Bowl with blue corn tortilla chips

Blue Corn Tortilla Chips: Are They Healthy?

There's a wide selection of tortilla chips to choose from at the grocery store, and you may be wondering, are those blue corn tortilla chips healthier than the regular tortilla chips?

If you look at the nutrition facts on the label, you'll notice they are pretty similar. Both tend to have 2 g of protein and 1-2 g of fiber per a 1 oz serving. This same serving size has 15-20 g of carbohydrates, and 6-9 g of fat, mostly from the oil used to fry them (baked chips will have less fat). Corn tortilla chips won't offer many vitamins, but will provide a small of amount of minerals, including iron. When it comes to their potential to benefit our health, the X factor is actually due to what makes them blue. Yes, it's naturally occurring–not an artificial food color!

Blue corn benefits

Are blue corn tortilla chips healthy

Blue corn contains anthocyanins, a naturally occurring pigment found in plants that give food its blue, red or purple color. Anthocyanins are polyphenol flavonoids that act as antioxidants and can be beneficial to our health.

In addition to the healthful hue, blue corn itself also has a higher protein content and lower glycemic index compared to yellow corn. While most of the studies using blue corn extract specifically are preclinical or in vitro studies, the benefits of anthocyanins are well established for human health.

Blue corn… and cancer cells

Go blue for brain benefits

  • A preclinical study showed that rats fed blue corn tortillas, in addition to their regular diet, experienced improved long- and short-term memory (compared to white corn tortillas and control food groups).

Rev up your metabolic health

  • In a rat model that mimics metabolic syndrome in humans, blue corn extract improved  levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol and decreased systolic blood pressure, serum triglycerides, total cholesterol and fat tissue.

Blue and purple foods

Fruits, vegetables, and even some grains, are blue or purple in color are due to naturally occurring pigments called anthocyanins. Grapes and cabbage are common ones that may come to mind, but did you know that these other foods also come in purple?

  • Tea
  • Rice
  • Potatoes
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Asparagus
Blue corn anthocyanin health benefits

Some of these purple foods may not be as readily available in stores as their counterparts, so check specialty stores or markets. Is this extra effort (and price) worth it? The purple pigment equates to added benefits for our health in the form of greater antioxidant value, and may actually be the better option in the case of rice or potatoes.

Of course, you can take your passion for purple too far. The celebrity Mariah Carey reportedly once followed a "purple foods diet." This is something I would not suggest, since it's important to "eat the rainbow".

Each color/pigment offers its own nutritional benefits, so you'll want to include a variety of naturally colorful foods in your diet, too – not just the purple ones! For example, orange carrots and green asparagus are still nutrient dense options; the orange pigment offers us beta-carotene, while green veggies provide chlorophyll.

Blue corn vs yellow corn: What are the different types?

Yellow corn contains a pigment called carotenoids

There are a few varieties of yellow and white corn, or bicolor corn, including sweet corn and dent corn.

  • Sweet corn is the type you typically enjoy on the cob, and it's easy to find at any grocery store. As the name hints, it does have a higher sugar content than other varieties.
  • Yellow corn is a type of sweet corn, and its richer yellow color indicates the presence of different pigments called carotenoids, which provide lutein and zeaxanthin antioxidants.
  • Dent corn is a type of field corn that is commonly used in food manufacturing for products like tortilla chips (but not popcorn – that is a separate variety).
Blue corn is a type of flint corn

What about blue corn? This colorful variety is actually a type of flint corn, one of the six major types of corn (maize), and it is grown primarily in Mexico and the United States. Some interesting facts about this corn:

  • Blue corn contains approximately 30% more protein than yellow corn.
  • Flint corn can also have many colors on the same ear of corn. You may recognize this variety as the ornamental corn used for display on Thanksgiving, but flint corn's uses go far beyond a pretty tablescape.
  • Some varieties of flint corn are distinctly more purple than blue, which is common in Peru. This "maiz morado" is used to make a purple corn drink called Chicha Morada, which is popular in that region.
Some varieties of flint corn are purple than blue, common in Peru

Are blue corn tortilla chips healthy?

The better question is: are anthocyanins healthful? The research says yes. When it comes to blue tortilla chips, how much anthocyanins actually make it into the final product is unclear. That being said, if you eat tortilla chips often, it could add up.

A more important question to ask is: "Are chips healthful?" The answer is, not particularly. Chips made with stone ground corn are slightly less processed and may offer a slight edge by providing more fiber. As a general rule of thumb, the more processed something is, the less healthy it is compared to the whole-food alternative.

Even choosing the tortilla over the chip may be a better option. Making tortillas at home is simple and calls for minimal ingredients—usually just corn flour and water. If you are making blue corn tortillas, you can buy blue corn flour online or at specialty markets.

To ensure you get the most anthocyanin content, include more blue, red (like pomegranates or cherries), and purple foods in your diet.  

About the Author: Holli Ryan is a food & nutrition expert, registered & licensed dietitian-nutritionist, health & wellness writer, blogger, and social media specialist. She graduated from Florida International University and is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In her free time she enjoys photography, travel, cooking, art, music, and nature.