Flour tortillas are a staple food in many cuisines around the world. They can be served as a wrap, rolled up with various fillings, or used as the base for dishes like tacos, quesadillas, and enchiladas. Though they can be part of a healthy diet, it’s important to understand their nutritional value.
What are flour tortillas made from?
Flour tortillas are made from wheat flour (usually all-purpose or bread flour), water, fat (like lard, vegetable oil, or shortening), and salt. Some recipes may also include baking powder or other leaveners to help the tortillas puff up and become soft and pliable. The basic ingredients come together to form the dough, which is then rolled out flat and cooked on a hot surface like a griddle.
Are flour tortillas healthy?
Flour tortillas can be part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation. The biggest factors that impact their nutritional value are the type of flour used, amount of added fat, and any additional ingredients.
Whole wheat or sprouted grain tortillas provide more fiber, protein, and nutrients compared to refined white flour versions. Minimizing added fats like lard or hydrogenated oils also helps increase the nutrition in tortillas. Overall, flour tortillas made with whole food ingredients are a great choice.
Macronutrients in Flour Tortillas
When evaluating the nutritional value of any food, it’s important to look at the macronutrient profile – the amount of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and fiber. This provides insight into how a food item impacts your daily intake needs. Here is the macronutrient breakdown for a standard 6-inch flour tortilla:
Flour tortillas are high in carbohydrates, providing 20-30g per standard size tortilla. This carbohydrate content comes mostly from the added wheat flour, the main ingredient.
Tortillas made with 100% whole wheat flour will be higher in fiber and nutrients compared to refined white flour versions. Sprouted grain tortillas are also an excellent choice, as the sprouting process increases the bioavailability of nutrients.
Regardless of the type used, the flour is the primary contributor to the carbohydrate content in tortillas.
Flour tortillas contain moderate amounts of protein. A 6-inch tortilla provides around 3-4g of protein. This protein comes mostly from the wheat flour.
Again, choosing whole wheat or sprouted wheat flour varieties will provide more protein than tortillas made with processed white flour. Adding other protein sources like chickpea flour or flaxseed can also boost the protein in homemade tortillas.
The amount of fat in flour tortillas can vary widely depending on the recipe. Most versions contain added fats like lard, vegetable oil, shortening, or butter to create a soft and pliable texture. A 6-inch tortilla may provide 2-7g of fat depending on ingredients.
Choosing tortillas made without hydrogenated oils or unhealthy fats like lard or shortening can help increase the nutrition. Opting for heart-healthy fats like olive or avocado oil is ideal for keeping fat content reasonable. Homemade tortillas allow control over the type and amount of added fat.
A standard flour tortilla contains 1-3g of dietary fiber per 6-inch tortilla. Whole wheat versions provide the most fiber, with around 3-4g per serving. This comes from the bran in whole wheat flour.
Tortillas made with added grains like oats also bump up the fiber content. Overall, fiber is a nutrient that varies widely depending on the flour and ingredients used. Choosing whole food options maximizes the fiber in tortillas.
Vitamins and Minerals
In addition to the macronutrients, flour tortillas provide small amounts of several vitamins and minerals:
Also known as vitamin B1, this helps convert carbs into energy and is important for nerve health. A 6-inch flour tortilla contains around 5% of the RDI. Whole wheat tortillas provide slightly more thiamin.
This B vitamin aids in digestion, skin health, and converting nutrients into energy. Tortillas contain around 5% of the RDI per serving.
Also called vitamin B9, folate is crucial for cell growth and development. You get about 5% of the recommended daily intake in a 6-inch tortilla. Whole wheat tortillas provide more folate.
A mineral that helps transport oxygen in the blood, iron is found in tortillas mostly from the added wheat flour. A standard flour tortilla has 4-5% of the RDI for iron.
This bone-building mineral is found in small amounts in tortillas, with around 2% of the RDI per 6-inch tortilla. Enriched flour may have added calcium.
Zinc and copper
Trace minerals that serve many functions in the body, zinc and copper are found in tortillas mostly from the wheat flour. Tortillas made with masa flour provide more of these minerals.
Here are answers to some common questions about the nutritional value of flour tortillas:
Are wheat or corn tortillas healthier?
Corn tortillas are gluten-free and contain only corn, water, and lime. They do not contain added fats. This makes them lower in calories and higher in fiber and nutrients than most flour tortillas. However, whole wheat flour tortillas also provide fiber and minerals. Overall, corn tortillas edge out flour versions on nutrition but both can be healthy in moderation.
Do tortillas have a lot of carbs?
Yes, flour tortillas are high in carbohydrates, with 20-30g per 6-inch tortilla. This comes mainly from the added wheat flour. Sticking with 1-2 tortillas per meal and rounding out meals with veggies and proteins can help keep carbohydrate counts reasonable.
Should you refrigerate or freeze tortillas?
Fresh tortillas are best eaten within a day or two. Refrigerating helps extend the shelf life for 5-7 days. Tortillas also freeze exceptionally well for 2-3 months. Make sure you thaw frozen tortillas before using to prevent cracking.
What are the healthiest tortilla options?
For maximum nutrition, look for tortillas made with sprouted whole grain or 100% whole wheat flour. Added grains like flax or oats also boost nutrition. Minimizing fat by opting for heart-healthy oils or going oil-free also improves the nutrition profile. Smaller tortillas in the 6-8 inch size can help control portions.
Can you lose weight eating tortillas?
Yes, enjoying tortillas in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet can absolutely aid weight loss. Focus on whole grain tortillas with added protein and fiber. Be mindful of portion sizes, and keep an eye on added fats and oils. Pair tortillas with lean proteins, veggies, and healthy fats. Consider mixing tortillas with lower carb wraps.
Despite their refined reputation, flour tortillas can provide some important benefits:
Energy from complex carbohydrates:
The main nutrition in tortillas comes from carbohydrates, which provide energy for the body and brain. Opting for whole grains over refined grains maximizes nutrients.
Protein for growth and fullness:
The protein in tortillas comes mostly from the wheat, providing around 4g per tortilla. This aids post-meal satiety.
Fiber for digestive health:
Fiber content varies based on ingredients, but whole wheat tortillas provide both soluble and insoluble fiber for bowel regularity.
Portability as sandwiches or wraps:
Tortillas are convenient for grab-and-go breakfast burritos, lunch wraps, and more. Their versatility makes them portable and easy.
Corn, rice, and cassava flour tortillas avoid gluten for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
Nutrient boosters like flax:
Added superfoods like flax or oats can provide an extra shot of fiber, protein, and nutrients.
Low in saturated fat:
Most tortillas are low in unhealthy saturated fats, especially compared to pita bread or hamburger buns. Choosing heart-healthy fats also keeps waistlines slim.
There are also some potential downsides to consider:
High glycemic index:
Refined flour tortillas can spike blood sugar quickly due to their high glycemic index. Whole wheat and sprouted versions have a lower glycemic impact.
Lower protein than bread:
With only 3-4g per serving, tortillas offer less protein than most slices of bread. Adding protein boosters can help.
Lower fiber than whole grain bread:
Similar to protein, fiber content is lower compared to 100% whole grain bread options.
Many flour tortillas contain 300-400mg sodium per tortilla. Opting for no-salt-added or homemade tortillas reduces the salt content.
Often contain hydrogenated oils:
Mass-produced tortillas can include unhealthy fats like hydrogenated oils. Check labels and opt for versions with heart-healthy oils.
Allergies and sensitivities:
Wheat tortillas contain gluten. Corn tortillas are suitable for gluten-free diets but may cause issues for those with corn allergies.
Suggested Serving Sizes
Moderation and proper portion size are key when incorporating tortillas into a healthy diet:
As a wrap or sandwich:
One 6-8 inch tortilla
With eggs at breakfast:
One 6-inch tortilla
For tacos or enchiladas:
Two 6-inch tortillas or taco shells
With chili or soup:
1-2 six-inch tortilla wedges
For appetizers or sides:
1-2 ounces tortilla chips (about 15-20 chips)
As a pizza crust:
One 7-10 inch tortilla
In general, aim to stick to 1-3 small or medium tortillas per day as part of a balanced diet. Accompany tortillas with lean proteins and vegetables to make sure you get a nutritious complete meal.
Healthy and Creative Ways to Enjoy Tortillas
Tortillas are endlessly versatile. Here are healthy and creative ways to enjoy them:
Breakfast Taco Bar:
Provide an assortment of fillings like eggs, turkey sausage, saut??ed veggies, cheese, avocado, salsa, and more so guests can assemble their own tacos.
Mediterranean Hummus Wraps:
Spread hummus on a tortilla, and fill with veggies, feta, and olives for a portable meatless meal.
Top baked tortilla wedges with fiber-rich beans, fresh tomatoes and peppers, a sprinkle of cheese, and Greek yogurt for a protein boost.
Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps:
Ditch the tortilla and wrap spicy chicken and veggie stir fry in crisp lettuce leaves.
Cheesy Quinoa and Black Bean Tortilla Pizza:
Top a tortilla with homemade tomato sauce, quinoa, black beans, and reduced fat cheese for a gluten-free pizza.
Baja Fish Tacos:
Bake white fish in a spice rub until flaky, and assemble in tortillas with crunchy slaw and tangy sauce for a lighter take.
Chipotle Chicken Salad Wraps:
Make it a meal by wrapping spicy roasted chicken breast, greens, tomatoes, and beans in a whole wheat tortilla.
Stuff baked tortillas with saut??ed veggies instead of heavy meats and cheese for a vegetarian dish.
The possibilities are endless for creating nourishing and delicious meals with tortillas!
Nutrition facts can vary widely by brand, but here are the averages for a 6-inch white flour tortilla:
1 tortilla (6-inches diameter)
- Saturated Fat: 0.5g
- Dietary Fiber: 1g
- Sugar: 0g
For reference, here are the nutrition facts for a 6-inch whole wheat flour tortilla:
1 tortilla (6-inches diameter)
- Saturated Fat: 0.5g
- Dietary Fiber: 3g
- Sugar: 1g
As you can see, whole wheat tortillas contain more fiber, protein, and micronutrients than white flour varieties.
Flour tortillas can absolutely be part of a nutritious diet when enjoyed in moderation. Choosing whole grain varieties over refined tortillas provides more favorable nutrition stats. Accompanying tortillas with lean proteins, veggies, and healthy fats can round out the meal.
Sticking to reasonable portions and avoiding excessive added fats further improves the nutrition profile. With so much variety available, there are lots of ways to find healthy tortillas to enjoy. Incorporating tortillas alongside other high fiber grains and bread options keeps diets diverse.
So don’t be afraid to work tortillas into a healthy balanced approach. Just be mindful of portions, ingredients, and pairing your tortillas with nutritious toppings for the optimal nutritional value.