Whole grain versus flour, and the effect on blood sugar
When a grain is in the form of a whole grain, such as a grain of barley, it doesn’t have all that much effect on your blood sugar. It moves through your system as a whole grain high in fiber. This means it doesn’t break down into smaller particles of sugar in your gastrointestinal system.
However, when we take a grain and grind it up finely into a flour, we change the way it effects blood sugar. The carbohydrate content goes up, as does the amount of fiber. Every person with diabetes knows how flours made from grains effect their blood sugar. For people with diabetes, flours from grains will cause an increase in blood sugars.
Kernels of whole wheat have a low glycemic index. They come in at about 30 on the glycemic index. When whole wheat is milled, it is ground into a fine flour. This causes the glycemic index of wheat flour to be much higher at above 70 on the glycemic index scale.
Still with diabetes, whole grains are more optimal for controlling blood sugars. Grains that are refined such as white flours don’t contain everything that’s needed to be considered whole grain. They have the endosperm, which is the inside layer that contains the carbohydrates, some proteins and some vitamins and minerals.
To be a whole grain, the grain must also contain the outside layer of the grain. This layer includes most of the vitamins, is high in fiber, and contains about half of the minerals found in grains. It also needs to contain the germ, which is located on the inside of the grain and holds healthy fats, some vitamins and needed antioxidants.
Therefore, if you are eating grains when you have diabetes, it’s best to stick with the whole grain varieties.
Are there healthier flours out there for diabetes?
The good news is there are healthier flours out there for people with diabetes. It’s possible to make flour from nut and plant sources that are low in carbohydrates. They will be higher in fat and protein.
Some bakeries manage to make all their breads with these low carbohydrate flours using no grain products. It’s possible to get your needed fiber elsewhere. Plant sources such as seeds, and nuts will foot this bill.
Cut your carbohydrates with nut and seed flours
It’s easy to cut your carbohydrates from grains by learning how to make breads with nut and seed flours. You don’t have to skimp on fiber with these flours, either. You can get fiber from seed and nut (plant) sources, too.
What are the best flours for diabetes?
We’ve looked at what are the best breads for diabetes. Now we will look at the Top 20 flours for diabetes. Our flour list goes from what is the lowest in carbohydrates to what is the highest in carbohydrates, so you can make dietary decisions about diabetes.
We have also included the glycemic index, although GI varies from flour to flour, so glycemic index is not in order from lowest to highest. The lowest in carbohydrate, may also be the highest in protein and healthy fats when made from nuts and seeds.
What is Glycemic Index?
The best way to explain glycemic index (GI) is to look at what happens after someone drinks a glucola drink. The drink contains no fiber and a high amount of glucose. It’s liquid, so it absorbs into your blood stream quickly.
Consequently, it also raises your blood sugar quickly. If you’ve ever had to drink a glucola for a laboratory test, you may have noticed how it was so sweet it made you nauseous. That’s in direct relation to how fast the sugar from it entered your blood stream. A “sugar rush,” so to speak.
Conversely, eating a dinner high in fiber, with lots of vegetables and whole grains will keep your blood sugar much steadier, based on how long it takes to break down the food into blood sugar. It takes your digestive system a long time to get a piece of whole-grain bread from the place where it looks like toast to the place where it looks like molecules of blood sugar.
The Glycemic index ranks foods containing carbohydrates from 0 to 100. Depending on how fast it will raise your blood sugar will matter in relation to the Glycemic Index of the foods.
The glucola has a high GI and the whole-grain bread has a lower GI. Fifty-five and lower is a low GI food and the lower the better for your diabetes self-management. Make a plan to bake with low GI flours.
Other nut and seed flours with a low Glycemic Index
There are some other nut and seed flours that aren’t included, but we had to stop somewhere. For example, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and other nut sources provide a good source for flours for diabetes.
In addition, seeds such as flaxseed and sesame seeds, can be ground into flour also. These flours can also be used as a low-carbohydrate alternative for thickening gravies and sauces.
Always add in carbohydrates from any fruit or other carbohydrate sources when you are making bread. Those count too!
Let’s get started. Save your “flour and bread” carbohydrates for something else you’d like to eat. Learn how to cut your carbohydrates by the flour that you choose in our comprehensive guide.
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Austin O’Malley once said, “Knowledge is flour, but wisdom is bread.” Let’s get knowledgeable about flour, so we can have the wisdom to make some healthy breads and sauces. 1
|1. Walnut Flour||2. Almond Flour||3. Ground Flaxseed||4. Soy Flour||5. Spelt Flour|
|Net Carbs *||2||6||0||10||21.6|
|6. Chickpea Flour||7. Oat Flour||8. Coconut Flour||9. Rye Flour||10.Buckwheat Flour|
|Net Carbs *||30.1||30.1||24||32.4||43.1|
|11. Whole Wheat Flour||12. Corn Flour||13. Millet Flour||14. Sorghum Flour||15. White Wheat Flour|
|Glycemic Index *||69||70||71||62-70||85|
|16. Barley Flour||17. Tapioca
|18. Brown Rice
|19. Semolina Flour||20. White Rice Flour|
|Net Carbs *||47.6||54.2||56.8||57.5||62|
Walnut flour is the healthiest pick, with four total carbohydrates and two net carbohydrates, walnuts have a glycemic index of zero. That means they won’t raise your blood sugar. The ingredients on walnut flour are simple: Walnuts, period. Walnut flour is vegan, gluten-free, grain-free, non-GMO, paleo and keto diet friendly.
ADA dieters can use it to cut the amount of carbohydrates from grains in their diet and to allow for other carbohydrate containing foods in the diet based on their recommended amounts. Walnut flour also contains healthy fats, fiber to help slow down the break down of other carbohydrates eaten with a meal and it’s got a great nut-buttery taste. The oils in the walnuts give it added flavor.
Walnut flour can be used for all low-carbohydrate baking needs and it can be swapped out for other grains in your diet. You can make pancakes, breads, muffins, cakes, you name it! Walnut flour is delicious, so give it a try. There are many brands, but we’ve linked you to one of the best-sellers or top choices on Amazon above. The brand listed is fine ground in California, USA.
Why walnut flour is healthy
Walnuts are high in plant protein and fiber, and they have a high Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) content, and Omega-3 that’s need to ensure your heart is healthy. It also has l-arginine, which is an amino acid that helps build heart muscle and promote heart health.
Other great nut flours
Try a few and let us know how you liked the flavor. Don’t try to make these at home. You will make nut butter.
Some other great nut flours so as not to leave them out are (really you can find just about any nut ground into a flour).
- macadamia nuts
Benefits and drawbacks of Nut flours
At $12.99 for 12 ounces it can get expensive. It’s times like these when I long for Germany, where a big bag of walnuts flour is 1.60 Euro. Benefits are great bang for the buck. There’s lots of protein in nut flours, amino acids, omega-3s and vitamins. There’s plant fiber and healthy fat. It helps you control your blood sugar, and keeps you full until the next meal. These are just a few of the benefits of nut flours in general.
On a gluten-free or grain free diet, or a diet low in carbohydrates such as diabetes, Almond flour is a great choice. It’s high in protein like other nut flours.
You can use it to make baked goods, including breads, cakes, cookies, crackers, doughnuts or for breading on fish, poultry or pork. Walnut crusted salmon, anyone?
Try it in place of flour in many recipes and you may be surprised at the flavor. At just 12 total carbohydrate, and six net carbs, it’s got a glycemic index of zero.
That’s because nuts don’t have a glycemic index overall. They are protein, not carbohydrates. The carbohydrates in them are fiber, which cancels out much of the effect on blood sugars.
For sweet desserts, almond flour and natural sweeteners make for a wonderful diabetes-friendly baked good. Remember to add the carbohydrates from any other ingredients that you add to your recipes.
When yeast is used in a recipe, substitute one-fourth to one-third of your flour with almond flour for desired rising. In this case, count the carbohydrates in the other flour used to consider all opportunities for the recipe to raise your blood sugar.
Almond flour is one of the most common nut flours you will see in your local grocery store. When baking, you might need more eggs or baking powder to get the desired amount of rising and consistency of baked goods.
Finely ground almond flour is recommended, due to it will rise more when baked. Don’t get almond meal, because it’s not the same thing as flour. Almond flour has the same benefits and drawbacks of other nut flours. See our example above.
Fiber and fatty acids combine in ground flaxseed with ALA and other proteins. Flaxseed promotes healthy cholesterol levels, and its fiber will help to keep your digestive tract running smoothly. The ALA and other proteins promote heart health by increasing the muscle energy of the heart. Smooth hair, clear skin and healthy nails are some other side benefits of flaxseed.
When they cut flaxseed for ground flaxseed, they don’t grind it. In this way they preserve the valuable nutrients of flaxseed. There are no carbohydrates in flaxseed, therefore it doesn’t have a Glycemic Index and it won’t raise your blood sugar. All the carbohydrates in ground flaxseed are sort of canceled out by the same amount of fiber in it.
Flaxseed can be used in the making of baked goods. You may need to use other flours, and use a small amount of ground flaxseed. Other seeds can be made into flour, such as sunflower seeds.
Another plant protein, soy is ground into flour and contains fiber and vitamins. Every amino acid that you will need is found in soy flour to ensure your muscles function properly. Generally, use about a third of the amount of the soy flour in your favorite bread and baking recipes as a substitute.
You can also use this flour to thicken broths and other sauces.
Soy flour is somewhat similar to coconut flour in that recipes may have to be adapted as it is quite dry, and easily absorbs ingredients.
It is also full of protein and provides a good source of dietary fiber. Set backs with this product are that it may contain Genetically Modified Organisms. Look for a product with a “No GMO” label if you are concerned about GMOs.
As far as GI goes, this is where the Glycemic Index of these flours starts to go up. The GI of soy flour is around 25, so it’s low on the glycemic scale but still does raise blood sugars somewhat. A half cup has 16 carbohydrates and 10 net carbohydrates. It’s still a very healthy option for diabetes.
If you like whole-grain bread, then you will likely want to try spelt flour when baking your breads. It’s loaded with protein and fiber and it’s got a sweet, nut-like taste to it. It’s less dense than regular whole wheat flour, so it bakes up a lighter bread.
You can use it in recipes with natural sweeteners, fruit and other ingredients. There is some gluten in it, but not near as much as in whole wheat flour.
You can substitute half of the spelt flour for half of the flour called for in your recipe. This will help to keep the texture of bread when baking spelt bread. For total carbohydrates, it comes in at almost 27, with a net carbohydrate count of just under 22. The GI is getting up into the midrange, so this bread will start to raise blood sugars more at 55-67 than the previous four choices on our list.
6.Chickpea (Garbanzo bean) Flour
Bean flours are gaining in popularity and one of note is chickpea or garbanzo bean flour. These beans have a silky texture and a rich taste. Since they’re beans they’re high in protein. If you imagine the texture of mashed chickpeas, you can see why you might be able to thicken soup stocks and gravies with them.
They don’t contain any gluten at all, but contain good fiber from plant sources. Chickpea flour is handy to make crust for pizzas, breads and even desserts if you are using other flavors that overpower chickpeas, such as chocolate. They mix well with pumpkin or bananas for fruity breads.
You probably don’t want to replace more than about one-fourth of the flour in your recipes with chickpea flour. Total carbohydrates come in at about 34, with net carbohydrates around 30. Chickpea flour, made from beans, will raise blood sugar from the carbohydrates. It’s good carbohydrates though, and it comes in at around a 44 GI.
What about other bean flours?
Fava beans have been made into flours. Other beans may also be made into flours, providing a low glycemic flour for diabetes.
Oats are already a dry ingredient. You can make your own oat flour at home, or we have linked to one of Amazon’s top choices for oat flour above.
Make your own oat flour
If you have a food processor, you can make your own oat flour by grinding it with the pulsing feature. It takes about a minute to grind the oats into a fine powder. Make sure they are all ground up, by stirring them a bit. It’s a one-to-one ratio, so one cup of oats will give you about a cup of oat flour.
Oats are naturally gluten-free. They are also a product you might not often think of as being whole grain. They are loaded with protein, and you can make cookies, breads, pancakes and waffles with them.
Oats are a grain, so you’ll get about 34 total carbohydrates per half cup serving. With about 30 net carbohydrates and a low GI of 44, oats are a good, healthy choice for diabetes. Oat flour is also a nice option. Imagine oatmeal cookies made with oatmeal flour and natural sweeteners! It sounds delicious.
Coconut flour has been pushed for diabetes now for a while. As you can see, it comes in last on our list here for overall amount of carbohydrates. It’s high in fat and has been known to raise LDL cholesterol, at least in coconut oil form.
It’s gluten-free, kosher, and it’s got a lighter texture than some flours. It’s easier to digest than flours from grain sources. You can substitute from about one-fourth up to all your other baking flours with coconut flour. When baking with it, per half cup add two to three fresh eggs and one-fourth cup of a liquid to increase moistness.
Coconut flour has some researched benefits for diabetes, and comes in at 38 total carbohydrates and 24 net carbohydrates. It’s got a low GI at 51.
Using ground flaxseed or chia seeds in small amounts can help to hold baked good together. It’s going to absorb a lot of liquid, so use about a third less of coconut flour than you would of other flours in your recipes. Therefore, it takes more eggs and liquid to keep from crumbling apart.
Rye flour is a little more stringent, and a taste to get used to. It grows on you as you get older. Rye flour is the whole bran and germ of the grain. This means it’s a whole grain product.
You can make deli style and artisan breads with rye flour. Some examples of breads you can make include pumpernickel, Jewish or Russian style rye bread and a mix of light and dark rye bread. The rye grain is stone ground, which helps make sure that all the nutrition of the grain remains after milling.
The sourdough method of making breads works great with rye flour. At about 34 total carbohydrates and about 32 net carbohydrates, the GI of rye flour ranges from the mid-50s to the high 70s, based on baking techniques. Using the sourdough method will reduce the GI of the flour.
It sounds like a grain, but buckwheat is really the seed from a fruit. If you’ve ever heard of rhubarb, it’s in that family. In this way, it’s in the category of seed flours, so it’s healthy with a lower glycemic index.
Buckwheat also provides all the protein with complete amino acids that you need. It’s loaded with fiber to boot. It cooks up fluffier and tastier than most flours. You can use it to replace higher carbohydrate containing flours in your baking. Some folks claim they don’t need to use eggs with buckwheat due to its fluffy consistency.
Still, it comes out in the medium range for GI at 71, with about 47 total carbohydrates and 43 net carbohydrates.
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11.Whole Wheat flour
Switching out white refined flours for whole wheat flours will give you more fiber and more whole grains in your diet, you may not like the heavy taste of full-on whole-wheat bread. It may be a bit too much in your pastries and cookies that are diabetes friendly.
Still, whole wheat flour comes in about midway on our list of flours based on carbohydrate content, so it’s got a little less than 45 carbohydrates per half cup, and comes in mid-range for GI at 69, You may find that you want to sneak whole wheat flour into your recipes, by adding a little at a time and working up to where you have mostly whole-wheat bread.
Corn flour shouldn’t be confused with corn meal. It’s not the same thing. Corn meal is coarser while corn flour is ground finely.
Corn flour is intact germ with bran and the endosperm. This means the nutrients remain. Corn flour is also loaded in fiber.
With 44 total carbohydrates, 36 net carbohydrates and 70 as a midrange GI, corn flour is better than refined white flours and about half the choices further down on our list.
Millet flour is gluten-free, kosher and vegan. It’s also a whole grain product. Use millet flour in baking by adding about one quarter millet flour to your recipes in place of other white refined flours. Millet is naturally sweet tasting, so you can use it in many baked goods, including cookies, cakes, pie crusts and breads.
The GI is middle-of-the-road at 71, and per half cup, millet flour contains about 45 total carbohydrates, and about 42.5 net carbohydrates. So, it’s a middle choice and a whole grain. If I’m starting to lose the ketogenic dieters here, that’s OK. Look at your first few choices for your lowest carbohydrate options. 2
Again, sorghum flour is a gluten-free product. It is a grain product though. You can use it by itself, or mix it with other flours for your baking needs. Use it for doughs, cakes, breads, cookies and pastries.
It’s a great source for protein and fiber. It contains no nuts, dairy, soy or corn, and it’s a kosher product as well. With a total carbohydrate content of 46 grams and net carbohydrates at 42, GI depends on baking technique and can be between 62-70. Use the sourdough method to lower GI.
All-purpose flour is whole grain, even though you wouldn’t think so. It’s not bleached out either. It’s got plenty of fiber, as well as vitamins, minerals and proteins packed into it.
If you don’t like regular brown whole wheat, then try this. It’s lighter in color and has a lighter flavor, too. It’s still a kosher food. You can substitute it for white refined flours, and it’s much healthier with the fiber to hold blood sugars steady.
At 48 total carbohydrates and 46 net carbohydrates, the GI index is getting higher now. We’re up to 85. At this rate, it can surely affect your blood sugars. Where’s your glucometer? The only way to know how it will affect you is to check, check, check.
Stone grinding makes barley flour a whole grain product. You can bake with it and make pancakes, rolls and breads, muffins, and all your favorite bakery items. The GI index is not too shabby at 53-66 in the low to mid range. At 55 carbohydrates and 48 net carbohydrates, expect it to affect your blood sugar.
For greater moisture in the texture of your baked goods, try using half barley flour with your other flours in your recipes.
17.Arrowroot Tapioca Flour
As a flour, arrowroot is best used to thicken sauces and gravies. You can use it much like you use cornstarch or regular flour to thicken things without the gluten in it.
For baking, it’s used for adding fluffiness and increasing texture of dough that you don’t get in most gluten-free products. You’ll get your B vitamins, too.
Use it to replace your wheat and corn flours in baking. Arrowroot (sometimes called tapioca) makes for silky smooth baked goods. It’s in the lower midrange for GI at 67. At 56 total carbohydrates and 54 net carbohydrates, better get out your glucometer, as arrowroot flour will affect your blood sugar.
18.Brown Rice flour
Brown rice flour should be stone ground in order to preserve the natural whole grain of the rice. It’s got carbohydrates, though. You knew rice would have carbohydrates, and even with brown rice in flour form, it carb city. Total carbohydrates in this flour are up to about 60.5, with net carbohydrates a little lower at 57. The GI index isn’t bad at the lower midlevel at 62. It’s going to raise some blood sugars, though.
For a yellow color to your baked goods, use semolina flour in pizza crusts, to make homemade pastas or to replace the regular flour in any of your other recipes. It’s sweet and nutty tasting, and you can even boil it for a grit-like hot cereal. Sweeten it further with natural sweeteners or fruit.
Lower midlevel glycemic index, but high in carbohydrates, semolina flour has 61 grams of carbohydrates and about 57 grams of net carbohydrates.
20.White rice flour
A little further down the list than it’s cousin brown rice flour, white rice flour is a bit higher in carbohydrates and has a higher glycemic index than does brown rice flour. It’s still on the gluten-free list, and you can use it for baking. There’s no soy, dairy, corn, or nuts in it and it’s kosher to boot.
It’s got a medium GI at 72, and it’s going to raise blood sugars at 63 and 62 total and net carbohydrates. 3
Using the sourdough method can reduce the GI of any flour
When you bake using a sourdough method, you can lower the Glycemic Index of flours. Sometimes, baking sourdough bread lowers the GI as much as 20 points on the scale. This reduces the amount your blood sugar will be raised when you eat baked goods made with the flour.
The reason that sourdough is so healthy is because the yeast produces bacteria that help your gut. The gut bacteria then have a better response to rises in blood sugar.
Are there other flour substitutes that are healthy for diabetes?
Some people use a lettuce leaf instead of a bun to cut down on carbohydrates. If that’s not what you’re into, grilled eggplant can give a similar texture to bread. Spaghetti squash can help curb your pasta cravings and fill you up with fiber. There are many ways to think outside the bun these days.
To sum up flour for diabetes
Flours from grains have the highest glycemic index, and thereby raise blood sugars the most. Once you get past garbanzo bean or chickpea bread, it’s higher GI grain breads that raise blood sugars more if you have diabetes.
To get your blood sugars in range with diabetes, try the low glycemic and low carbohydrate options listed above.
Over to you
Let us know what you think of them. If they taste terrible, let our readers know here. Have any baking techniques that you would like to share? We’re glad to hear them.
Many hours of research went into learning all that could be learned about flour, so it could be relayed to you here in a way that you could use. That said, we didn’t test glycemic index of foods in a laboratory. The numbers for Glycemic Index came from other sources.
The best way to know how a flour affects your blood sugar is to check your blood sugars often. Check before you eat a new flour you are trying. Check again at one or two hours after eating the flour. Are you in your target range?
If you feel that any of our information needs to be added to or corrected here, please let us know in the comment section below. We love to hear your heart felt and thoughtful comments. Also remember to share this article with your friends who might find it useful!
TheDiabetesCouncil Article | Reviewed by Dr. Sergii Vasyliuk MD on May 19, 2020