The gluten free diet has surged in popularity due to the health benefits of removing cereal grain protein from dietary intake. While eating gluten free is a requirement for individuals that have celiac disease, which is a condition in which the small intestine is hypersensitive to gluten, many otherwise healthy individuals are following gluten free eating practices in order to promote digestive health and eliminate processed foods.
Gluten is commonly found in grain foods such as barley, wheat, and rye, which account for much of the cereal foods that are commonly available. Oats, however, are a cereal crop that possess a protein called avenin in place of gluten, and are thus safe for celiac individuals or those with a gluten allergy.
According to clinical evidence, oats are a highly nutritious alternative to cereal crops that contain gluten, and offer a wide range of anti inflammatory and antioxidative health benefits.
Oats aren’t the perfect solution for those that are gluten intolerant, as roughly 1% of celiac individuals still experience an immune system reaction to oat proteins. 100% pure oats, however, are endorsed by research institutions such as the Canadian Celiac Association as safe for use by individuals with celiac disease, provided the manufacture methods guarantee a high purity rate.
The nutritional compatibility of oats is welcome news to those following a gluten free diet, as most of the flours used in many cereal-derived foodstuffs make them incompatible with the diet. Oat flour is a healthy, gluten free alternative to barley, wheat and rye flours, and has been proven to offer a wide range of benefits and nutritional advantages.
In this article, we’ll break down the health benefits of oat flour, present information on its nutritional profile, compare it to other gluten-free flours, as well as provide a number of tasty recipes you can use to integrate oat flour into your diet.
What is Oat Flour?
Oat flour is a fine, powdery flour that is made from ground up oats. Oats have been a staple cereal used in both regular dietary consumption and livestock feed for thousands of years, and are commonly consumed in the form of rolled oats or oatmeal. Oat flour possesses all of the nutritional benefits of oats, which includes high antioxidant content, healthy dietary fiber, and a range of vitamins and minerals.
Oat flour is made simply by grinding up rolled oats into a fine powder. The resulting flour can be used in almost any recipe that requires flour in place of gluten cereal powder, adding a nourishing nutritive boost or enhancing texture and flavor. Let’s take a look at some of the ways incorporating oat flour into your diet can improve your health:
5 Ways Oat Flour Can Improve Your Health
The nutritive composition of oat flour has been clinically proven to offer a wide range of health benefits. Aside from the rich vitamin and mineral content of oat flour, it also contains a variety of phenolic compounds, phytochemicals, lipids and antioxidants that have been demonstrated to improve health, as well as a high protein and fiber content.
1. Oat Flour Reduces the Risk of Developing Heart Disease
One of the most compelling reasons to replace other cereal flours in your diet with oat flour is the significant impact it has on cardiovascular health and heart disease. Oats actually possess several properties that offer a cardioprotective effect that minimizes the risk of developing heart disease.
Firstly, oat flour possesses a high antioxidant count, with one particular antioxidant delivering powerful health-enhancing effects. Called avenanthramides, or AVAs, these unique antioxidants are 10-30 times more powerful than other more common forms of antioxidants and have been proven to promote heart health, as well as protecting the body from heart disease, colorectal cancer and inflammation.
Secondly, oats a rich source of dietary fiber, which are an essential part of the diet. Diets rich in healthy fiber have been conclusively proven to significantly reduce the risk of developing heart disease through a multifaceted mechanism that simultaneously lowers cholesterol and inflammation while improving insulin resistance, which is a key factor in the development of cardiovascular disease.
While there has been only one controlled clinical trial on the effect of dietary fiber on heart disease, as the risk factors that cause the condition vary greatly and develop over a long period of time, it’s difficult to set up a controlled experiment to demonstrate the connection. The statistical link between dietary fiber and heart disease is strong, however.
A meta-study published in 2002 by the University of Sydney in Australia provides insight into the link with data gathered via several cohort studies that assessed the population of USA, Finland and Norway over five years, conclusively proving the positive effect of dietary fiber on heart disease. Oats typically contain 17 grams of dietary fiber per cup, compared to the average 4 grams in a cup of processed wheat, offering a significant nutritive advantage.
Oat flour and heart disease fast facts:
- The high fiber content of oat flour protects the body from heart disease
- Oat flour contains powerful antioxidants called avenanthramides that improve heart health
2. Oat Flour Helps Manage Diabetes
The benefits of the dietary fiber content of oat flour aren’t limited to the minimization of heart disease, however. Roughly 5% of the total fiber content of oat flour consists of a specific type of fiber called beta glucans, which have shown a great deal of promise in the treatment of diabetes.
Diabetes is a health condition in which the body is unable to regulate blood sugar level due to a variety of factors, which include a resistance to the effects of insulin, the hormone the body uses to control blood sugar levels. The beta glucans in oats have been clinically proven to possess two properties that can significantly improve the health of individuals that have been diagnosed with diabetes.
Firstly, beta glucans have been conclusively proven in a 1994 clinical trial published in the Diabetic Medicine Journal to lower both blood sugar levels and insulin levels, specifically referencing the effectiveness of oat bran in managing type 2 diabetes. This mechanism is supported by evidence gathered in a 2012 meta-study published by the University of Toronto, which references at least nine separate clinical trials that support the use of beta glucans to manage blood sugar levels.
Secondly, beta glucan is able to minimize insulin resistance and improve insulin sensitivity. The primary cause of significant health disorders in individuals that suffer from type 2 diabetes occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin, which causes the extremely high sugar content of the blood to damage the organs, circulatory system and nervous system.
A 2013 clinical study that tested the effect of beta glucan on mice fed on a high fat and high fructose diet determined that oat beta glucan delivers significant improvement in insulin sensitivity as well as a healthier blood sugar level, an effect that was observed in the human body in a 2006 clinical trial performed by the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center.
Oat flour and diabetes fast facts:
- Oat flour contains beta glucan, which increases insulin sensitivity
- The high beta glucan content of oat flour is able to balance blood sugar levels
3. Oat Flour Reduces Bad Cholesterol Levels
High cholesterol levels are linked to both heart disease and type 2 diabetes, but are also a major contributing factor to obesity and unhealthy weight gain. Cholesterol can be found throughout the human body, but there are two types of cholesterol that have an impact on overall health. The first type, HDL cholesterol, is often called “good cholesterol”, as it carries the second type, called LDL, or “bad cholesterol” back to the liver to be removed from the body.
High LDL cholesterol levels are linked to a wide variety of metabolic and cardiovascular disorders as it builds up in the arteries of the heart. The beta glucan fiber in oats has been proven in multiple clinical trials to have a positive effect on blood serum levels of LDL cholesterol, assisting in cleaning the blood vessels of buildup and reducing the risk of heart attack and obesity.
A 2011 clinical trial that investigated the effect of beta glucan on cholesterol levels found that just three grams of this unique dietary fiber daily can reduce LDL cholesterol levels by between 5% and 10%, linking oats specifically with a 7% total reduction in LDL cholesterol in the body. This observation is supported by another trial performed in 2006, which demonstrated a significant reduction in LDL levels over a 6 week period in which participants supplemented their diets with 6 grams of beta glucan daily.
The distribution of beta glucan dietary fiber in oat flour is roughly 8% of the total dry weight, which means supplementing the diet with enough beta glucan only requires users to consume about 50 grams of oat flour daily to receive significant health benefits.
Oat flour and cholesterol fast facts
- The beta glucan fiber in oat flour dramatically reduces cholesterol
- Oat flour fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol from food
4. Oat Flour is Low GI and Reduces Appetite
Oat flour also possesses a number of properties that make it an effective tool for weight management, as well as a slow-burning superfood that can provide long-lasting energy throughout the day. One of the primary causes of excessive weight gain is excessive caloric consumption, which is, in turn, caused by excessive dietary consumption.
Oats have been demonstrated to have a profound effect on the satiety mechanism in the body, or the process that creates the sensation of “fullness” after a meal. A clinical trial performed by the Louisiana State University in 2013 measured the effect of oat fiber on the satiety perception and desire to eat in 48 participants, which resulted in all participants given oat fiber experiencing a significant reduction in appetite and an increased sensation of satiety, which is attributed to beta glucan fiber.
The glycemic index or GI of a food indicates the effect of the food on blood sugar levels. A GI of 100 is equivalent to consuming pure sugar, which is wholly converted into blood sugar. A low glycemic index food is metabolized at a slower rate, meaning energy is provided to the body in a steady stream without spiking blood sugar levels. Oats have an average GI of just 55, providing slow-burning energy that delivers healthy energy all day long.
5. Oat Flour Can Lower Blood Pressure
High blood pressure can cause a variety of negative symptoms including migraines, shortness of breath, anxiety, and even serious health disorders like cardiovascular disease and dementia. The beta glucan dietary fiber that is unique to oat flour has been demonstrated in at least three separate clinical trials to deliver a statistically significant reduction in blood pressure, and even partly replace high blood pressure medication.
A six week clinical trial on the effects of oat fiber on high blood pressure performed in 2002 found that supplementation of beta glucan delivers a significant reduction in both systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure, an observation that supports evidence gathered in an earlier 1990 investigation conducted by the Georgetown University Medical Center.
The most compelling evidence for the use of oat beta glucan fiber as a treatment for high blood pressure can be found in a 2002 clinical trial performed by the University of Minnesota Medical School. The trial, which assessed the feasibility of oat fiber in reducing the need for antihypertensive medication for high blood pressure, found that just 4 weeks of beta glucan supplementation can reduce the need for medication dramatically, halving the required dosage.
Oat Flour Nutritional Profile
Oats contain a significantly higher number of nutrients when compared to other cereal grains. Let’s take a look at the nutritional value of 100 grams of oat flour:
100 grams of oat flour contains:
- Roughly 18% of the total daily caloric intake, at 404 calories, of which is 60% carbohydrates
- 15 grams of protein, which accounts for 25% of the daily recommended intake
- 9 grams of healthy fats, which includes health-boosting omega fatty acids
- Up to 8 grams of beta glucan fiber
Aside from these nutritional elements, oats also contain high levels of vitamin B6, E, and K, as well as copper, zinc and potassium. Other essential elements found in oat flour include folate, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, manganese, and thiamine.
Oat Flour Compared to Other Flours
Oat flour is the only grain flour replacement that can be used as an alternative by individuals that are allergic to gluten or gluten intolerant, but there are a few other types of flour that offer a number of advantages over traditional flours. Oat flour is a great dietary supplement, but unfortunately can’t be used in baking recipes that require gluten to rise.
Let’s take a look at some healthy flour alternatives that, while still containing gluten, offer a number of health advantages and see how they measure up to oat flour:
Also known as dinkel wheat flour, spelt flour is made from spelt wheat, a hybridized subspecies of common wheat that was widely used from roughly 500 BC until the early 20th century, when it was replaced with bread wheat. The last decade has seen a resurgence in the use of this species of wheat in organic farming movements, as it requires less fertilizer than bread wheat, and organic dietary movements, as it offers a number of nutritional advantages.
Spelt flour can be substituted in equal amounts for whole wheat, and contains a different set of proteins that are more easily digested by some people. 100 grams of spelt flour contains more than 20% of the recommended daily intake of protein, and is rich in manganese, phosphorus, and niacin.
Spelt flour is a highly nutritional alternative to bread wheat, but still contains gluten and is nutritionally inferior to oat flour, although it has the advantage of being able to rise in baking applications.
Coconut flour is another great alternative flour for gluten intolerant individuals, as it contains no gluten. Made from the dried and pulverized pulp of the coconut, coconut flour is high in fiber, containing almost twice the amount found in bread wheat flour. While this high fiber content is great for the daily intake, delivering 20% of the RDI, it can make cooking somewhat difficult, as it absorbs so much moisture.
One cup of coconut flour contains 480 calories, 16 grams of fat, 16 grams of protein, 40 grams of fiber and 8 grams of sugar, which is about 40% of the daily sugar intake. As a replacement for gluten grains, oat flour is generally superior to coconut flour as it contains far less sugar and is less absorbent, as well as offering a better nutritional profile.
Another factor that may lead you to consider oat flour over coconut flour is that the fiber in coconut, inulin fiber, is a FODMAP carbohydrate that passes through the digestive system in large amounts and ferments in the colon, causing bloating, swelling, and gas in some individuals. The effect of FODMAP carbs vary from person to person, however, and some individuals experience no digestive discomfort.
Like coconut flour, almond flour is another gluten free flour that can be used as an alternative by gluten intolerant individuals. Also known as almond meal, almond flour is made by grinding up dried sweet almonds. The extremely sweet flavor of this flour makes it great for using in baked goods and desserts, and also contains a low level of carbohydrates.
One cup of almond flour contains 640 calories, making it the most calorie-dense flour on this list, which is mainly due to its high sugar content at 18 grams per cup, which is half the recommended daily intake. Despite the high sugar content of almond flour, it has the advantage of containing high levels of omega 6 fatty acids, which promote heart health and minimize inflammation.
Similarly to coconut flour, almond flour contains FODMAP carbohydrates, which can cause digestive issues in some people. Compared to oat flour, the sugar content and absorbent nature of almond flour make it somewhat less attractive, unless used as a sweetening flour to gluten-free non-rising baking recipes.
Where to Find Oat Flour & How to Use it
Oat flour is not generally carried in the average grocery store as it is still somewhat of a niche product, but can be found in many organic food stores and health stores. Currently, the best method of purchasing oat flour is online, with a variety of online health food retailers carrying several major brands.
Individuals that are gluten intolerant should seriously consider making their own oat flour from 100% pure oats to ensure there is no gluten contamination in the manufacturing process, or purchasing oat flour only from certified, tested suppliers.
The mild, nutty texture of oat flour and fine texture makes it great for use in any baking recipe that doesn’t require the flour to rise, such as cookies and quick breads. Oatmeal is already a popular additive in many cookie recipes, as it delivers a thick, chewy consistency when baked, and oat flour delivers a similar effect. As an added bonus, baked goods created with oat flour tend to be a little more moist due to the high moisture content of the flour.
There are some yeast products available on the market that are certified as completely gluten free, so by adding these products to oat flour, it’s possible to create light and fluffy baked goods. If you’ve decided to make a recipe that requires yeast with oat flour, you’ll need to add a little more yeast than you would with normal flour. If using baking powder in a recipe, you’ll also need to add a little more- 2 ½ teaspoons per cup of oat flour should suffice.
Oat Flour Recipes
There are thousands of recipes in which you can substitute oat flour for gluten flour, creating delicious and nutritious meals and baked goods that all deliver high amounts of beta glucan fiber and critical nutrients, completely free from gluten. It’s even possible to make your own oat flour at home using commonly-available oat brands if you can’t find oat flour in your local retail stores.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular oat flour recipes:
Make Your Own Oat Flour
Making your own oat flour is easy and simple. The only ingredient required to make oat flour is oats, which can come in any form- steel cut oats, rolled oats, quick cook oats and old fashioned oats are all suitable, although gluten intolerant individuals should pay special attention to the source of their oats to ensure they are 100% gluten free.
What you’ll need:
- Oats- 1.25 cups of rolled oats creates 1 cup of oat flour, so keep this in mind when measuring
- A food processor
- An airtight storage container
- Begin by measuring out the amount of oat flour you want to make.
- Place the oats in a food processor and blend until the oats reach a fine, powdery consistency. Dry oats only take about 30 seconds to reach this point. If you don’t have a food processor, a coffee grinder will do in a pinch, although you may want to clean it out first. If you’d like to do things the old school way, you can use a mortar and pestle, although this takes quite a long time.
- Check the oat flour to make sure it has reached a fine consistency. If satisfied with the texture, store the oat flour in an airtight container for later use
Store your oat flour in the refrigerator, as it has a small amount of fat content that can cause it to spoil if left in warm, humid locations. It’s also possible to freeze oat flour for long-term use.
Bonus tip: Consider adding a small amount of diatomaceous earth to your oat flour to keep it safe from pests, prevent mold and fungus, and add nutritional value. Diatomaceous earth is a naturally occurring mineral and has a wide variety of positive health benefits. To find out more, check out our Diatomaceous Earth Knowledge Base.
Oat Flour Pancakes
Oat flour pancakes are one of the easiest and simplest oat flour recipes to make, as well as offering a delicious and nutritious breakfast energy boost.
What you’ll need:
- Oat flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 egg, whisked
- 1 cup milk (or almond milk for lactose intolerant individuals)
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Small mixing bowl
- Large mixing bowl
- Skillet or non-stick pan
- Mix oat flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly.
- Mix egg, milk, and vanilla extract in small bowl then combine with dry ingredients.
- Mix dry ingredients with wet ingredients thoroughly and allow to rest for 5 minutes to create pancake batter.
- Heat skillet. Once hot, add ¼ cup batter for each pancake. Cook until bubbles form on the surface of the pancake, then flip over and cook until both sides are golden brown.
Bonus tip: Raw cacao powder has a number of powerful health benefits due to their high content of cocoa flavonoids. Add raw cacao powder to this recipe, along with stevia sweetener to make delicious, sugar free chocolate pancakes that deliver a huge antioxidant boost. For more info, see our article on the Health Benefits of Cocoa Flavanols.
Almond & Oat Flour Cookies
Oat flour, when used to make cookies, delivers amazing results. The moist properties of oat flour make it the perfect flour to use when making non-rising baked goods. Combine the nutty flavor of oat flour with almond in this recipe to create long-lasting, healthy, and delicious oat cookies.
What you’ll need:
- 1 cup oat flour
- 1 cup roasted almonds
- ½ cup maple syrup
- Food processor
- Large mixing bowl
- Baking sheet
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. While your oven heats up, blend the almonds in the food processor on a low setting until they reach a chunky consistency.
- Mix the oat flour, roasted almonds, and maple syrup in the mixing bowl. Separate the mixture into six clumps, then form these clumps into balls. Flatten the cookie dough balls into cookies roughly ¼ inch thick.
- Oil the baking sheet and place the cookies on it, then place them in the oven for 15 minutes. Cook until golden brown, paying attention not to burn them.
- Remove the cookies from the oven and allow to cool.
Oat Flour Health & Safety
There are no special considerations to take into account when using oat flour, unless you suffer from celiac disease or are allergic to gluten. If you possess a gluten intolerance or have celiac disease, keep in mind that while 99% of the gluten intolerant and celiac population experience no immune system response to the avenis protein in oats, it still has the potential to cause a reaction in a very small subset of individuals.
If you’re making your own oat flour at home, be sure to use only 100% certified gluten free oats. When purchasing oat flour online or in a retail store, always check to make sure that the produce is 100% gluten free and manufactured to strict quality and purity standards to avoid gluten contamination.
As a final note on safety, you may experience some bloating or gas when consuming oat flour if you don’t normally consume oats, as your body will need to adjust to the increased fiber content of your diet.
The Bottom Line Regarding Oat Flour
If you are celiac or gluten intolerant, oat flour is a highly nutritious, tasty, and effective replacement for wheat flour and other gluten flours. If you don’t possess celiac disease or gluten intolerance, switching to oat flour is still a great way to improve your overall health due to the high beta glucan fiber content of oats.
Oat Flour Fast Facts
- Oat flour is able to reduce your risk of heart disease, manage diabetes, lower cholesterol, and minimize appetite
- Oat flour is extremely high in protein and essential vitamins and minerals
- Oat flour has a low GI and can lower blood pressure
- Oat flour can be used as a replacement for flour at a 1:1.25 ratio