The tortilla, or as we affectionately call it in Ireland, the "wrap", is an unleavened flatbread that originated in Mexico where it has been used for hundreds of years to make burritos, enchiladas and tacos. It has since become a regular option for lunches and dinners across many cultures.
The popularity of wraps originally stemmed from their simple ingredients, versatility, ease of storage, and because they were extremely cheap to make.
Nowadays, their popularity is driven by their convenience, taste, and the common perception that wraps are the healthy snack option by virtue of being "light", "lower in calories" or "just anything but bread".
These associations might be seen as being potentially good for managing body weight, but are wraps a healthy meal option for you and your family?
If you have been following my articles over the past few months, you already know the answer!
The traditional tortilla wrap was made from stoneground corn, water and lime. This is vastly different to the wraps that are commercially available to you now. Currently, there is an array of wraps on the market including wheat, wholegrain, rice flour and vegetable-flavoured wraps like tomato or spinach flavour.
The most common wrap available in shops, delis etc is made with wheat flour and contains approximately 210 calories, 36g of carbohydrate, 5g of fat and 6g of protein.
The filling will drastically affect the complete nutritional value. A filling of processed cheese and bacon is obviously different to a mix of salad and a quality meat source.
You may think that nutrition profile doesn't sound all that bad ("If I just choose the best possible fillings, this is a healthy option"). But, when you examine the full list of ingredients, you will see these supposedly healthy wraps in a different light.
The carbohydrate in wraps typically comes from bleached white flour, which contains little to no nutrients. Foods containing white flour are digested quickly, causing rapid increases in blood sugar, which I have mentioned several times before as being detrimental to health.
The fats in wraps are unhealthy fats that are sourced from highly processed vegetable and/or seed oils, which contain predominantly omega-6 fatty acids. In excess, these fats are now known to be pro-inflammatory.
Additionally, the other fats often included in wraps are hydrogenated vegetable fats – the worst kind for increasing the risk of diseases like cardiovascular disease. This type of fat is included primarily to extend shelf life and to keep them soft.
The rest of the ingredients should really not be eaten on a daily basis. For example, recently out shopping, I picked up some spinach tortilla wraps. A quick look at the ingredients revealed that the only thing that set them apart from the regular bleached white wrap was a spinach powder seasoning at "2pc or less". Not exactly what you would call a spinach tortilla, but they were at least green in colour.
The label stated they contain-ed no "trans fats or chol-esterol", but, on closer inspection, included hydrogenated soybean and palm oils, and a list of other ingredients that included artificial flavours and enhancers, preservatives, colours (to make them green), bleached wheat flour, corn and wheat starch, and a high salt content. Not so appetising and certainly not appropriate for staying lean and healthy!
Of course, not all wraps contain these ingredients, and some can be a healthy option.
Are there healthy wrap options? What can be considered a healthy wrap that can be used to make a convenient and tasty meal? Apart from using large lettuce, spinach, kale or other vegetable leafs as wraps (the most nutritious option but not exactly the most convenient), homemade wraps made from eggs, salt and water with either coconut, oat or buckwheat flour are a great alternative.
This type of wrap, accompanied with a dense filling of fresh vegetables and a quality source of meat-like beef, turkey or chicken, will provide you with a seriously tasty and healthy meal.
I will include some healthy wrap ideas on Twitter, so be sure to check in with @FoodFlicker over the weekend.
It would be great if wraps did live up to the hype of being a healthy option, but, unfortunately, commercially available wraps are not the way to go.
Like most other meal options that you can buy, the healthy wrap option is something that you can make yourself with a little effort and experimentation.
So, will you buy a bleached flour wrap for lunch tomorrow? I'll leave that up to you!
Daniel Davey BSc MSc, CSCS, NEHS is a performance nutritionist