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Can Diabetics Eat Tamales?

Tamales are a dish made by combining steamed corn dough (masa) and a variety of fillings, such as beef, chicken, pork, cheese, or vegetables, and baking the resulting mixture in a corn husk. [1] They are Mexican food but have come to be enjoyed worldwide.

Since one of Tameles’ ingredients is corn, which is a carbohydrate, many diabetics wonder if they can eat tamales and how to fit foods like that into their overall diet. Here’s a breakdown of the nutrition of tamales, including carbohydrates (carbs), their glycemic index (GI) score, and ways to fit them into a diabetic diet.

Nutrition Facts of Tamales

Listing the nutrition facts of every single variation of tamales would take a considerable amount of space. Listed below are the nutrition facts for tamales made both with meat and without meat.

Tamale, plain, meatless, no sauce, Mexican style
Serving size: 1 medium tamale (128g) [2]

Calories238 cal
Total carbohydrate34.2g
Calcium30.7 mg
Iron0.67 mg
Sodium355 mg
Riboflavin0.06 mg
Thiamin0.05 mg
Vitamin C0 mg
Vitamin A2.56 µg
Saturated fat3.36g
Trans fat0 g
Cholesterol21.8 mg
Glycemic index rating81 [3]

Tamale with meat
Serving size: 1 medium tamale (128g) [4]

Calories275 cal
Total carbohydrate18.9g
Calcium66.6 mg
Iron0.69 mg
Sodium591 mg
Riboflavin0.09 mg
Thiamin0.07 mg
Niacin2.92 mg
Vitamin C0 mg
Vitamin A2.56 µg
Saturated fat6.63g
Trans fat0 g
Cholesterol51.2 mg
Glycemic index rating81 [5]

Are Tamales Good for Diabetics?

When someone asks, “Are tamales good for diabetics?” they usually mean, “Are tamales high in carbohydrates?” One set of nutritional facts for tamales says they contain 28g of carbs. 5g of that is dietary fiber, with no added sugars. [6] So on the carbohydrate front, tamales aren’t that bad. Corn masa has a high GI score of 70. [7] The meat fillings usually used in tamales have a GI score of 0 and thus lower the overall GI score of the tamale itself. [8]

Tamale sauce also contains carbs (one type has 5g a serving) [9] , and unlike the tamale itself, the sauce doesn’t have fiber to offset this or a high amount of any other nutrient. Diabetics may want to avoid topping their tamales in a sauce as a result.

But carbs aren’t the only part of the picture. Those same tamales also have 18g of fat – almost a quarter of the fat you need in a day. Tamales are traditionally made with lard, which is high in saturated fat, the unhealthy fat most people should eat little of. [10] Eating too much-saturated fat can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease. [11]

This means tamales can’t be said to be good or bad for diabetics. Certain types and additions to tamales can make them very bad for diabetics, but a lot of those ingredients can be left out or changed to make them more diabetic-friendly.

How Many Calories in Chicken Tamales?

Both the overall calorie count and the total fat of any tamales are affected by what is chosen as a filling. Chicken has one advantage over other meats, such as beef and pork. It is much lower in fat than any of them. One 100g piece of chicken has 3.24g of fat [12], while a similarly sized piece of beef has 11.4g of fat. [13]

Since fat is very calorie-dense, less fat means fewer calories (as long as no other calorie-dense ingredients are used as a fat replacement). That means tamales made with chicken are more likely to have lower calories than those made with beef.

One recipe for chicken tamales gives a calorie count of 131 and 8g of fat per serving. [14] Beef ones, in contrast, have a calorie count of 347 and 24g of fat per serving. [15] Both recipes call for lard, which also adds to both counts. Removing the lard would no doubt lower them.

Healthy Substitutions for Tamales

If you are a diabetic that enjoys tamales, there are several ways you can make them that will be overall healthier. These include:

  • As mentioned before, chicken can be a good substitute for beef or pork in tamales for diabetics because of the difference in fat. Red meats like beef have higher saturated fat totals than chicken. Fat in chicken is mostly in the skin, so removing that can reduce the fat content even more. [16]
  • Beans can also be a good substitute. In addition to being low in fat, they have a lot of protein and fiber. 100g of black beans has 24g of protein and 4g of fiber. [17] Chickpeas can also make a good meat substitute.
  • Make sure the corn used for the corn masa has gone through the nixtamalization process (cooked in a lime solution before being soaked and ground). Corn that has gone through such a process has been shown to have a lower GI score than corn that has not. [18]
  • Avoid adding sauces. Many tamale sauces are high in sugar, and those that are not, like cheese sauce and sour cream, are high in fat.
  • Use vegetable oil to make tamales instead of lard. Vegetable oil contains the unsaturated fats that should make up most of your fat consumption. [19]
  • If you have no nut allergies, substitute almond flour for corn masa. Almond flour has only 6g of carbs in 1/4th a cup (24g), and 3g of those are fiber. [20] The GI score of almonds is a low 15. [21] Almond flour is also lower in calories than corn masa.


Does Corn Dough in Tamales Spike my Blood Sugar?

The tamales’ corn dough (masa) has a high GI rating (70). So there is a potential for the dough to spike blood sugar. Filling the tamales with a low-carb filling will help balance out the score and make the dough less likely to cause a blood sugar spike.

Are Tamales Fattening?

Tamales are like any other food. If all the food you take in in a day has more calories than you expend, you gain weight. If all the food you take in a day has fewer calories than you expend, you lose weight. Tamales are usually fairly high in fat, but that alone does not make them cause weight gain.

Are Corn Tortillas Good for Diabetics?

Corn tortillas are lower in carbs than those made with white flour because they are made with whole-grain corn. They are still quite high in carbs overall, like other corn products, and thus should not be frequently consumed on their own by those with diabetes.

Final Thoughts

Tamales are one of many foods that can seem off-limits to diabetes. And while many parts of traditionally made tamales make them a very diabetic-unfriendly food, you can make many adjustments to become healthier. With those adjustments, although they shouldn’t be consumed daily, diabetics can still enjoy a tamale or two if they want.


  1. Coen, K. (n.d.). Iconic Cuisine: Tamales of the Maya. HistoricalMX.
  2. Tamale, plain, meatless, no sauce, Mexican style (n.d.). FoodData Central. Retrieved March 12, 2023, from
  3. Mariscal-Moreno, R. M., de Dios Figueroa Cárdenas, J., Santiago-Ramos, D., Rayas-Duarte, P., Veles-Medina, J. J., & Martínez-Flores, H. E. (2017). Nixtamalization Process Affects Resistant Starch Formation and Glycemic Index of Tamales. Journal of Food Science, 82(5), 1110–1115.
  4. Tamale with meat. (n.d.). FoodData Central. Retrieved March 12, 2023, from
  5. Mariscal-Moreno, R. M., de Dios Figueroa Cárdenas, J., Santiago-Ramos, D., Rayas-Duarte, P., Veles-Medina, J. J., & Martínez-Flores, H. E. (2017). Nixtamalization Process Affects Resistant Starch Formation and Glycemic Index of Tamales. Journal of Food Science, 82(5), 1110–1115.
  6. Nutrition Facts for El Monterey – Beef Tamales. (n.d.). Myfooddata. Retrieved March 11, 2023, from
  7. admin. (2021, February 8). Corn flour – Glycemic Index, Glycemic load, Nutrition Facts. Glycemic Index Guide.
  8. Glycemic Index of Meats Complete Chart. (n.d.). Glycemic Index Guide. Retrieved March 11, 2023, from
  9. Tamale sauce by Georgia Peach Products, Inc. nutrition facts and analysis. (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2023, from
  10. Making the Traditional Tamale Healthier. (n.d.). Houston Methodist On Health. Retrieved March 11, 2023, from
  11. Fats | ADA. (n.d.).
  12. Chicken, broiler or fryers, breast, skinless, boneless, meat only, cooked, braised. (n.d.). FoodData Central.
  13. Beef, short loin. (n.d.). FoodData Central.
  14. Red Chicken Tamales (Tamales Rojos de Pollo). (n.d.). Allrecipes. Retrieved March 12, 2023, from
  15. Beef Tamales. (n.d.). Allrecipes.
  16. Meat, Poultry, and Fish: Picking Healthy Proteins. (2017). American Heart Association.
  17. Beans, Dry, Black. (n.d.). FoodData Central.
  18. Enríquez-Castro, C. M., Torres-Chávez, P. I., Ramírez-Wong, B., Quintero-Ramos, A., Ledesma-Osuna, A. I., López-Cervantes, J., & Gerardo-Rodríguez, J. E. (2020). Physicochemical, Rheological, and Morphological Characteristics of Products from Traditional and Extrusion Nixtamalization Processes and Their Relation to Starch. International Journal of Food Science, 2020, 1–12.
  19. Fats | ADA. (n.d.).
  20. Flour, almond. (n.d.). FoodData Central. Retrieved March 11, 2023, from
  21. admin. (2021, February 8). Almond: Glycemic Index (GI), glycemic load (GL) and calories per 100g. Glycemic Index Guide.

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