Oat Flour vs. White Flour | Pros, Cons, and Health Benefits

The amount of alternatives and substitutes now available for everyday ingredients is becoming pretty astounding. These alternative ingredients used to be flour, milk, ice cream, and tofu. The game just doesn’t work that way anymore. 

Now there are dozens of flours, at least half a dozen plant-based milk alternatives, dairy-free chocolate bars, and vegan meat alternatives designed to look and taste exactly like their animal derived counterparts. Do you ever step back to look upon all of your choices with amazement?

Oats are a popular alternative used to create a lot of things. They're not the first popular alternative - typically we associate that with almonds whose flour and milk is also quite popular. Oat flour, oat milk, and oat frozen dessert have stepped up to challenge white flour and dairy products. But are they any better? Are they healthier for you? Do they work the same way?

A Detailed Look at White Flour

So, we’re not here to scare you. White flour isn’t out to get you, but it certainly isn’t out to help you. White flour is nutritionally weak. It’s made from the least nutritious part of the whole grain, and it isn’t going to do much to benefit you -- that in mind, you might want to think twice before you bake your next cake or coat your zucchini fries. 

How is White Flour Made?

White flour starts out as wheat. Wheat has three main components: bran, germ, and endosperm. True whole wheat flours contain as much of the wheat as possible. White flour gets rid of the bran and germ, which just so happens to be where all the nutritional goodness of whole grains comes from.

White flour is made by mechanically grinding down the endosperm of the wheat. It normally doesn’t have that bright white color. Manufacturers bleach the flour, either chemically or naturally, to obtain that snowy white. 

The Nutrition of White Flour

White flour typically comes enriched because its nutrients have been blecahed out. Since all of the nutrients are processed out of it, manufacturers try to put some nutrients back in. This can change the nutrient content of white flour from brand to brand. Unenriched varieties won’t contain a substantial amount of any nutrients.

White flour comes in at 110 calories for ¼ of a cup.  It contains about 3 grams of protein. It may contain a little iron, a little thiamine, some folate, and some riboflavin if the flour is enriched. 

Read: a little and some.  

The Pros and Cons of White Flour

As far as the pros go, white flour is inexpensive and inoffensive. It’s cheap, and it doesn’t really taste like anything. It blends into the background of whatever you’re cooking, taking on the flavor of the seasonings or sugars you add to it. 

A significant con of white flour is the way it stacks up to real whole wheat flour. Real whole wheat flour has a few more calories per serving, but it also contains most of the nutrients of the whole grain. It also contains 7 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber per serving, offering your body way more of what it needs than white flour and making it significantly healthier.

If you want to use a grain flour, skip white flour in favor of whole wheat flour.

Of course it’s worth noting that people with celiac disease cannot have any kind of wheat flour, Both contain gluten, which causes painful gastrointestinal symptoms in people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. 

A Detailed Look at Oat Flour

Oat flour is a popular alternative white or wheat flours. For people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, oat flour is a blessing. Oats are generally well-tolerated by most people. Most importantly, oat flour is naturally better for you than white flour.

How is Oat Flour Made?

Oat flour is made by processing whole oats. You can literally stick steel cut oats into a food processor and blend them until they’re fine. Most premade oat flours are stoneground, meaning the oats are crushed into a fine powder by stone, meaning it is less processed than traditional white flour. 

The Nutrition of Oat Flour

Oat flour is a whole grain food. The entire oat is used to make oat flour, so it boasts the nutrition of whole grains. A serving of oat flour is ¼ cup. It contains 110 calories, 3 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, calcium, iron, potassium, thiamin, and riboflavin. Overall, oat flour offers significantly more nutritional benefits than white flour.

The Pros and Cons of Oat Flour

Overall, oat flour is packed with a lot more pros than cons. It’s gluten-free and boosted with vitamins, and packs a nice amount of fiber and protein into a small amount of calories. The only potential con of oat flour is that it doesn’t quite stack up to whole wheat flour in terms of nutrition. If you can’t have wheat flour, this con doesn’t really matter. You aren’t technically missing out. 

Can Both Flours Be Used the Same Way?

Cooking and baking with oat flour is similar to cooking or baking with wheat flour. Some things you bake are heavily dependent on gluten to form dough or cause a reaction that changes the texture and structure or whatever you’re cooking. Working around that is always a little more difficult when you’re using a gluten free flour, and workarounds will vary from recipe to recipe.

In most cases, oat flour can be substituted for wheat flour in equal ratios. Oat flour can be used in a lot of ways that white flour can’t. White flour doesn’t work well in no-bake recipes because of its flavor and texture. If you’ve never had raw flour, don’t try it. No one deserves that kind of suffering.

Oat flour can be used to add substance, protein, and fiber to things like protein treats and nut butter energy balls. 

So Which Flour is Better?

Looking at both flours strictly from the perspective of health benefits, oat flour is the clear winner. 

Admittedly, whole wheat flour is probably the most beneficial flour you can use. It’s packed with nutrients, it supports heart health, and it’s loaded with protein and fiber. Whole wheat flour is good for you, but that only matters if you’re able to eat gluten. If you aren’t, you need to use an alternative flour.

That’s where oat flour shines. Allergies or sensitivities to oats are very uncommon. Oat flour is also nut-free, making it a valuable alternative for people with nut allergies. Oat flour is the safest bet in most cases with very few people actually allergic to oats. This makes oat flour the clear winner in the oat flour vs white flour debate.

What About Other Flours?

There are so many alternative flours that it will make your head spin. Many plants can be turned into a flour. There’s coconut flour, almond flour, tapioca flour, and potato at the grocery store. You’ve probably seen them, or even used them. They’re only the tip of the alternative flour iceberg. 

Almost any plant, fruit, vegetable or grain that can be dehydrated and turned into a flour. Boutique companies produce flour from broccoli, sweet potatoes, apples, mangoes, lentils, and cacao. It’s really getting crazy out here -- good crazy. 

The alternative flour category is technically limitless. If you want to choose the best flour out of every possible option, good luck. You can try a new one every week for a whole year and still miss a few.

Sometimes, the best flour is the flour that will work best with your recipe. If you’re making a carrot cake, you can use carrot flour. You can use apple flour to bake an apple pie, or lentil flour to thicken a stew. These flours will complement what you’re making, reinforcing the flavors you’re trying to bring forward. 

You probably wouldn’t want to make pancakes with broccoli flour or biscuits with split pea flour -- you’d want to use a neutral flavored flour like oat flour, though it has more body than traditional white flour. Many specialty flours only work in specialty situations. They contain too much of their own flavor, and could alter or wreck a recipe. That’s why oat flour is still one of your best standby ingredients. You should always keep some handy. Save the more innovative alternative flours for special occasions.

The Takeaway

White flour is the best flour for creating a gluten reaction to help dough rise. That’s about it. Oat flour is the better option for just about everything else. It’s great to cook with and bake with, and it offers more nutritional benefits than white flour. 

That’s why Mid-Day Squares makes our yummy chocolate peanut butter plant-based superfood squares with oats (and while we're at it, vegan peanut butter). They taste better, and they do more for your body than white flour could ever dream of doing.