Even if you consider yourself a pretty savvy grocery shopper, not all the decision-making happening in the aisles is easy. Buying the most nutrient-rich food for your buck can be tricky—what with the various types of alternative pastas, deciphering all the terminology on the different cartons of eggs, and figuring out the difference between whole grain bread versus whole wheat….
Another choice that requires some thought? Choosing corn vs. flour tortillas. They both deliver on taste, there’s no question about that. But which one brings more to the table than just flavor? According to Melissa Rifkin, RD, both types of flatbreads have their own specific benefits. Choosing between them comes down to your individual health goals and nutrient needs, and of course, your taste preferences.
The health benefits of corn tortillas
If you’re putting a corn tortilla on your plate, Rifkin says you’re already getting several important nutrients before you even pile anything else on top. One MVP: magnesium. A single corn tortilla has 17 milligrams of magnesium, which isn’t a huge percentage of the 310 milligrams to aim for each day, but every little bit counts.
“Magnesium plays important roles in metabolic reactions in the body and can also help with muscle recovery after exercise,” Rifkin says. That means, if you’re having tacos or a quesadilla for dinner after a particularly hard work out or long run, noshing on a corn tortilla could help your body recuperate.
Something else corn tortillas deliver on is phosphorus. “This nutrient is important for bone and tooth health,” Rifkin says. “It’s also necessary for breaking down and using the carbs and fats we eat.” One corn tortilla has 75 milligrams of phosphorus, part of the 1,250 milligrams recommended to get each day.
The last major nutrient Rifkin loves corn tortillas for is fiber, which “plays major roles in digestive regularity and even cholesterol management,” she says, and not getting enough can lead to feeling constipated. While a single corn tortilla only has one gram of fiber, it’s important to keep in mind that you’ll likely be adding fiber-rich sources such as beans and veggies on top, so your meal certainly won’t be lacking in the nutrient.
The health benefits of flour tortillas
While corn tortillas have more than double the amount of phosphorus as flour tortillas, they clock in pretty evenly when it comes to magnesium. And as for the fiber: Flour tortillas are a little higher than corn. But Rifkin says the big perk of flour tortillas is the protein.
One corn tortilla has one gram of protein, while one flour tortilla has about six grams. (You want to aim for about 75 grams daily, depending on how active you are.) “Protein is key to actually being satiated,” Rifkin says. “The more protein you consume at a meal or snack, the fuller you are likely to feel for a longer period of time.” Protein also provides the body with energy—if you don’t eat enough, you’re bound to feel run-down.
Flour tortillas are also higher in calcium, containing five times the amount as in corn tortillas. This means you’re doing your bones a favor when you use it as the base for your meal.
How to choose between them
As you can see, in the battle of corn vs. flour tortillas, both have value. So how do you pick one over the other? Rifkin says if you follow a particular eating plan, that might be the deciding factor. “For example, if you are diabetic and eat low-glycemic, corn tortillas are the best choice because they are lower in carbs, something someone who is diabetic must be mindful of,” she says. Whereas if you’re sensitive to gluten, flour tortillas are automatically off the table.
But other than that, Rifkin says you can let your taste preference guide you—especially considering that the bulk of your nutrients are going to come from what you put on your tortillas. “Whichever one you choose to buy, just be mindful of the sodium content when shopping for them,” Rifkin says. “And if you’re buying corn tortillas because you have a gluten allergy, check the packaging to make sure they are truly gluten-free and made in a gluten-free facility.”
With these tips in mind, you’re ready to focus on the other glorious parts of your meal: beans, avocado, cheese, veggies, hot sauce…Whatever you add, your tortilla will be what ties it all together, both in taste *and* nutrition.
You know what will taste good with your tortillas? This Mexican corn salad:
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