Corn Vs. Flour Tortilla: Which Is the Healthier Choice for Your Tacos?
Tacos can be the star of the show at any meal. But what's a taco without its tortilla?
"Tortillas are such a versatile ingredient," says Kylie Arrindell, a wellness dietitian at Houston Methodist. "They're the foundation of tacos, which can be a great choice in adding variety into your diet."
With tortillas in your pantry, just about anything can be turned into a taco.
But with more than one type of tortilla available — corn vs. flour, most notably — does it matter which you choose?
Are corn tortillas healthier than flour tortillas?
Both flour and corn tortillas come in various sizes and thicknesses, especially when they're homemade or from a restaurant.
"Once we account for this, though, it turns out that corn and flour tortillas have fairly similar nutritional profiles, meaning one isn't necessarily always a healthier choice over the other," says Arrindell.
Nowhere is the similarity more striking than the carbohydrate content of both.
"Corn tortillas do contain fewer carbs than flour tortillas, but this difference is very slight," Arrindell points out.
For instance, one of the more popular brands of tortillas you can buy at the store contains:
- 47 grams of carbohydrates per serving of corn tortillas (2 tortillas)
- 49 grams of carbohydrates per serving of flour tortillas (1 tortilla)
"The other difference to note is that corn tortillas contain more fiber than flour ones, but, again, this is a small difference," Arrindell adds. "Someone who is really focused on getting more fiber is actually better off choosing whole wheat tortillas, which contain significantly more fiber than both corn and flour."
Because corn and flour tortillas are so nutritionally similar, Arrindell says that which you choose for your tacos is less consequential than the amount of tortilla you eat and the healthfulness of what you put inside it.
So, for the occasional taco eater, you're fine to choose whichever type of tortilla you most prefer.
"If you're eating tacos several times a week, that's when I would recommend choosing whole wheat tortillas over both corn and flour," Arrindell adds. "The caveat here, though, is that if you don't like the taste of wheat tortillas and that causes you to overdo it with cheese or sour cream, then that swap probably isn't worth it."
Are flour tortillas better than corn for diabetes control?
If you're trying to manage type 2 diabetes, you've probably noticed that corn tortillas are higher on the glycemic index than their flour counterparts.
So, should someone with diabetes avoid eating corn tortillas?
"The glycemic index introduces some complexity into the equation," explains Arrindell. "You might think that since flour tortillas are lower on the glycemic index that they're the healthier choice, but, in reality, both are considered low glycemic index foods."
Here again, Arrindell points out that what makes a tortilla type lean toward being unhealthy is less about which type you choose and more about how much you consume.
"If you eat too many tacos at once, it's going to raise your blood sugar regardless of whether you chose corn or flour," Arrindell adds.
How to build healthy tacos — whether on corn or flour
Since healthy tacos aren't the result of the tortilla choice alone, what should you know about concocting a more nutritional taco?
Here are Arrindell's four tips for making healthier taco choices:
Take control of the ingredients when you can
"The best thing you can do is make tacos yourself at home because then you know exactly what you put in them and how much," says Arrindell.
This isn't to say, though, that there's anything wrong with eating restaurant tacos now and then.
"Just be mindful of what's in the taco, how much is in it and how large the tortilla is," recommends Arrindell. "And, if you're eating tacos often, know that making them yourself at home will almost always be the healthiest choice."
Pack in plenty of veggies
There's more to tacos than just topping a pile of meat with lettuce.
Arrindell suggests adding tomatoes, bell peppers, shredded carrots, onion, cabbage, mushrooms and any other veggies you're curious to try in your taco.
"There are so many styles and flavors of tacos these days, and you can tailor the veggies you choose based on what you're going for preference wise," Arrindell adds.
Know when to adjust the portion size
Restaurant tortillas can range in size and thickness, making it hard to know whether you're overdoing it if the tortilla is large.
But, Arrindell has a tip:
"When ordering tacos, I recommend choosing street tacos," says Arrindell. "These smaller tacos are usually more predictable in size and are easier to portion. Plus, street tacos are also a great way to get more taco filling compared to the carbohydrate it's sitting in."
If street tacos aren't an option, compare the tortilla's size to what you typically get from the store and portion size as necessary.
"It's all about knowing the correct portions for that particular food and anything else you're eating with it," says Arrindell. "So if you have tacos made with huge tortillas or eat rice, beans or other sources of carbohydrates with your tacos often, maybe cut back on how much of the tortilla you eat."
Watch out for calorie-dense add-ons
"It's easy to overdo it with things like cheese and sour cream, which add extra sodium and fat that you may not necessarily need, so just be sure to portion size each correctly," recommends Arrindell.
And if you eat tacos often, consider swapping cheese for avocado now and then.
"Avocado and cheese have different flavors of course, but they do have similar textures and with avocados you're getting good fats and extra nutritional value instead of a lot of additional saturated fat," Arrindell adds.