Frequently featured in Mexican dishes, tortillas are a great main ingredient to consider.
However, you may wonder whether corn or flour tortillas are the healthier choices.
This article explores the differences between corn and flour tortillas to help you decide.
What’s the difference between corn and flour tortillas?
Tortillas are a thin flatbread usually made from either corn or wheat flour. Their popularity in the United States has surged, as has the number of health-focused options.
They’re considered a staple in Mexican cuisine. Corn tortillas were passed down from the Aztecs, whereas flour tortillas were first made after Spaniards introduced wheat to Mexico.
There are some differences in the ways the two varieties are made.
Traditionally, corn tortillas begin with a process called nixtamalization. This involves soaking and then cooking corn, also known as maize, in an alkaline solution of calcium hydroxide, or limewater.
Corn kernels are then stone-ground to create masa or corn dough. This is shaped, flattened into thin disks, and baked to create tortillas.
Most corn tortillas in stores have been made via an industrial approach to nixtamalization, which uses a mill.
While traditional tortillas are made from 100% corn, mass-produced versions may be made from dehydrated corn flour, or masa harina, with some wheat flour blended into it.
Nixtamalization is an important step that helps enhance the nutritional profile of corn tortillas. It was traditionally used in Mayan and Aztec cultures.
Today, manufacturing practices have adapted this process for larger-scale operations involving dry and fresh masa.
On the other hand, flour tortillas are typically made from a dough of refined wheat flour, water, shortening or lard, salt, baking soda, and other ingredients to help develop the gluten. This yields a softer and sturdier texture.
While flour tortillas are usually made with refined wheat flour, more nutritious whole wheat varieties are available.
Given their distinct ingredients, corn and flour tortillas have different nutritional profiles.
Here’s a nutritional comparison of one large corn tortilla (44 grams) and one medium flour tortilla (45 grams):
Corn tortilla nutrition facts
- Calories: 95.9
- Carbs: 19.6 grams
- Protein: 2.51 grams
- Fat: 1.25 grams
- Fiber: 2.77 grams
- Calcium: 35.6 mg
- Iron: 0.54 mg
- Magnesium: 31.7 mg
- Sodium: 19.8 mg
Flour tortilla nutrition facts
- Calories: 138
- Carbs: 22.2 grams
- Protein: 3.69 grams
- Fat: 3.6 grams
- Fiber: 1.58 grams
- Calcium: 65.7 mg
- Iron: 1.63 mg
- Magnesium: 9.9 mg
- Sodium: 331 mg
Corn tortillas are a good source of fiber and magnesium. Fiber is important for digestion and heart health, while magnesium plays a vital role in your brain, heart, and muscles.
Studies show that many people in the United States don’t get enough dietary fiber.
Corn tortillas are also considered a whole grain and are lower in carbs, calories, and fat than flour tortillas.
Flour tortillas tend to contain more fat because they’re usually made with lard or shortening.
Still, they provide more iron, which your body needs to properly supply your muscles and other tissues with oxygen.
Summary: Corn tortillas were traditionally made by the Aztecs and involve an important process known as nixtamalization. Nutritionally, they deliver smaller amounts of sodium, carbs, fat, and calories than flour tortillas.
Which is the healthier choice?
Corn tortillas tend to outshine flour tortillas as the healthier option.
Corn flour is considered a cereal grain. This means that each corn tortilla made from 100% corn delivers 100% whole grains.
Suggested read: 8 gluten-free grains that are super healthy
Whole grains provide more fiber, which is beneficial for your heart and digestive health.
It’s worth noting that whole wheat tortillas also offer some whole grains, but the exact amount depends on the blend used in the product.
Flour tortillas are made from wheat, which contains gluten — a collective term for many types of proteins found in certain grains such as wheat, barley, and rye.
If you have a wheat allergy, celiac disease, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you should not consume flour tortillas or other gluten-containing products. Generally, if you have any of these conditions, 100% corn tortillas are your best option because they’re gluten-free.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune response to gluten that causes damage to your digestive tract. Thus, if you have celiac disease, you should not eat flour tortillas and should stick to 100% corn tortillas.
If gluten is a concern for you, it’s important to read product ingredient lists, because some mass-produced corn tortillas may have wheat flour blended into them.
Corn tortillas are usually smaller, measuring about 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter. Flour tortillas tend to be larger, usually 8–10 inches (20–25 cm) in diameter. This means corn tortillas have built-in portion control.
If you frequent authentic taco shops, be mindful that one taco is often made with a double layer of corn tortillas. This helps make the taco sturdier and more filling but increases the calorie, carb, and fat content.
Flour tortillas are sturdier, which is why they’re usually used for dishes such as burritos, which have more fillings. If your dish requires a flour tortilla, opt for a whole wheat variety. This will pack an extra bit of nutrients such as fiber and important minerals.
Summary: Corn tortillas are a healthier alternative to flour tortillas. They provide more whole grains and have built-in portion control because they’re typically smaller. They’re also gluten-free and thus suitable for people who cannot tolerate gluten.
If you’re looking for a healthier option, corn tortillas outshine their flour alternative.
Suggested read: 14 healthy whole-grain foods (including gluten-free options)
Corn tortillas deliver fiber, whole grains, and other nutrients while being lower in fat and calories than flour tortillas.
Tortillas made from 100% corn are also safe for people with celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders.
Still, if you can eat gluten, you may want to choose flour tortillas when using heavier fillings, as they tend to be sturdier.
Whichever you select, be sure to fill your tortilla with plenty of veggies and beans to make it a truly nutritious meal.