Dr. Sunil - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Sunil

Are Tortillas Bad For You?



Short answer

Tortillas can be part of a healthy diet depending on their ingredients and your dietary needs. Corn tortillas are typically lower in calories and fat, high in fiber, and gluten-free. Wheat tortillas offer more protein but are higher in calories and contain gluten. Alternative flour tortillas vary in nutrients, suiting diets like Paleo or Keto, and are often gluten-free. Always consider additives and portion size for overall healthfulness.



Recommended Alternative

Long answer

Nutritional Content of Different Types of Tortillas

Tortillas come in various forms, primarily distinguished by their main ingredient, which can be corn, wheat, or alternative flours like almond or coconut. The nutritional content of tortillas varies significantly based on the type of flour used and whether additional ingredients like fats or preservatives are included. Understanding the nutritional differences among these types is central to making informed dietary decisions.

Corn Tortillas

Corn tortillas are most commonly found in traditional Mexican cuisine and are made from masa harina, a type of corn flour. They generally contain a simple list of ingredients, including water and salt. Corn tortillas are typically lower in calories and fat compared to their flour counterparts but are also lower in protein. However, they are a good source of dietary fiber and are naturally gluten-free, which is beneficial for individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Here is a typical nutritional breakdown of one 6-inch corn tortilla:

  • Calories: 50-70
  • Total Fat: 1-1.5 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 10-15 grams
  • Dietary Fiber: 1-3 grams
  • Protein: 1-2 grams

Wheat Tortillas

Wheat tortillas, often known as flour tortillas, are commonly used in many American-Mexican dishes. These tortillas tend to contain a higher amount of calories and fat since they often include added oils or fats in their ingredients list. They are a better source of protein compared to corn tortillas but are typically lower in dietary fiber. Wheat tortillas contain gluten, making them unsuitable for those with gluten-related disorders. A standard 8-inch wheat tortilla holds the following nutritional values:

  • Calories: 90-120
  • Total Fat: 2-5 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 15-22 grams
  • Dietary Fiber: 1-2 grams
  • Protein: 2-4 grams

Alternative Flour Tortillas

Alternative flour tortillas, such as those made from almond, coconut, or cassava flour, provide options for those adhering to specific diets such as Paleo, Keto, or others that reduce carbohydrate intake. Each alternative flour provides a unique nutrient profile. For example, almond flour tortillas are higher in protein and monounsaturated fats but lower in carbohydrates, while coconut flour tortillas are high in fiber. These alternative tortillas are often gluten-free as well. Nutritional values can widely vary based on the specific flour, but they typically look something like this per tortilla:

  • Calories: 70-120
  • Total Fat: 2-9 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 3-15 grams
  • Dietary Fiber: 3-8 grams
  • Protein: 2-6 grams

When considering the addition of tortillas to your diet, it's crucial to look at not just the basic macronutrients but also the presence of any additives or preservatives, which could influence the overall healthfulness of the tortilla. Additionally, those with dietary restrictions should carefully read labels to ensure that the tortillas meet their needs.

Due to the diversity in nutritional content among the various types of tortillas, select the type that aligns best with your individual health goals and dietary requirements. It is also wise to consider portion sizes and the balance of your overall meal when incorporating tortillas into your diet.

The Role of Tortillas in a Balanced Diet

When considering the role tortillas play in a balanced diet, it's essential to explore the nutritional profile and how it aligns with a healthy eating pattern. Tortillas are a popular staple in many cuisines, particularly within Mexican and Central American diets. They come in various forms, primarily corn and flour, each offering different nutritional benefits and drawbacks.

Corn tortillas, traditionally made from nixtamalized corn, are rich in fiber and contain some essential minerals like magnesium and potassium. They are typically lower in fat and calories compared to their flour counterparts, making them a potentially healthier choice for those looking to manage their weight or improve metabolic health. The nixtamalization process also enhances the bioavailability of niacin (vitamin B3) in the body.

Flour tortillas, on the other hand, are often higher in calories due to their higher fat and carbohydrate content. However, they are a good source of essential nutrients as well, such as B vitamins, iron, and depending on the brand or recipe, possibly fortified with folic acid. When selecting flour tortillas, it's advisable to opt for whole wheat versions when available, as they provide more fiber and nutrients compared to white flour tortillas.

In the context of a balanced diet, tortillas can serve as a versatile food that provides energy in the form of carbohydrates. They can be a vehicle for consuming other healthy foods like lean proteins, vegetables, and legumes. However, it's important to consider portion sizes and overall consumption, as tortillas can be easy to overeat and may contribute to excessive calorie intake if not moderated.

Moreover, individuals with specific dietary needs or restrictions, such as those with gluten intolerance or celiac disease, should avoid flour tortillas that contain gluten. Instead, they could opt for corn tortillas which are naturally gluten-free or other gluten-free alternatives.

It's also worth noting that some store-bought tortillas may contain added fats, sodium, and preservatives that could detract from their nutritional value. Thus, it's important to read nutrition labels and select tortillas with minimal added ingredients. In some cases, making homemade tortillas could offer more control over the ingredients used, ensuring a healthier product overall.

When included as part of a balanced diet, moderation is key. Pairing tortillas with nutrient-dense fillings can enhance their health benefits and contribute to a well-rounded meal. For optimal health, it's encouraged to balance tortilla consumption with ample vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

  • Fiber Content: Corn tortillas are a good source of dietary fiber, particularly if they are made from whole grain corn.
  • Gluten Content: Flour tortillas typically contain gluten, making them unsuitable for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
  • Caloric Density: Flour tortillas are usually more calorie-dense, which should be considered in the context of one's overall dietary goals.

In summary, tortillas can be included in a balanced diet, but it's crucial to consider the type, ingredients, and serving sizes to maintain nutritional balance and align with personal health objectives. By doing so, tortillas can be part of a diverse and nourishing meal plan.

Gluten Content and Sensitivity Considerations in Tortilla Consumption

When discussing whether tortillas are bad for you, gluten content becomes a significant factor for individuals with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease. Traditional corn tortillas are naturally gluten-free, made from masa harina, a type of corn flour treated with lime and water. However, flour tortillas typically contain gluten, as they are made from wheat flour which includes gluten proteins.

Gluten sensitivity can manifest in various ways, from mild intolerance to the severe autoimmune response seen in celiac disease. For those who are sensitive, consuming gluten can lead to a host of adverse effects such as:

  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Fatigue
  • Skin rashes
  • Persistent joint pains
  • and even anemia and depression.

Due to these potential health issues, it's essential for individuals with gluten-related disorders to opt for corn tortillas or those labeled as gluten-free. A recent study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology outlines the importance of maintaining a strict gluten-free diet for those with celiac disease, emphasizing that even trace amounts of gluten can cause damage to the intestinal lining.

It is also important to consider that cross-contamination in facilities processing both wheat and corn tortillas can be a concern. Thus, for those extremely sensitive to gluten, it is recommended to seek out products certified as gluten-free, which adhere to strict guidelines to prevent cross-contamination.

Additionally, for those choosing to eat flour tortillas without a gluten sensitivity, it's worth noting that gluten itself is not inherently bad for the general population. The protein found in wheat and other grains provides elasticity to dough, which is often desirable in baking and cooking. However, overconsumption of any gluten-containing products, regardless of sensitivity, can be part of a diet that's high in processed foods, potentially leading to other health issues if those foods lack nutritional balance.

When considering tortillas in your diet, the gluten content should be a significant factor for those with sensitivities or celiac disease. For everyone else, it’s a matter of personal dietary choices and overall nutritional balance. As with all foods, moderation and variety are key, and for those with medical dietary restrictions, vigilance in avoiding gluten is paramount.

A reference table outlining the gluten content in different types of tortillas:

Type of Tortilla Gluten Content
Corn Tortilla Gluten-free (make sure it's certified if sensitive)
Flour Tortilla Contains Gluten
Whole-Wheat Tortilla Contains Gluten
Gluten-Free Tortilla (alternative flours like almond, coconut, or cassava) Gluten-free

Before making any dietary changes, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional or dietitian, especially if you suspect you have a gluten-related disorder. They can provide personalized advice and testing if needed.

Impact of Tortillas on Blood Sugar and Glycemic Index

When considering the effects of tortillas on blood sugar, it's crucial to understand the concept of the Glycemic Index (GI). The GI is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 based on how much they raise blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high GI are rapidly digested and absorbed, causing a swift rise in blood sugar and insulin levels. Conversely, foods with low GI are digested and absorbed at a slower pace, producing a gradual rise in blood sugar and insulin.

Generally, traditional corn tortillas have a lower GI compared to flour tortillas. The GI of corn tortillas falls in the low to medium range, which makes them a better option for those managing their blood sugar levels. The lower GI is attributable to the type of carbohydrates found in corn, which are more complex and take longer for the body to convert into glucose.

Flour tortillas, on the other hand, typically have a higher GI, making them more likely to spike blood sugar. This is due to the refining process of the flour, which strips away some of the fiber that would otherwise slow down the digestion process. Additionally, flour tortillas often contain fats that can further increase their GI.

Consumption of high-GI foods may not be favorable for individuals with insulin resistance, diabetes, or those trying to manage their weight. Consistent consumption of high-GI foods can lead to spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels, increased hunger, and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

  • Whole grain tortillas: Offering a moderate GI, whole grain tortillas are a more blood sugar-friendly option. They contain more fiber and nutrients than their refined counterparts, contributing to a slower absorption of glucose into the bloodstream.
  • Low-carbohydrate tortillas: Now available on the market, these products typically have a reduced amount of digestible carbs, thus potentially resulting in an even lower impact on blood sugar.

It's important to note that individual responses to carbohydrate foods can vary based on overall meal composition, individual metabolism, and the presence of other nutrients like fiber, protein, and fat. Therefore, pairing tortillas with healthy fats, proteins, and vegetables can help moderate their glycemic impact.

For those monitoring their glycemic response, whole grain or corn tortillas might be preferable to white flour tortillas. Still, it is recommended that they are consumed in moderation and as a part of a balanced diet rich in fiber, protein, and healthy fats to ensure minimal impact on blood sugar levels.

Tortilla Type Estimated Glycemic Index
Corn Tortilla Low to Medium
White Flour Tortilla High
Whole Wheat Tortilla Medium
Low-carb Tortilla Varies

When incorporating tortillas into your diet, awareness of their GI and blood sugar impact is fundamental, especially for those with specific health conditions that necessitate careful blood sugar management.

Preservatives and Additives in Store-Bought Tortillas

Store-bought tortillas often contain preservatives and additives that extend their shelf life and enhance texture and flavor. It's essential to be aware of these substances, as some may have health implications when consumed in large quantities or by individuals with certain sensitivities. Here's an in-depth look at common additives you might find in your tortillas:

  • Calcium Propionate: This preservative is used to prevent mold growth. While the FDA considers it safe, excessive consumption could lead to potential side effects, such as headaches and stomach irritation in some individuals.
  • Monoglycerides and Diglycerides: These emulsifiers help mix ingredients that would not normally combine, such as oil and water. As these can be derived from both plant sources and animal fats, individuals with dietary restrictions should be aware. They are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA, but debates around their health impacts continue.
  • Enriched Flour: Often found in white tortillas, enriched flour is refined flour that has had some vitamins and minerals added back in. While enrichment adds nutrients, it does not replace the fiber and other compounds lost during the refining process.
  • Sodium Metabisulfite: This additive functions as both a preservative and an antioxidant. Some people may be sensitive to sulfites, and they could provoke allergic reactions or asthma symptoms in susceptible individuals.
  • Gums (such as Guar Gum or Xanthan Gum): These are used to improve the texture and stability of tortillas. They are generally safe, but in some individuals, they can cause gastrointestinal symptoms.

In recent studies, such as a publication in the Journal of Food Science, researchers have indicated that while most additives are safe within regulatory limits, individual responses can vary. Consumers should also be aware of the cumulative effect of consuming multiple products with the same additives. When choosing store-bought tortillas, it's recommended to read labels carefully and consider how these additives align with your health goals and dietary needs.

Choosing Healthier Tortillas: Whole Grain vs. Refined Options

When navigating the plethora of tortilla options at the grocery store, one of the most important distinctions to make is between whole grain and refined tortillas. This choice can significantly impact your dietary health and align with your nutritional goals.

Understanding Whole Grain Tortillas

Whole grain tortillas are made from grains that have retained all three parts of the original kernel - the bran, germ, and endosperm. This means they provide more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than their refined counterparts. A higher fiber content is not just beneficial for digestion; it has also been linked to lower risks of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Therefore, opting for whole grain tortillas can be a wholesome addition to a balanced diet.

  • Higher in dietary fiber
  • Richer in essential nutrients like B-vitamins, magnesium, and iron
  • May contain fewer additives

The Downside of Refined Tortillas

Refined tortillas, often labeled as 'enriched,' are made from grains that have been stripped of the bran and germ, leaving mostly the starchy endosperm. This process removes many of the nutrient-rich components, although some nutrients may be added back during manufacturing. While these tortillas are often softer and more pliable, their diminished nutritional profile makes them a less ideal choice for those seeking to maximize their dietary health.

  • Lower in fiber and essential nutrients
  • May lead to quicker spikes in blood sugar levels
  • Often contain more additives and preservatives

Research on Whole Grains vs. Refined Grains

Studies have repeatedly shown the health benefits of whole grains over refined grains. The Whole Grains Council cites research indicating that whole grains can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Whole grain tortillas typically align with these findings as they are a source of whole grains. Specific benefits mentioned in these studies include improved cholesterol levels and better regulation of blood sugar.

Considering Gluten and Other Dietary Restrictions

When choosing between whole grain and refined tortillas, individuals with dietary restrictions such as celiac disease or gluten sensitivity must be cautious. Whole grain tortillas can be made from a variety of grains, some of which may include gluten, such as wheat. However, healthier tortilla options are available made from gluten-free whole grains like corn, quinoa, or brown rice, offering both nutrition and accommodation for dietary needs.

Bottom Line for Your Tortilla Choice

To prioritize health, whole grain tortillas are generally the better pick over refined tortillas. They provide a robust nutritional profile that supports long-term health and wellness. When selecting whole grain tortillas, be sure to check the label for 100% whole grain or whole wheat to ensure you're getting a product made entirely from whole grains. Additionally, watch out for added sugars and excessive sodium, which can sometimes be higher in whole grain products to enhance flavor.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, there are tortillas made specifically for low-carb or ketogenic diets. These are usually made using alternative flours like almond or coconut flour, which are low in carbohydrates and higher in fiber and healthy fats. Additionally, some companies produce tortillas that incorporate fiber-rich ingredients to lower the net carbs, making them suitable for a ketogenic lifestyle.

Tortillas can certainly be a part of a vegan diet. Corn tortillas are typically vegan, as they contain just corn masa, water, and lime. When it comes to wheat tortillas or those made with alternative flours, vegans should check for additives like monoglycerides and diglycerides, which may be derived from animal sources. The key is to read labels carefully and opt for brands that specifically state they are vegan-friendly.

Dietary fiber in tortillas, particularly whole grain or corn tortillas, is beneficial for digestive health, helps to regulate blood sugar levels, and can contribute to feelings of fullness, aiding in weight management. Consuming fiber-rich tortillas as part of a balanced diet can also help decrease the risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease by improving cholesterol levels and decreasing inflammation.

The nixtamalization process, which involves soaking and cooking corn in an alkaline solution, usually lime water, not only gives corn tortillas their distinctive flavor but also improves their nutritional value. It increases the availability of niacin (vitamin B3), an essential nutrient, and enhances the calcium content by adding lime. This process also changes the protein structure of corn, enhancing its digestibility and allowing the masa (dough) to bind without the need for gluten.

Ask a question about Tortillas and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • bloating
  • headaches
  • stomach irritation
  • allergic reactions
  • asthma symptoms
  • gastrointestinal symptoms

Possible long-term side effects

  • weight gain
  • increased risk of type 2 diabetes
  • cardiovascular disease
  • nutrient deficiencies

Ingredients to be aware of


  • good source of dietary fiber
  • naturally gluten-free options
  • rich in essential nutrients
  • low glycemic index options

Healthier alternatives

  • homemade tortillas
  • whole grain tortillas
  • gluten-free whole grain options

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Siete Almond Flour Tortillas

  • Grain-free option
  • High in protein
  • Non-GMO
  • Gluten-free
  • Paleo-friendly
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 12-05-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 12-05-2023

Random Page

Check These Out!