Cornstarch is often added to soups, sauces, and baked goods. However, many people are unsure whether cornstarch can be healthy.
In addition, many people question whether cornstarch is gluten-free. In this article, you’ll learn all the answers and healthy alternatives to cornstarch and in what proportion you substitute it.
What is Cornstarch?
Cornstarch is a smooth, white powder used for various things, especially cooking and baking.
Primarily, it is a thickening agent used in soups, sauces, puddings, and gravy. Some food manufacturers also use cornstarch to thicken cheese and yogurt. In addition, cornstarch is also used as a cleaning agent.
Cornstarch is extracted from the starchy part of the corn kernel, called the endosperm. The first discovery of cornstarch was made in 1840 by Thomas Kingsford, the manager of a wheat starch factory in New Jersey.
Originally, cornstarch was used to starch laundry and for other household tasks. Before cornstarch was first consumed in 1851, it was used exclusively for industrial purposes.
As a result, many wonder if cornstarch can be healthy. In addition, most people are unclear about whether cornstarch contains gluten. After all, the starch is derived from grain, corn.
Is Cornstarch Gluten-Free?
Since cornstarch is primarily carbohydrates and contains no proteins, it is gluten-free.
Is Cornstarch Low-Carb?
The fact that cornstarch is gluten-free does not mean that it is low in carbohydrates. As the name starch already tells us, cornstarch consists mainly of carbohydrates.
Here are the nutrition facts per 100 g of cornstarch (*):
- Energy: 381 calories
- Protein: 0.3 grams
- Fat: 0.1 grams
- Carbohydrates: 91.3 grams
- Dietary fiber: 0.9 grams
- Net carbs: 90.4 grams
With these nutritional facts, you don’t have to be a doctor to understand that cornstarch is not suitable for diabetics or a low-carb diet like the keto diet.
Is Cornstarch Healthy?
Over 90% carbohydrate content makes blood sugar and insulin levels go through the roof. Hence, cornstarch is an ideal food for gaining body fat quickly. For this reason, pigs are fattened up with it.
But aren’t these complex carbohydrates in cornstarch healthy?
Complex means that they are polysaccharides instead of monosaccharides. And they, in turn, are broken down by the liver into simple sugar, glucose.
The crux of this story is that this time-consuming process keeps blood sugar and insulin levels high for longer, promoting an antilipolytic effect (Jensen et al. 19892).
Simply put, cornstarch blocks fat breakdown (lipolysis) and promotes fat gain (Meijssen et al. 20013).
In addition, cornstarch is a refined food that is industrially produced. Therefore, the starch is separated from other components and nutrients of the plant, leaving only the concentrated polysaccharide.
Because cornstarch is an industrially processed food, it is challenging to determine where the essential ingredient came from.
Such a processed product is ideal for the use of cheap genetically modified plants.
About 90% of corn harvest comes from genetically engineered plants (USDA 20144).
For these reasons, cornstarch has healthier and more natural alternatives.
Since cornstarch is neither low-carb nor healthy, I recommend replacing it with an alternative binder.
Best Cornstarch Substitutes for Keto
For fans of low-carb cooking, three natural foods exist that can be first-rate substitutes for cornstarch as a binding agent.
1. Egg White
We start with the most straightforward cornstarch alternative for athletes and low-carb enthusiasts.
Egg whites not only bind ingredients but also add easily digestible protein to the meal at the same time.
In addition, they help the bread to rise, which is not so easy without gluten. However, too much protein can also make the result too fluffy.
Egg white is a simple cornstarch substitute as long as you don’t have an intolerance or eat a vegan diet.
For baking, use one egg white to substitute every tablespoon (4.5 grams) of cornstarch.
Like egg whites, gelatin is 100% carbohydrate-free, making it an excellent cornstarch alternative for keto baked goods (*).
Gelatin is a broken-down form of collagen, the protein that holds our bodies together. Accordingly, gelatin can be used as a binding agent.
In addition, this structural protein is the essential building block for teeth, joints, bones, skin, and hair (Stefanovic 20135).
Whether soup, smoothie, or baked goods, gelatin can be added as a dry powder to various recipes.
In cooking and baking, gelatin powder replaces cornstarch in a 2:1 ratio.
3. Ground Flaxseeds
Flaxseeds are a rare plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, which is why they play a significant role in vegetarian and vegan baking.
In addition, flaxseeds are incredibly low in carbohydrates, making them ideal for the ketogenic diet. One tablespoon of ground flaxseeds contains only 0.1 grams of net carbohydrates (*).
In addition, flaxseeds can improve blood clotting, blood pressure, blood lipid levels, and the risk of inflammation and diabetes (Faintuch et al. 20076; Mandaşescu et al. 20057; Kawakami et al. 20158; Bloedon et al. 20049).
Flaxseeds add moisture and binding to dishes. Therefore, they are suitable as a substitute for cornstarch in baked goods.
However, the seeds must be ground beforehand to produce the desired binding and structure. To do this, you can put flaxseeds in a pepper mill and grind them. However, if you buy fine flaxseed flour, bread and other baked goods will turn out even better.
In baking, 1/2 tablespoon of ground flaxseed can replace one tablespoon of cornstarch.
Gluten-Free Cornstarch Substitutes for Baking
Although cornstarch is naturally gluten-free, there are healthier alternatives for baking.
1. Konjac Powder
Konjac powder or glucomannan is made from konjac root, exotic in Western society but widely used in Asian cuisine (Keithley et al. 201310).
Because of its high fiber content, the powder can thicken meals similar to cornstarch.
Moreover, recent studies attribute positive health effects to konjac flour, such as lowering blood lipids, blood sugar, and blood pressure (Devaraj et al. 201811).
Glucomannan is a pure dietary fiber product. Therefore, it contains no net carbohydrates, proteins, or fats (*).
Thus, the cornstarch substitute is ideal for low-carb diets.
Konjac powder replaces cornstarch in a 1:1 ratio. The exception is tough baked goods such as tortillas, which require a 1.5:1 ratio.
2. Almond Flour
Almond flour or almond meal will give you the same texture and consistency as cornstarch, without many carbohydrates.
Unlike cornstarch, almond flour can help improve your health. While it enhances energy levels and heart function, it helps fight diabetes and obesity (Berryman et al. 201512).
When baking, replace each tablespoon of cornstarch with one tablespoon of almond flour.
3. Psyllium Husk Powder
Psyllium husks are composed primarily of soluble fiber, which produces a gummy texture when combined with a liquid.
Therefore, psyllium husks readily absorb water, developing a thickening and binding effect. Consequently, they can also hold ingredients together in recipes.
However, psyllium husks are incredibly absorbent. As a result, they remove a large amount of liquid from a dish unless you add additional water.
For this reason, you should always add psyllium husks to a dish in conjunction with liquid.
With only one net carbohydrate per two tablespoons, psyllium husks are a keto-friendly thickener (*).
To make baked goods succeed, replace each tablespoon of cornstarch with at least half a tablespoon of psyllium husk powder.
Cornstarch Substitutes to Avoid
Although cornstarch is not healthy, not every substitute is a better alternative for your health, especially for weight loss.
Wheat flour is used as a cornstarch substitute for gravies and pie fillings. Although flour is just as much of a thickener, it doesn’t thicken as much. That’s why you need to use twice as much flour as cornstarch.
It also may not make baked goods as tender as starch.
Wheat flour is highly refined, low in fiber, and high in gluten. Accordingly, it is neither healthy for your gut nor suitable for weight loss.
2. Rice Flour
Rice flour has similar properties to conventional flour. Therefore, you need to use twice the amount to make it a good cornstarch substitute.
100 grams of white rice flour contain 80 grams of carbohydrates (*).
Finally, it also represents refined carbohydrates that significantly increase blood sugar and insulin levels. However, compared to wheat flour, it has the advantage of containing hardly any plant toxins that can harm your intestines.
3. Potato Starch
Potato starch is most commonly used in a 1:1 ratio as a cornstarch substitute for sauces or cakes.
But as the name suggests, potato starch is not much different from corn starch. It is just as much highly processed, concentrated starch that can in no way help you stay fit.
If you want to replace the thickening ability of cornstarch without using gelatin or eggs, agar-agar is an option. You can substitute it in a 1:1 ratio.
Also, because it’s derived from red algae, agar-agar is suitable for vegan cooking.
However, agar-agar is not a low-carb alternative suitable for keto because the algae are primarily carbohydrates, containing hardly any fiber (*).
Best Cornstarch Substitutes to Buy
Here are what I consider to be the best alternatives for cornstarch that you can buy on Amazon today:
There Are Healthier Alternatives for Cornstarch
Many low-carb substitutes for cornstarch exist that not only have health benefits but also help you lose weight.
If you’d like to start losing weight today without having to constantly count calories or exercise, try my free 30-Day Intermittent Fasting Challenge.
Cornstarch Substitutes FAQ
What is an equivalent of cornstarch?
Potato starch is equivalent to cornstarch. It is most commonly used in a 1:1 ratio as a cornstarch substitute for sauces or cakes.
Can flour be substituted for cornstarch?
Yes, but because flour thickens as much, you must use twice as much flour to substitute cornstarch.
Can I use baking powder instead of cornstarch?
No, you cannot use baking powder to substitute cornstarch since it does not have the same thickening properties.
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