The most common types of tortillas you’ll find in your local grocery store are flour tortillas, corn tortillas, and wheat tortillas. Of the three, flour tortillas are the least healthy. The packaging of flour tortillas might draw you in with words like “super soft,” but almost everything about these seemingly harmless tortillas comes at a cost — especially for blood sugar levels. Fortunately, there are healthier options for making delicious wraps, such as lettuce, bell peppers and homemade tortillas using almond flour and flaxseeds. Keep reading for the best tortilla alternatives for blood sugar.
What is unhealthy about a flour tortilla?
- Flour tortillas are refined and highly processed.
If you look on the back of a bag of flour tortillas, one of the first ingredients you’ll find on the list is enriched flour or perhaps enriched bleached flour. Both terms refer to the same thing: flour that’s been processed and depleted of its nutrients, bleached and then processed again to add back certain nutrients lost in prior refining stages. Thus, a flour tortilla is not only an empty-calorie food, akin to soda or cookies; it’s also been processed with chemicals we ordinarily wouldn’t put in our food.
- Flour tortillas are carbohydrate dense.
During the milling process in which whole grains become processed flour, important nutrients — including dietary fiber, B vitamins, and iron — are removed from flour tortillas. What’s left behind is a refined, carbohydrate-rich flour product that your body breaks down quickly due to a lack of complex carbs. It’s no wonder, then, that flour tortillas score high (a value of 71) on the glycemic index (GI), which means that they could spike your blood sugar levels. (Learn all about low and high Glycemic Index (GI) foods, and also see our guide to Glycemic Index vs. Glycemic Load to explore the difference between these two measurements.)
For those with chronic high blood sugar levels and who are vulnerable to dramatic blood sugar level swings, these high-glycemic foods are ones to avoid. Instead, reach for foods with lower glycemic index values and lower glycemic loads — such as non-starchy, high-fiber vegetables — to better control and manage your blood sugar levels. (For more tips on how to better manage your blood sugar levels, refer to our report on 7 Simple Ways to Control Blood Sugar Spikes.)
However, contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates aren’t all bad, and certain amounts of them are essential to fueling the body with energy. But it’s best to pay attention to how much and what types of carbs you consume. Dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar levels stress the body’s blood sugar regulatory systems and can increase your risk of diabetes and hypoglycemia. Learn more in Confused About Carbohydrates? And see our guide, The Link Between Blood Sugar and Diabetes.
Corn tortillas and wheat tortillas score lower on the glycemic index than flour tortillas, which means they are less likely to spike your blood sugar levels. However, like flour tortillas, these options likely also contain additives to preserve the food for longer, as well as bleaching agents. And while whole wheat tortillas may sound healthier than refined flour tortillas, some of them may contain as much as 380 mg, or more, of sodium.
Spinach and tomato wraps may seem like healthier options, but when you look at the ingredients list, you’ll find that these, too, are often made from refined flour and contain minimal spinach or tomato content. Make sure to read the nutritional label and the ingredients list on the back to spot any red flags such as high sodium content, use of refined flour, and high saturated fats content.
Healthy Tortilla Alternatives to Try
Many store-bought tortillas tend to be problematic for those with high blood sugar levels and those with diabetes, and even healthy individuals should refrain from consuming them. Luckily, there are healthier options for making delicious wraps. Below are three healthy tortilla alternatives unlikely to cause blood sugar spikes.
For a low-calorie alternative to tortillas, try lettuce wraps. Comprised of 95% water, lettuce contains minimal carbs, with half of its carb content derived from dietary fibers. Lettuce wraps are a great alternative to tortillas as they pose a minimal risk of spiking blood sugar levels. Lettuce wraps go great with meat, shredded veggies and melted cheese. Tip: shredded carrots add a delicious crunch to your every bite.
Bell peppers are another healthy alternative to flour tortilla wraps. In this case, you don’t wrap your food in a burrito; you stuff your bell peppers. Like lettuce, bell peppers comprise a large percentage of water (94%) and are low in calories. They also make great tortilla alternatives because they score low on the glycemic index (10) and have a low glycemic load. Bell peppers are sweet, but eating them is unlikely to spike your blood sugar levels.
A nice bonus with using bell peppers as a tortilla alternative is that you can save time on cooking and assembling. Stuff your bell peppers with your meat or veggie filling and throw them in the oven to bake. After they’re done baking, lightly sprinkle some cheese on top and you’ll have food ready to go.
Homemade Almond Flour Flaxseed Wraps
When you make your own DIY tortilla wraps at home, you don’t have to second guess whether they are healthy if you choose low-glycemic ingredients such as almond flour and ground flaxseeds. One serving of almond flour (15 grams or 0.06 cup) contains a total of 3 grams of carbohydrates. A third of these carbs derive from dietary fibers, amounting to a net carb of 2 grams per serving of flour — which is less than 1% of the daily recommended value for carbs for a person with diabetes (based on a 2000-calorie diet). Flaxseeds are highly nutritious as they are high in dietary fiber and healthy fats, which make them a safe and healthy ingredient to use in your blood sugar-safe tortilla. A short study found that incorporating flaxseed three times throughout the day helped to lower blood glucose levels in as short a period as 24 hours. You can reap the health benefits of flaxseed by adding ground flaxseed (or flaxseed meal), an easier way to digest this superfood, to your homemade tortilla recipe.
- Add almond flour and flaxseed meal to a bowl at a 2:1 ratio. Throw in a pinch of salt and mix.
- After the dry ingredients have been well incorporated, gradually add warm water and knead the dough. The recommended amount of water should equal the amount of almond flour you used (if you used ½ cup of almond flour, add in ½ cup of water), but adjust according to your dough. The dough should not be too sticky.
- The next step is to divide the dough and roll each piece out to resemble a flat tortilla wrap.
- Cook each wrap over medium heat in a nonstick pan with some olive oil. Each side cooks for one minute. Repeat until all the wraps have been cooked, let them cool and then assemble your wrap and enjoy.
A key aspect of managing blood sugar levels is choosing the right kinds of foods. As much as flour tortillas have served us well on Taco Tuesday nights, they are not healthy nor an optimal choice for those with high blood glucose. Instead, choose carbohydrate foods with low glycemic values and low glycemic loads to ensure a healthy range of blood sugar levels as opposed to dramatic spikes. Most vegetables tend to score low on the glycemic index (except for starchy vegetables such as potatoes) and therefore make great tortilla substitutes. So try one of the healthy tortilla alternatives cited in this report the next time you reach for flour tortillas.