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Is there a healthy alternative for tortillas?

Tortillas are a staple food in many cuisines around the world. In Mexico and Central America, corn tortillas are an integral part of the diet and culture. However, traditional white flour tortillas that are common in Tex-Mex cuisine and across the American Southwest are often high in refined carbohydrates and low in nutrients. This leads many health-conscious consumers to wonder – is there a healthy alternative for tortillas?

What are tortillas?

Tortillas are a type of thin, unleavened flatbread made from some type of flour or cornmeal. The word “tortilla” comes from Spanish and means “little cake.”

Corn tortillas are made from masa, which is a dough produced from nixtamalized corn. Nixtamalization is a process where dried corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater or food-grade lime. This helps release nutrients in the corn and creates a dough that can be pressed into thin rounds and cooked on a comal or griddle. Corn tortillas have been a staple food in Mesoamerica for thousands of years.

Wheat flour tortillas were likely influenced by the introduction of wheat to Mexico by the Spanish. Wheat flour tortillas are made by mixing wheat flour, water, salt, and occasionally baking powder or fat into a dough. This dough is rolled flat and cooked into rounds on a hot surface. White flour tortillas are common in Tex-Mex cuisine and across the American Southwest.

There are also tortillas made from other gluten-free grains like brown rice, chickpea flour, almond flour, and more. The basic method is similar – mix flour with water to form a dough, roll flat, and cook.

Are traditional white flour tortillas healthy?

Traditional white flour tortillas are made from refined wheat flour. Refined grains like white flour have been milled to remove the bran and germ, which strips away nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Some key drawbacks to traditional white flour tortillas include:

– Low in fiber – Refining the whole wheat kernel to make white flour removes most of the fiber. Fiber is important for digestive health, cholesterol levels, and stabilizing blood sugar.

– High glycemic index – Processed grains like white flour digest quickly and can spike blood sugar levels. High glycemic foods are associated with increased risk of diabetes and obesity.

– Lack of nutrients – White flour is nutrient-poor compared to whole grain flours. You lose out on the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants found in the bran and germ of the wheat kernel.

– Additives – Many commercial white flour tortillas contain additives like preservatives, stabilizers, and dough conditioners to extend shelf life. These are unhealthy and unnecessary in homemade tortillas.

So in their classic form made from refined white wheat flour, tortillas would not be considered a healthy choice. But there are several alternatives that can boost the nutrition of your tortillas.

Healthier tortilla alternatives

Here are some healthier options that allow you to enjoy tortillas as part of a nutritious diet:

1. Whole wheat tortillas

Whole wheat tortillas are made by substituting some or all of the refined white flour with whole wheat flour. Whole wheat flour contains the entire wheat kernel, including the fiber-rich bran and nutrient-packed germ.

Benefits of whole wheat tortillas:

– Higher fiber – The bran from whole grains provides insoluble fiber that promotes digestive health.

– Lower glycemic index – The fiber in whole wheat bread slows digestion, preventing blood sugar spikes.

– More vitamins and minerals – Whole wheat flour has higher amounts of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and antioxidant compounds.

– Healthy substitution – Whole wheat tortillas can be swapped 1:1 for white flour tortillas in any recipe.

When shopping, look for 100% whole wheat tortillas without added sugars or hydrogenated oils. Read ingredient lists carefully, as some “wheat flour” tortillas are still mostly refined flour.

2. Corn tortillas

Corn tortillas are a tried-and-true healthy option with deep roots in Latin American cuisines. Benefits include:

– Whole grain – Corn tortillas are a whole grain product made from nixtamalized corn dough.

– Higher fiber – Corn tortillas contain around 5 grams of fiber per serving, while white flour tortillas have 1 gram.

– Lower carb – With only 13 grams net carbs per serving, corn tortillas have a lower glycemic impact.

– Naturally gluten-free – Corn is naturally gluten-free, so corn tortillas are safe for those with celiac disease or gluten-sensitivity.

Look for corn tortillas made without added hydrogenated fats or preservatives. You can find them in the international aisle of many grocery stores.

3. Sprouted grain tortillas

Sprouted grain tortillas are made with whole grains that have been sprouted before grinding into flour. Sprouting increases nutrient absorption and digestibility. Benefits include:

– Enhanced nutrition – Sprouting increases B vitamins, antioxidants, and bioavailability of minerals like calcium, iron, and zinc.

– Lower carbs – Sprouted flours have fewer starchy carbohydrates.

– Easier to digest – Sprouting breaks down antinutrients like phytic acid that can inhibit mineral absorption.

Popular sprouted options include sprouted wheat, Ezekiel bread tortillas, and sprouted corn tortillas. Look for them in the freezer section or refrigerated aisles.

4. Legume-based tortillas

Using legume flours is an inventive way to make gluten-free and protein-packed tortillas. Options include:

– Chickpea flour – Chickpea tortillas are high in vegetarian protein and fiber. Chickpea flour has a sweet, nutty flavor.

– Black bean flour – With 9 grams protein per serving, black bean flour tortillas are an easy way to add plant-based protein to meals. They have a slightly earthy taste.

– Soybean flour – Soy flour adds complete vegetarian protein with all nine essential amino acids. It has a mild beany taste.

Legume tortillas can be found in health food stores or made at home. They work especially well for vegan, gluten-free, or high protein diets.

5. Alternative grain tortillas

There are now tortillas made from all kinds of gluten-free whole grains and flours:

– Brown rice tortillas – Chewy, mild brown rice tortillas are a versatile gluten-free pick.

– Quinoa flour tortillas – Quinoa adds protein and has a light, fluffy texture when made into tortillas.

– Almond flour tortillas – Nutty, gluten-free almond flour tortillas are lower in carbs.

– Coconut flour tortillas – Coconut flour is high in fiber and adds natural sweetness.

– Buckwheat tortillas – Buckwheat offers a rich, earthy flavor and is high in protein.

Experiment with alternative grain tortillas to add nutritious variety to your diet. They work well for paleo, gluten-free, nut-free, or low carb lifestyles.

How to choose healthier tortillas

When shopping for healthy tortillas, read labels carefully and look for these characteristics:

– Made with 100% whole grains – Look for terms like “100% whole wheat” or “whole grain” as the first ingredient.

– At least 3g fiber per serving – Good fiber content indicates a whole grain product.

– Low in added sugars – Avoid tortillas with cane sugar, honey, or other sweeteners.

– Free from hydrogenated oil – Trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils are unhealthy and unnecessary.

– Short ingredient list – Fewer, more natural ingredients are better. Avoid a laundry list of additives.

– Low net carbs – For low carb diets, tortillas under 15g net carbs per serving are preferred.

– Certified gluten-free if required – Look for certification from GFCO or another accredited organization if avoiding gluten.

Also consider buying organic and non-GMO verified tortillas when possible to avoid pesticides and genetically modified ingredients.

Healthy homemade tortilla options

For full control over ingredients, you can also make your own healthy tortillas at home. Here are some recipe ideas:

Whole wheat tortillas

– 2 cups whole wheat flour
– 1 tsp salt
– 1⁄4 cup olive or avocado oil
– 1⁄2 – 3⁄4 cup warm water

1. Whisk whole wheat flour and salt together in a bowl. Create a well in the center.
2. Pour olive oil and 1⁄2 cup warm water in the well. Mix and knead until a soft dough forms, adding more water as needed.
3. Let dough rest 10 minutes, then divide into 8 balls. Use a rolling pin to roll each into an 8-inch round.
4. Cook 1 minute per side on a hot skillet over medium-high heat. Keep cooked tortillas wrapped in a towel until serving to stay warm and soft.

Sprouted grain tortillas

– 1 cup sprouted wheat berries
– 1⁄2 cup sprouted quinoa or brown rice
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 1⁄2 tsp sea salt
– 1⁄4 – 1⁄2 cup water

1. Place sprouted grains in a food processor and process into a flour.
2. Transfer to a bowl and stir in oil, salt, and 1⁄4 cup water until a dough forms. If dry, add more water.
3. Divide dough into 6 balls and roll into rounds. Cook 60 seconds per side on a hot skillet.

Chickpea flour tortillas

– 1 cup chickpea flour
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 1⁄2 tsp sea salt
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 1⁄3 cup water

1. Whisk chickpea flour, baking powder, and salt together. Stir in olive oil and water to form a thick batter.
2. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Pour 1⁄4 cup batter onto the skillet, tilting to coat the bottom evenly in a circular shape.
3. Cook 2-3 minutes per side until lightly browned. Repeat with remaining batter.

Get creative and make your own versions with different whole grain or sprouted flours!

Healthy tortilla recipe ideas

Now that you have some healthier tortillas on hand, here are nutritious ways to eat them:

Breakfast tacos or burritos

Fill tortillas with scrambled eggs plus veggies, black beans, salsa, avocado, and queso fresco or feta cheese for a hearty breakfast.

Vegetable fajitas

Load up tortillas with sauteed peppers and onions plus grilled veggies like zucchini, mushrooms, or spinach.

Chicken avocado wraps

Top tortillas with grilled chicken breast, avocado slices, lettuce, tomato, and Greek yogurt sauce.

Veggie hummus wraps

Spread hummus in a tortilla before adding cucumber, tomato, roasted eggplant, and tahini drizzle.

Chickpea salad sandwiches

Mash chickpeas with vegan mayo, celery, onions, lemon juice, and spices. Stuff in tortillas or eat open-faced.


Cut tortillas into wedges and bake into nachos. Top with beans, salsa, guacamole, and fresh veggies.

Are corn and flour tortillas interchangeable?

Corn and flour tortillas are not exactly interchangeable due to differences in texture, flavor, and cooking methods. Here’s a comparison:

– Flavor – Corn tortillas have a sweet, nutty corn flavor. Flour tortillas are more neutral in flavor.

– Texture – Corn tortillas are crumbly and chewy. Flour tortillas are softer and more pliable.

– Appearance – Corn tortillas have a flat circular or oval shape. Flour tortillas look more irregular when handmade.

– Cooking – Corn tortillas are cooked without oil. Flour tortillas are cooked with a bit of oil added.

– Water content – Corn tortillas are drier. Flour tortillas have a higher moisture content.

– Shelf life – Corn tortillas go stale quickly. Flour tortillas keep longer in the fridge or freezer.

– Uses – Corn tortillas are ideal for tacos, tostadas, tamales. Flour tortillas suit burritos, quesadillas, wraps.

In most savory dishes, corn and flour tortillas can be swapped but they will impact the texture of the final dish. Consider the differences and what would work best for your specific recipe.

Are corn tortillas gluten free?

Yes, corn tortillas are naturally gluten-free. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. Corn does not contain gluten.

To make sure your corn tortillas are 100% gluten-free, check the ingredient label carefully to watch out for possible cross-contamination. Any added grains or flours could contain gluten.

Ideal corn tortillas for a gluten-free diet will contain:

– Stone-ground corn masa – Made from simply corn and water. Ensure it’s produced in a gluten-free facility.

– Cornstarch – Adds pliability. Choose brands that test for gluten cross-contact.

– Trace minerals – Small amounts of calcium carbonate or magnesium carbonate are typically fine.

– Water and salt – These basic ingredients are naturally gluten-free.

As long as the corn tortillas are produced in a gluten-free environment and no obvious gluten sources are added, corn tortillas are a gluten-free staple food to enjoy without worry.


While traditional white flour tortillas are not the healthiest choice, there are many nutritious alternatives for enjoying tortillas as part of a balanced diet.

Options like whole grain tortillas, sprouted tortillas, corn tortillas, legume-based tortillas, and alternative grain tortillas provide more fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants compared to refined white tortillas.

Look for products made with 100% whole ingredients and minimal additives. Making homemade tortillas can also let you control the nutrition.

Pair healthier tortillas with nutritious fillings like beans, veggies, eggs, or chicken for flavorful, satisfying meals and snacks. With some simple substitutions, tortillas can still be a delicious part of an overall healthy lifestyle.