains more nutrients and is better for your blood sugar than plain white rice flour. However, while we give brown rice flour an “okay” for an E, some people still find this harder on their blood sugar than others, so consider how much you use and use alternatives if necessary. If you can ever find a sprouted form of brown rice flour… that would be a much-preferred option.
Quinoa, Buckwheat and Amaranth Flours – GF:
While these are known as grains they are technically seeds. They can all be experimented with to create some amazing gluten-free baked treats. They will be even kinder to your blood sugar if sprouted but it is not crucial. You can see how you do without sprouting or souring them as quinoa and buckwheat especially have wonderfully high protein levels which makes them generally easier on blood sugar.
Cornmeal Flour – GF:
Cornmeal is considered a personal choice on the THM plan since it is a bit hard on the blood sugar and as we all know, corn is used to fatten up animals. It can be used in small amounts, but if included too often and in too large quantities it can do the same fattening up process to us humans. Consider using masa harina cornmeal as it’s been treated with lime, which reduces the glycemic load and makes it more digestible.
Teff and Sorghum Flours – GF:
These two are also ancient flours but since they are not of the wheat variety as einkorn, freekah, spelt, kamut and emmer are, they are wonderfully gluten free. Unlike buckwheat, amaranth and quinoa, they are not technically seeds either… they are official grains. Sorghum is a nutrient-rich and has about as much protein as quinoa! And since its hull is edible, whole-grain sorghum is packed with fiber (and here’s a fun fact … you can pop sorghum like corn!). While teff is less popular (or less heard of) than sorghum, its benefits are no less impressive. This tiniest grain in the world is chock full of nutrients like copper, manganese and iron. Interestingly enough, anemia (iron deficiency) is very rare in Ethiopia where teff is highly consumed. Sprouting or souring these two are optional but may be recommended depending on your own blood sugar’s reaction to them. Even though sorghum has higher protein and fiber levels than some other flours, it has a higher GI index than quinoa and buckwheat but lower than whole wheat. Sprouting and souring may be your best personal choice.
Souring flour is a fermentation process that makes regular flours easier to digest and even improves the nutrition by releasing antioxidants and increasing the folate levels in the bread. Researchers believe sourdough’s fermentation literally alters the structure of carb molecules, causing it to be kinder to your blood sugar. This is why we are big fans of sourdough on the THM plan! You can make your own sourdough bread using a sourdough starter, and either spelt flour, whole wheat flour, some whole rye flour or even white whole wheat flour as that is also a whole grain and not just regular white flour. Sourdough is the only time we permit using small amounts of regular white (non-whole grain) flour on the THM plan, as the fermentation makes it much easier for our bodies to digest. Though, it’s not as optimal as 100% whole grain, it can often improve the texture and rise of a sourdough bread, so a little for Vitamin P* sake is permitted. While not as ideal as a traditional sourdough, you can also sour flours through overnight or 24-hour soaks using either vinegar or cultured dairy as another way to make grain flours easier to digest and easier on your blood sugar.
Bean Flours – GF:
Black bean, white bean, fava, besan, and chickpea flours, just to name a few bean flours, are of course not grain-based flours. However, they can work as such and they’re a great way to get some extra protein and fiber into your baked goods! Chickpea flour (or garbanzo flour) is one of the most popular for baking and can be especially beneficial due to its high folate content. Bean flours are naturally gentler on your blood sugar so there is no need to sour or sprout these flours.