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Are tamales low carb? Keto Beef Tamale Recipe

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Are tamales low carb? The answer is yes and no. Traditional tamales, a classic Mexican dish made from a corn-based dough (masa) filled with various meats or cheeses and wrapped in a corn husk or banana leaf, are not typically considered low carb. However, with a few recipe adjustments, you can enjoy this mouthwatering meal on your keto diet!

low carb tamales are on a wood plate

A Comprehensive Guide to are tamales low carb

It's all about substituting the high-carb masa harina with low-carb ingredients like coconut flour and xanthan gum, adjusting the fillings to focus on high-protein and healthy fats, and moderating portions. But before we dive into the details, let's address some frequently asked questions.


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  1. How many carbs are in a traditional tamale?Traditional tamales, using masa harina for the dough, typically contain around 20 to 25 grams of carbs per tamale. This is mainly due to the masa dough, made from a type of corn flour.
  2. What makes tamales not keto-friendly?The cornmeal dough or "masa" used in classic tamales is high in carbs, which aren't suitable for a low carb or keto diet.
  3. Can I still enjoy tamales on a low-carb diet?Absolutely! The trick is to use a low carb dough substitute and opt for high-protein and low-carb fillings.
  4. Can I use different types of meats for the filling? Yes, you can use different types of meats, including shredded meat or ground meats, as long as they are low in carbs.
  5. Can I use an alternative to corn husks?Banana leaves are a great alternative. They provide a slightly different flavor but work just as well. You can also use parchment paper as an alternative.
  6. Can I prepare tamales in advance?
    Yes, tamales can be prepared in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days. You can also freeze them for longer storage.
  7. Can I cook the tamales on a standard stove?
    Yes, you can cook the tamales on a standard stove. Place a steamer basket in a large pot, add about 2 inches of water, and steam the tamales on medium heat for about 2 hours. Make sure to check the water level regularly and refill as needed.
  8. Can I use a keto tamale pie recipe?
    Absolutely! If making individual tamales feels like too much work, a keto tamale pie is a great alternative. It uses similar ingredients but is assembled and baked more like a casserole.

Keto Tamales Recipe

Here's a fantastic recipe for low-carb tamales, or "keto tamales," that you can whip up in your instant pot! This recipe substitutes the traditional masa dough with a combination of coconut flour and xanthan gum, which drastically reduces the carbohydrate content.

Supplies Needed:

  • Instant Pot
  • Steamer Basket
  • Dried Corn Husks
  • Mixing Bowls
  • Measuring Cups
  • Small Whisk
  • Small Spatula
  • Paper Towel
  • Airtight Container (for leftovers)


  • 2 cups of coconut flour
  • 1 tbsp of xanthan gum
  • 2 cups of chili powder
  • 1 lb of ground beef or other preferred ground meats
  • 1 tsp of olive oil
  • 2 cups of bone broth or chicken bouillon
  • 1/2 cup of sour cream


  1. Soak the dried corn husks in hot water for about 30 minutes. Use a paper towel to pat them dry and remove any excess water.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the coconut flour, xanthan gum, and chili powder. Stir until well combined.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the ground beef and olive oil.
  4. Heat a pot on medium heat and cook the meat until it's fully cooked.
  5. Place a couple of tablespoons of dough onto the smooth side of a corn husk. Spread it out in a rectangular shape, leaving a bit of space at the narrow side and long side of the dough.
  6. Add some of the cooked meat to the center of the dough, then fold the sides of the husk over the filling. Fold the narrow side up, then use a spare corn husk strip to tie the tamale closed.
  7. Once all your tamales are assembled, place them in the instant pot. Pour in the bone broth or chicken bouillon, place the wire rack at the bottom of the pot, then line the rack with your tamales.
  8. Close the instant pot, set time, and let it cook.
  9. Serve with sour cream and enjoy your low-carb meal!

Nutritional Information

Each tamale from this recipe contains around 8 grams of net carbs, 15 grams of protein, and a decent amount of healthy fats.

Tips for Making Perfect Keto Tamales

  • Pre-soak the corn husks: Soaking the dried corn husks in hot water will make them more pliable and easier to wrap around your filling.
  • Use smaller husks for tie-ups: When you come across smaller husks that might not be suitable for wrapping a tamale, you can tear them into strips and use them to tie up your tamales.
  • Don't overfill: Overfilling can cause your tamales to burst open during cooking. Stick to a couple tablespoons of dough and filling for each tamale.
  • Securely wrap and tie tamales: Make sure each tamale is securely wrapped and tied to prevent the filling from spilling out during the steaming process.
  • Check the water level regularly: When steaming tamales in an Instant Pot or any pot, make sure the water doesn't run out. Check water levels periodically and add more as needed.

Comparing Traditional Tamales to Keto Tamales

Traditional TamalesKeto Tamales
Carbohydrates20-25 grams8 grams
ProteinVaries15 grams
Suitable for Keto DietNoYes

Are tamales low carb:Key Takeaways

  • Traditional tamales aren't typically low carb due to the corn-based masa dough. However, with the right substitutions, you can enjoy a low carb version of this classic Mexican recipe.
  • The secret ingredient to low carb tamales is using low-carb substitutes like coconut flour and xanthan gum in place of masa harina.
  • A low-carb tamale recipe can provide around 8g net carbs, significantly less than the traditional 20-25g.
  • Other considerations for maintaining a keto-friendly tamale include choosing low-carb fillings and moderating your portions.


So, are tamales low carb? Traditional tamales, with their corn-based masa dough, do pack in the carbs. But don't worry! With some smart ingredient swaps like coconut flour and xanthan gum, we can make a friendly tamale that fits right into a keto diet or low carb diet.

What's more, using an Instant Pot to cook your keto tamales makes this a relatively quick and easy process, perfect for weeknight dinners or meal prepping. So enjoy your healthy, low carb tamales with some sour cream on top, and don't forget to store any leftovers in an airtight container!

Remember, Mexican food doesn't have to be off-limits on a low-carb diet. With some creativity and a little know-how, you can enjoy these and other Mexican classics. Happy cooking!

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