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Corn tortillas come out on top when comparing amounts of fiber.

Travel & Lifestyle: Corn Tortillas vs. Flour Tortillas: Which Option Is Healthier?

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Walking the aisles of the grocery store can seem like one internal debate after another — especially if your goal is to fill your cart with the healthiest options possible. Oat milk or soy? Peanut butter or almond butter? Full-fat or reduced-fat cheese?

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

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

Registered dietitian Patricia Bannan wholeheartedly agreed, emphasizing the importance of flavor. “Taste preferences should always be accounted for, as enjoying food is a key part of healthy eating,” she said.

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

How Do Corn Tortillas And Flour Tortillas Compare Nutritionally?

When comparing both types of tortillas, it’s helpful to know what exactly is in them (besides the obvious) and how they’re made.

“Corn tortillas are a whole-grain food traditionally made from ground field corn, or maize, that is then made into masa harina [maize dough],” said Christy Wilson, a registered dietitian based in Arizona. She explained that the raw ground corn is treated with limewater (a solution of calcium hydroxide in water), which softens the corn and gives the masa harina — and ultimately the tortillas — a distinct, savory flavor.

Brent Hofacker / 500px via Getty Images

Corn tortillas come out on top when comparing amounts of fiber.

As for flour tortillas, Wilson said they’re made from wheat flour that is typically enriched 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 said that corn and flour tortillas have nutritional value; they just have them in different ways. Moore said that compared with flour tortillas, corn tortillas have at least twice the amount of fiber, which benefits the entire body, including the gut, heart and brain. And the vast majority of people in the U.S. don’t get enough fiber. So if you can sneak a bit more into your diet through your tortilla choice, that’s definitely a win.

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

Flour tortillas have their own benefits, on top of their fortification with nutrients. “Flour tortillas are a good source of carbohydrates, which are needed to provide energy for daily activities,” Bannan said. They have more protein, too: about 9 grams per serving, compared with the 6 grams per serving in your average corn tortilla.

When shopping for tortillas, you can often find them in two sections of the grocery store: on store shelves in the middle aisles, and in the refrigerated section. Wilson told HuffPost that the ones in the refrigerated section are typically raw, flour tortillas and there is usually not much nutritional difference from the ones on the shelves. But she added that the refrigerated ones might taste better.

“A raw tortilla that you heat up yourself and eat right away will have the aroma and beautiful pliability of a freshly made flour tortilla, which is always a win!” she said.

The Verdict

It’s clear that both corn tortillas and flour tortillas have some positives. But which kind is actually healthier?

When pressed to declare one type of tortilla the healthiest, Wilson said that her pick was corn. “Bottom line, if we’re strictly talking about health and nutrition, corn tortillas are a few steps ahead of flour,” she said, citing their fiber content and lower calorie count.

However all three dietitians said that the healthiest choice really depends on the individual and their health goals. For example, if you’re a runner, your body will benefit from the carbohydrates that flour tortillas offer. In fact, Bannan said that the higher amount of protein in flour tortillas can make them a better option for anyone who works out a lot.

Wilson and Bannan both noted that there’s a wide range of flour tortillas out there. Among them are whole-wheat tortillas (which are higher in fiber, protein and many vitamins), and flour tortillas with added spinach or other ground vegetables, which also increase the vitamin quantity.

For someone who has a health goal of weight loss, Wilson said that corn tortillas may make a better choice because they’re lower in calories and smaller, which can help with portion control. Bannan added that they can also make a better choice for people with a sensitivity to gluten or with celiac disease.

Of course, how you plan on using the tortillas matters, too. “What makes a healthy Mexican meal is what would make any meal healthy: variety and portion control,” said Wilson. “Using a model like [the U.S. government’s] MyPlate can be a helpful tool to refer to when building a balanced meal.”

She said that no matter which kind you choose, you can enjoy your tortillas with healthy foods like shredded lettuce, tomatoes, onions, avocado, guacamole, tomatillo salsa, steamed or roasted veggies, or grilled chicken, beef or fish.

It bears repeating that there’s more to a tortilla choice than nutrition. “Having a healthy relationship with food, and learning how to include one’s cultural foods in ways that are balanced and delicious, is much more important than micromanaging ingredients and hyperfocusing on whether something is ‘healthy’ or not,” Wilson said. What matters most is your diet as a whole, not one individual ingredient choice.



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