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Ask Tufts Experts April 2012 Issue

Q: I eat whole-wheat bread and pasta, but I also eat a lot of corn tortillas. Is corn a whole grain? Are my tortillas healthy?

Answer :  Melissa Page, a dietetic intern at Tufts’ Frances Stern Nutrition Center, dug into this question for us: “A product is considered whole grain if it includes all the naturally occurring parts of the grain seed—the endosperm, germ and bran. Food product manufacturers don’t make it easy to determine if their products are whole grain, and it’s especially hard with corn products. The ingredient list is the best way to determine if your tortillas contain whole grains. Look for words such as ‘stoneground whole corn’ or ‘whole corn’ at the top of the ingredient list. For example, a corn tortilla would be considered a whole grain product if the tortilla was made from whole corn flour. On the other hand, products made with ‘degerminated cornmeal’ are not considered whole grain. Look for products that contain whole corn or masa harina to get all the vitamins and minerals that corn can provide. The Whole Grains Council also has a stamp to mark products that contain at least half or a whole serving of whole grains. You can find more information about this at www.wholegrainscouncil.org.

“So how do corn tortillas stand up against whole grain bread and pasta? When comparing whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta and a corn tortilla, several things stand out. We compared each of the three products based on the standard serving size of whole grain in that particular food: one medium slice of whole-wheat bread, one half-cup of whole-wheat pasta, and one six-inch diameter corn tortilla. Although corn tortillas can be a good source of whole grain, they have slightly less fiber, essential vitamins and minerals when compared to whole-wheat bread and whole-wheat pasta. The most significant difference was in the magnesium content of corn tortillas, which was lower than whole-wheat bread and pasta. But corn tortillas, like other whole-grain products, provide a healthy alternative to white bread. Whole-grain products contain more fiber, which slows digestion and keeps you fuller for longer periods of time.”

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