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Great Substitutes for Grain-Based Tortillas and Taco Shells

June 10, 2020

There’s nothing like Taco Tuesday to help get the week started on a happy note. You can stuff tacos with your favorite protein-packed fillings, like chicken, beef or beans, and pile on the veggies, sauces, cheese, and other toppings to make each bite flavorful and satisfying.

Yet, “while whole grains do offer great health benefits associated with better gut health and longevity, we tend to eat a lot of wheat, when we’d be better off with more variety of those grains,” says Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.

And eating foods in their whole forms more often is an excellent way to retain those nutrients and avoid any depletion or added ingredients during processing. If you’re looking to switch up your taco shells, it isn’t all that hard to swap in some better substitutes that can replace those soft wheat tortillas and add in fresh veggies, too.

Plus, if you’re gluten-free or on a low-carb diet, you’ll want to consider these options instead. Here are a few ways to still enjoy tacos without the grains.

Corn Tortillas

Corn tortillas made with blue corn are a great way to switch up your “real” taco shells and swap in some corn instead.

“If you buy them in their most fresh form, they’re simply made with milled blue corn, water, lime juice and salt,” she says. If you can get your hands on the masa yourself, these aren’t that difficult to make, either. Plus, blue corn does have some good nutrition benefits. “Blue corn actually offers slightly more protein as well as more anti-inflammatory antioxidants, than traditional corn,” she says.

Lettuce Wraps

Lettuce is an easy alternative to traditional taco shells—you can even find it on several menus as a delicious, veggie-dense and low-carb option. “It’s important to choose the right lettuce that is sturdy enough to hold all of your desired taco fillings, though,” she says.

Bibb lettuce is an excellent pick as long as you choose leaves that are large enough to wrap around the fillings and won’t make a mess or crumble. “It’s also more green than a romaine, indicating slightly higher nutrient composition, including vitamin A,’ she says, which is great for your bone, skin, and eye health, as well as your immune system.

Purple Cabbage

Brighten up your plate with purple tacos. “Purple cabbage leaves have rich fiber and prebiotics that help support the good bacteria in your digestive tract,” she says, so you’re benefiting your gut and immunity with each bite.

Just choose some of the leaves towards the middle of a head of cabbage. “They’ll be sturdy enough without being difficult to chew when raw,” she says. Chop the rest of the cabbage and roast with olive oil, salt and pepper as a side dish for later in the week.

Grain-Free Tortillas

“Several brands have come out with grain free tortillas for those who have celiac disease or autoimmune disorders—or just for people who want more variety in their food selection,” she says. Just check the ingredient lists before purchasing, as many gluten-free products are actually less nutritious than their gluten containing counterparts, she says.

A tip? The ones made with cassava flour and even cashew or almond flour are good bets to provide satisfying fiber and nutrition.

Bell Pepper Halves

Halved bell peppers are fun to fill with taco ingredients and can hold up much better than traditional taco shells. Plus, they add that pop of color to the dish. “Since they’re so sturdy, you can fill them to the brim, too. And because they’re rich in vitamin C, they can help increase absorption of iron to help when choosing a vegan option, such as lentils or beans for a filling,” she says.

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