Traditionally, Mexicans serve tamales at Christmas or other holiday and celebration dinners. Although typically filled with pork or beef and high in both fat and calories, these little corn husk bundles of filling surrounded by corn dough don't have to be high in fat and calories if you make them yourself and choose more nutritious ingredients.
One pork tamale contains about 247 calories, 10.4 grams of protein, 22.4 grams of carbohydrates and 12.8 grams of fat, including 3.8 grams of saturated fat. This is 20 percent of the daily value for fat and 19 percent of the DV for saturated fat. However, this tamale also provides 14 percent of the DV for fiber. Getting too much fat and saturated fat in your diet makes it more likely you will gain weight and develop Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, while consuming plenty of dietary fiber lowers your risk for high cholesterol and constipation.
Pork tamales aren't a particularly good source of most vitamins, although each tamale does provide at least 5 percent of the DV for niacin, vitamin B-6, vitamin A and vitamin K. Niacin improves your circulation, and vitamin B-6 is essential for normal brain function. You need vitamin A to keep your eyes healthy and your immune system working properly, and vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting.
While each pork tamale provides 10 percent of the DV for calcium, which you need for healthy bones and muscle and nerve function, it also contains 672 milligrams of sodium, which is 29 percent of the recommended daily limit for healthy people. Getting too much sodium in your diet increases your risk for high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack.
Making Healthier Tamales
Instead of buying relatively unhealthy tamales at a store or restaurant, make them yourself to improve their nutritional content. Opt for bean, vegetable, chicken or shrimp filling instead of beef or pork, and go easy on the cheese you use in your filling to lower their fat content. Bean and vegetable fillings also increase the nutrient and fiber content of tamales. Replacing the large amount of lard traditionally used for the corn dough with whipped, part-skim ricotta cheese, as recommended by "Eating Well," cuts the fat and calories in tamales by more than half and increases their calcium content.
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.