Make your own Mexican food and you'll be able to shave off quite a few grams of fat -- and calories -- and increase the fiber and nutrient content. Since many Mexican dishes include tortillas, knowing which type is the most nutritious can help you in your quest to make both healthy and delicious Mexican food. Overall corn tortillas are the healthiest, followed by whole-wheat tortillas and then plain flour tortillas.
If you're only concerned with calories, a corn tortilla is your best bet, but whole-wheat tortillas have the least fat. A 6-inch flour tortilla contains 90 calories, 2.4 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat and 15.4 grams of carbohydrates. Since whole-wheat tortillas are made to be healthier, they are lower in fat, with 0.4 grams, and higher in protein, with 3 grams, so they are also lower in calories with only 71. The same-sized corn tortilla, however, contains only 52 calories and provides 1.4 grams of protein, 0.7 grams of fat and 10.7 grams of carbohydrates.
Vitamins and Minerals
While tortillas do provide you with small amounts of some vitamins and minerals, most aren't particularly vitamin- or mineral-rich. However, regular flour tortillas are usually fortified with folate, so each 6-inch tortilla contains about 15 percent of the daily value. You need folate for preventing neural tube birth defects, preventing anemia, forming DNA and proper cell division.
Fiber helps keep your digestive tract working well, and may also help you lower your cholesterol and your risk for heart disease. Tortillas made with refined flour don't contain much fiber with only 0.7 gram in each 6-ounce tortilla. Opt for a whole-wheat flour tortilla instead and you'll increase the fiber to a more respectable 2 grams, which is 8 percent of the DV for fiber. Corn tortillas fall somewhere in between, with about 1.5 grams per tortilla.
Consuming too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, so you should limit your sodium to no more than 2,300 milligrams per day. Corn tortillas have the least sodium, with only 11 milligrams per tortilla. Whole-wheat tortillas have 131 milligrams each, while regular flour tortillas contain 206 milligrams, or about 9 percent of the recommended daily limit.
Once you've got a healthy tortilla, you need to figure out what to fill it with and how best to prepare it. Avoid frying your tortilla in oil; instead, bake it in the oven to make it crispy or warm it in the oven or microwave to serve it as part of a soft taco or burrito. Choose red or black beans instead of the fattier refried beans, brown rice instead of white rice and salsa instead of guacamole. Opt for grilled shrimp, fish or chicken over beef or pork and limit the amount of cheese or sour cream you use.
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Tortillas, Ready-to-bake or -fry, Flour, Refrigerated
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Tortillas, Ready-to-bake or -fry, Corn
- MyFoodAdvisor: Tortilla, Whole Wheat Flour
- MayoClinic.com: Healthy Diet: Do You Follow Dietary Guidelines?
- HelpGuide.org: Healthy Fast Food
- American Cancer Society: Restaurant Eating Tips
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Calculate the Percent Daily Value for the Appropriate Nutrients
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.