These are some of my favourite ingredients to use when cooking and baking without flour or refined sugar.
Almond Flour is probably my favourite flour substitute- it is simply ground up blanched almonds so it tastes sweet and nutty, with a rich taste. It gives baked goods a delicate, crumbly texture that is similar to white flour (but better). It is a bit pricey though. I have tried making my own almond flour in my Vitamix blender, but I can’t get it quite as fine as the store-bought kind. For some recipes that is fine. I like to use homemade almond flour in my rhubarb bread, for example, as it gives them a subtle little crunch. But for some recipes, the finely ground store-bought kind is better.
Coconut Flour is another delicious flour substitute. It is finely ground, dried and defatted coconut. It is very high in fiber and I find coconut flour recipes to be very filling and satisfying (probably for this reason). It does have a bit of a sweet, coconutty flavour, which I find delicious, but perhaps not in every recipe. Coconut flour is a tricky one though. It is nothing like white flour and can’t be substituted in recipes. It is very absorbent and sucks up all the moisture in your batter, so you have to use a small amount and increase the amount of wet ingredients to compensate. Some recipes made with coconut flour have a weird, moist texture that isn’t great. There are 3 ways that I have found to combat this, which I outline in the post for my (delicious) Coconut Carrot Muffins.
Arrowroot Flour or Arrowroot Powder (made famous by the popular Arrowroot cookies that every toddler loves) is a thickener, similar to cornstarch, and can be used in small amounts to thicken sauces. It can also be used in larger amounts as a flour, although it is high in carbohydrates and low in nutrients, so it isn’t a great choice for every day use. It does make a mean cinnamon bun, though.
Gelatin is a protein made of a combination of amino acids that help the body build connective tissue and repair and maintain weakened cartilage. Our body produces connective tissue naturally, but after age 25 our bodies start to lose this ability and we have trouble repairing connective tissue, bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, skin tissue, hair and nails. Adding 2 tbsp per day of gelatin (or collagen) to your diet helps your body repair itself like a 25 year old again. I am talking about the good stuff though, not the pork gelatin they use in Jello! I buy this brand, which uses cows from the Andes mountains that are traditionally raised and forage on the grasslands. Their gelatin has no traces of pesticides, herbicides, steroids, antibiotics or hormones. You can also get the same benefits from hydrolyzed collagen, which is odourless and tasteless and dissolves in water (it doesn’t gel like gelatin does), so you can add that kind to any drink or food and just mix it in. For a delicious way to eat your gelatin, try my Spicy Cinnamon Gummy Hearts!
Erythritol is my favourite sweetener and the one I use most of the time. Swerve is my favourite brand. It has no effect on glucose or insulin levels and doesn’t cause any digestive distress, like some sugar alcohols can. (Have you ever gotten sugar-free chocolates at the drug store, sweetened with maltitol?? The worst stomach ache and digestive distress I have ever had was the time I accidentally ate an entire box of sugar-free chocolates from the drug store and spent the night sleeping on the bathroom floor in the fetal position. Maltitol is the worst.) I find the granular type of erythritol stays grainy even when baked, so I buy the powdered kind. If you buy the granular kind, you will need to run it through the blender or a coffee grinder before you use it so your muffins don’t taste grainy.
Xylitol is another good choice for a sweetener that has a negligible affect on your blood sugar and insulin levels, although there is good xylitol and bad xylitol. The good xylitol is made from birch trees and is processed in North America. Xyla is my favourite brand. The bad xylitol is made from genetically-modified corn from China and can/will cause digestive distress. (I have experienced this and it wasn’t nearly as bad as the maltitol, but still annoying.) If you like gum, breath mints or hard candy, Pur brand makes delicious flavours sweetened with xylitol and I have never experienced any problems with them (the tangerine flavour is my favourite). Xyla also makes mints and hard candy (the raspberry ones are delicious). I also have my own recipe for xylitol hard candy here (coming soon!).
Stevia is super healthy, as we all know by now. It has no effect on blood sugar and it actually improves blood glucose control and hormonal response to insulin. It does have a bittersweet flavour though, and unfortunately I don’t love it. I do have a few bottles in my cupboard though, and I use it for dishes that have a strong flavour and just need a little boost in sweetness. When I make a green smoothie for Gordie, if it needs a little sweetness I add a few drops of Stevia and he seems to like it.
Coconut Sugar is made from coconut palm sap that is cooked, cooled, dried and ground into a granulated powder. It has a moderate glycemic index of about 30, so it will raise your blood sugar, although less than white or brown sugar. It has nutrients like iron, B vitamins, potassium, zinc and magnesium. It is delicious and tastes like brown sugar, with a hint of caramel. You can substitute coconut sugar for unpacked brown sugar in your favourite family recipes. It’s still sugar though, so I only use it occasionally.
Raw Honey contains antioxidants, enzymes and nutrients that are said to boost the immune system, although these all get destroyed when the honey is heated, so it isn’t a great choice for baking or adding to hot drinks. But it makes a great drizzle on sweet potato toast or rhubarb bread!
Medjool Dates, although 80% sugar, register low on the GI (about 46) because of their high fiber content. The fiber in Medjool dates slows the rate at which the carbs are digested, so you avoid spikes in blood sugar levels. I can have 1 or 2 without much of a blood sugar spike. They’re also a significant source of vitamins B, K and A as well as minerals including manganese, calcium, iron, zinc, potassium and copper. Medjool Dates are a great choice for recipes that need binding, like bars or truffles or other no-baked desserts. They also enhance the flavour of the recipe as they have a caramel flavour to them that is delicious. If your dates have dried out a bit, soften them in warm water for about 30 minutes before you use them in your recipe.