Amy Reeder is a Certified Diabetes Educator with a master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Utah. She has worked in the diabetes field since 2005 and has been a Certified Diabetes Educator since 2007. 

All-purpose flour is a carbohydrate that needs to be accounted for in a diabetic diet. So while diabetics can eat all-pupose flour, reducing the intake of all-purpose flour and/or replacing with whole grains and other flours is a more healthy alternative.

You could say that the all-purpose flour debate applies to people with diabetes as well as people without diabetes. Granted, all-purpose flour is a carbohydrate that needs to be counted and managed by someone with diabetes, especially if blood glucose is treated with insulin. But as far as overall health is concerned, white flour does not offer much nutritionally for people with or without diabetes.

So should you replace all of the white flour foods in your diet with other types of grains? It wouldn't hurt. But healthy eating doesn't have to be "all or nothing."

Flour alternatives

All-purpose flour has been stripped of fiber and other nutrients in the process of manufacturing it. That's why white flour is light and fine and easy to use in recipes for baked goods such as cakes, cookies, pies, crackers, etc. It has its place in certain products. But there are many alternative grains and flours widely available today that can be used as a replacement for or in combination with all-purpose flour. These whole grains and flours can also be found in a wide variety of prepared foods such as crackers, breads, pastas, tortillas, cereals, etc.

By replacing white flour with other whole grain flours you will increase your fiber and nutrient intake. As a result of the increased fiber intake, you may also notice that your blood sugar does not spike so high and so suddenly after eating the food with flour in it. Fiber takes longer to digest and absorb, thereby delaying the emptying of blood glucose into the bloodstream.

You may be asking, "What are some whole grain flours that I can use in place of all-purpose flour?" Here are some ideas:

  • Whole-wheat flour
  • Barley flour
  • Buckwheat flour
  • Oat flour
  • Quinoa flour
  • Rye flour
  • Spelt flour
  • Amaranth flour
  • Corn flour

The options seem endless and most of these are becoming more and more widely available in well-stocked supermarkets. Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce is an excellent resource and cookbook that illustrates delicious use of these alternative flours, alone in recipes, or in conjunction with all-purpose flour.

Cooking and baking with replacement flours

If you are cooking and baking at home with all-purpose flour, consider replacing some of the white flour with some different whole grain flours. Start small to get a feel for the flavor and use of these different flours. If a recipe calls for 2 cups of all-purpose flour, try substituting a different flour for 1/2 to 1 cup of the all-purpose flour. Work your way up to replacing 1 cup plus to all of the all-purpose flour. Or try adding a small amount of flaxseed meal or wheat germ to your recipes with all-purpose flour. Again, start small with one tablespoon and increase the amount each time you make the recipe. You won't notice the 1/4 cup of ground flaxseed meal added to that brownie mix, but it will do your body good.

If you are shopping for products such as bread, cereal, crackers, etc., check the Nutrition Facts label ingredient list and fiber content for alternative whole grain choices. Try to find products that have 3 or more grams of fiber per serving. And look for the names of some of the different whole grains mentioned above in the ingredient list. It may take a little longer to find these foods in the grocery store as these products are not usually at eye-level. Beware of misleading info on the front of food packaging as well. If a product contacts "whole grains" it should also contain fiber. You may find a box of crackers labeled "multi-grain", but that have 0 grams of fiber per serving. Unfortunately in these products, the grains used have been stripped of fiber and nutrients much like all-purpose flour has been stripped of its fiber and nutrients.

If the idea of eating, or using these various grains and flours in your baking and cooking, does not appeal to you, try to limit your servings per week of the foods that contain all-purpose flour. For example, if you eat dessert on a daily basis, try to cut back to two to three times per week, and ultimately once per week. If you eat a sandwich on white bread, try substituting soup or salad every other day. If you eat a white roll with dinner, try replacing with a green veggie or added small protein serving on your plate most nights per week.

Remember, it doesn't have to be all or nothing when it comes to adding or limiting foods in your diet. And it never hurts to try something new.

To learn more on this topic:

5 Easy, Low-Carb Substitutions for Your Favorite Foods
The 15 Benefits of High-Fiber Foods
Secrets to Cutting Carbs From Someone Who Knows How Hard It Can Be