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Health Benefits of Plantains

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 17, 2020

Plantains belong to the banana family, but they differ greatly from Cavendish bananas, the type commonly eaten raw in the United States and Europe. Cavendish bananas are sometimes known as dessert bananas because of their sweet taste. Plantains are starchier, less sweet and are usually cooked before serving. 

Plantains are sometimes called green bananas, but they will turn yellow and then dark if allowed to ripen. Plantains are grown in South and Central America, Africa, and Asia, where they are important food sources. Plantains are becoming easier to find in the United States and Europe as people learn different ways of cooking and consuming this nutrient-dense food.

Health Benefits

The resistant starch in plantains has sparked a lot of interest for its health benefits. Resistant starch is a carbohydrate that doesn't readily digest in the small intestine. Instead, it passes into the large intestine, where it ferments and feeds the “good” gut bacteria.     

In addition, plantain can provide other health benefits like:

Digestive Health

Two factors make plantains good for digestive health. First, the resistant starch acts as a prebiotic, promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the colon. Second, plantains have a fair amount of fiber, which improves bowel function.

Diabetes Control

Glycemic control management is an important goal for people living with  Type 2 diabetes. This means that blood sugar levels don't go too low or too high. Because plantains don’t digest in the small intestine, they don’t spike blood sugar. Foods that digest slowly have a low glycemic index (GI). A GI under 55 is considered low. Plantains have a GI in the 40s, making them a good food choice for people with diabetes.  

Blood Pressure Control

When you want to increase your potassium intake, your first instinct might be to reach for a banana. But plantains have more potassium than their yellower cousins. Many people don’t consume enough potassium. High blood pressure has been linked to an excess of sodium and a lack of potassium. High blood pressure can cause a heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, and many other cardiovascular problems.  

Healthy Immune System

Little things can make a big difference in health. For example, you only need small amounts of certain vitamins and minerals to support a healthy immune system. Vitamin C, vitamin B6, and magnesium are three of these important micronutrients, and plantains are a fair source of all three. Researchers have not confirmed whether taking these nutrients in pill form can offer the same protection.

Nutrition

Besides potassium, fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and magnesium, plantain also contains: 

Nutrients per Serving

A half-cup serving of boiled, mashed green plantain contains:

  • Calories: 116
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 31 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Sugar: 14 grams 

Things to Watch Out For

Although plantain is a nutritious food, some preparation methods make it less healthy. Many traditional recipes require frying of the plantains. Since plantains easily absorb oil, the calorie and fat count in a serving can quickly increase.

Ripe plantains are a popular ingredient in desserts, but ripening increases their sugar content. This adds to the sugar often called for in dessert recipes. Plantain chips are a tasty snack, but they are typically fried and salted. If you want to include plantains in your healthy diet, look for recipes with small amounts of salt and without added oil or sugar. 

How to Prepare Plantains

Plantains can be boiled or baked. To boil, remove the skin, cut into chunks, and cook as you would potatoes. When done, mash or use them like potatoes. If your plantains have ripened and turned yellow, bake them in aluminum foil and use them in any dish where a slightly sweeter taste is desired. Here are some ways to use plantains:

  • Swap potatoes for plantains in stews and soups
  • Add chunks of ripe plantain to black bean chili
  • Slice and cook in an air fryer or convection oven for a healthier plantain chip
  • Use with chickpeas in a spicy curry
  • Serve lightly caramelized ripe plantains with gallo pinto, the Costa Rican dish of black beans and rice
  • Use very ripe plantains in place of bananas to make banana bread

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Consumer Reports: "Are Plantains Good for You?"

European Journal of Nutrition: "Impact of resistant starch in three plantain (Musa ABA) products on glycaemic response of healthy volunteers."

Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations: "Banana facts and figures."

Gastroenterology Nursing: “A High Fiber Diet May Improve Bowel Function and Health-Related Quality of Life in Patients with Crohn’s Disease”

Harvard Health Publishing: "The importance of potassium."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Micronutrients have major impact on health."

The American Society of Microbiology: “Impact of Dietary Resistant Starch of the Human Gut Microbiome, Metaproteome, and Metabolome”

The Johns Hopkins Patient Guide to Diabetes: "WHAT IS RESISTANT STARCH?"

USDA FoodData Central: "Green plantains, boiled."

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