Corn Tortillas vs. Corn Tortillas Flour Tortillas: Which is the Healthier Choice?

A walk through the grocery store can feel like an internal debate — especially if your goal is to fill your shopping cart with the healthiest options. Oat or soy milk? Peanut butter or almond butter? Full fat or low fat cheese?

Picking up a pack of tortillas presents another nutritional conundrum. In almost every grocery store, you’re bound to see corn tortillas and flour tortillas.

Of course, deciding which variety to buy isn’t just about nutrition. “Choosing between corn and flour tortillas can also be a matter of cultural preference and heritage ties related to corn-based culinary traditions, as well as taste preferences,” says culinary registered dietitian Marisa Moore. “Corn itself has a special place in various cultures and is a staple in Mexican cuisine.”

Patricia Bannan, registered dietitian, wholeheartedly agrees and emphasizes the importance of taste. “Taste preferences should always be taken into account, because enjoying food is an important part of a healthy diet,” he said.

But if you’re trying to choose between corn or flour tortillas based solely on nutrition, here’s what you need to know about each type.

How Do Corn Tortillas and Flour Tortillas Nutritionally Compare?

When comparing the two types of tortillas, it’s a good idea to know what they actually contain (besides the obvious) and how they’re made.

“Corn tortillas are a whole grain food that is traditionally made from corn, or corn, which is then made into masa harina (corn dough),” says Christy Wilson, a registered dietitian based in Arizona. He explains that raw ground corn is treated with lime juice (a solution of calcium hydroxide in water), which softens the corn and gives the masa harina – and ultimately the tortillas – a distinct savory taste.

Corn tortillas come out on top when comparing the amount of fiber.

Brent Hofacker / 500 pixels via Getty Images

Corn tortillas come out on top when comparing the amount of fiber.

As for flour tortillas, Wilson says they are made from wheat flour which is usually fortified with nutrients, including calcium, iron, and B vitamins. Some brands may also add other ingredients such as baking powder (a leavening agent) and preservatives to help them last longer.

Moore, Bannan and Wilson all say that corn and flour tortillas have nutritional value; they just have it in different ways. Moore says compared to flour tortillas, corn tortillas have at least twice the amount of fiber, which is beneficial for the entire body, including the gut, heart and brain. And most Americans don’t get enough fiber. So, if you can fit more into your diet through your tortilla choices, that’s definitely a win.

Moore says corn tortillas are also high in magnesium, a nutrient that supports normal nerve and muscle function as well as immune health. Wilson and Bannan point out that corn tortillas are also lower in calories, in part because they are often smaller than flour tortillas.

Flour tortillas have their own benefits, apart from being enriched with nutrients. “Flour tortillas are a good source of carbohydrates needed to provide energy for daily activities,” said Bannan. They also have more protein: about 9 grams per serving, compared to 6 grams per serving in your average corn tortilla.

When shopping for tortillas, you can often find them in two parts of the grocery store: on the store shelves in the middle aisles, and in the refrigerator section. Wilson told Talk News that those in the refrigerated section are usually raw flour tortillas and usually don’t have much nutritional difference from those on the shelves. But he added that refrigerated ones might taste better.

“Raw tortillas that you heat up yourself and eat right away will have the wonderful aroma and stretchiness of freshly made flour tortillas, which is always superior!” he says.

Decision

It’s clear that both corn tortillas and flour tortillas have some positive benefits. But which type is actually healthier?

When pressed to name one type of tortilla that is the healthiest, Wilson said his choice is corn. “Bottom line, if we’re really talking about health and nutrition, corn tortillas are several steps ahead of flour ones,” he says, citing their fiber content and lower calorie count.

But all three dietitians say the healthiest choice really depends on the individual and their health goals. For example, if you are a runner, your body will benefit from the carbohydrates offered by flour tortillas. In fact, Bannan says that the higher amount of protein in flour tortillas makes them a better choice for anyone who exercises frequently.

Wilson and Bannan both note that there are a variety of flour tortillas out there. Among them are whole wheat tortillas (which are higher in fiber, protein and many vitamins), and flour tortillas with the addition of spinach or other ground vegetables, which also increase the amount of vitamins.

For someone who has a health goal of losing weight, Wilson says that corn tortillas may be a better choice because they are lower in calories and smaller, which can help with portion control. Bannan added that they can also make better choices for people with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease.

Of course, how you plan to use the tortillas is also important. “What makes Mexican food healthy is what makes any food healthy: variety and portion control,” says Wilson. “Using a model like (US government) MyPlate can be a useful tool to reference in building a balanced diet.”

He says that no matter which type you choose, you can enjoy tortillas with healthy foods like shredded lettuce, tomatoes, onions, avocado, guacamole, tomatillo salsa, steamed or grilled vegetables, or grilled chicken, beef, or fish.

It’s worth repeating that tortilla choices are about more than just nutrition. “Having a healthy relationship with food, and learning how to incorporate cultural foods in a balanced and delicious way, is much more important than micromanaging ingredients and focusing too much on whether something is ‘healthy’ or not,” says Wilson. What’s most important is your overall diet, not individual ingredient choices.

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