Are Tamales Healthy?

Tamales are traditional Mexican foods often served at New Year's Eve or Christmas Eve dinners. They are steamed bundles of corn dough stuffed with tasty fillings that range from spinach and mushrooms or cheese and green chiles to beef, pork or chicken. Despite being high in fat and sodium, tamales are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and fiber that support optimal health.

A close-up of tamales for sale at a vendor. (Image: Arturo Peña Romano Medina/iStock/Getty Images)

Dietary Macronutrients

A 100-gram serving of tamales contains about 18.12 grams of carbohydrate that provides your body with its basic fuel. The same serving size offers 6.12 grams of total fat, which includes 2.4 grams of saturated fat. This is 9 percent of the daily value for fat and 12 percent of the daily value for saturated fat. Eating too much total fat and saturated fat elevates your blood cholesterol levels and increases your risk for heart disease. Also, a 100-gram serving of tamales delivers approximately 3.1 grams of dietary fiber, meeting 10 percent to 12 percent of your daily fiber needs. Fiber helps maintain a healthy digestive system and promotes regular bowel movements. Eating a 100-gram serving of tamales introduces 6.28 grams of protein into your diet. This is 13 percent of the daily value for protein, a nutrient your body needs to repair cells and build new ones.

Source of Minerals

Tamales contain good amounts of iron and phosphorus. Eating a 100-gram serving of tamales will provide you with 1.22 milligrams of iron, meeting 7 percent to 15 percent of your daily requirement for this mineral. The same serving offers you 99 milligrams of phosphorus, meeting 14 percent of your daily requirement. Iron helps your body produce adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, an energy source. Your body uses phosphorus to grow, maintain and repair your tissues and cells. Tamales also contain 427 milligrams of sodium per 100-gram serving, which is 19 percent of the recommended daily limit for healthy people. Eating too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure.

Rich in Vitamins

Each 100-gram serving of tamales provides about 10 percent to 11 percent of the vitamin B-3 you need each day. Not only does vitamin B-3 improve your blood circulation, but also it helps your body make stress- and sex-related hormones. Tamales are a rich source of vitamins B-6 and B-12, with almost 0.14 milligrams of vitamin B-6 and 0.54 micrograms of vitamin B-12 in a 100-gram serving. This is equivalent to 11 percent of your daily vitamin B-6 requirement and 23 percent of your daily vitamin B-12 requirement. Your body needs vitamin B-6 to manufacture neurotransmitters, chemicals that transfer signals from one nerve cell to the next. The vitamin also contributes to healthy brain development. Vitamin B-12 helps maintain healthy nerve cells.

Preparing Healthier Tamales

Instead of purchasing unhealthy tamales at your local store, prepare them yourself to boost their nutritional content. Use vegetables, chicken or beans to make fillings instead of beef or pork. By doing so, you will able to increase the fiber and nutrient content of tamales and cut the saturated fat content at the same time. Also, according to the Eating Well website, replacing the lard traditionally used for making corn dough with part-skim ricotta cheese will help slash the fat and calories in tamales.

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