Medically reviewed by Karina Tolentino, RD
Plantains are astarchy fruit low in calories and high in important nutrients, such as potassium and vitamin C. While plantains resemble bananas in appearance, they differ in texture, taste, and nutrition. Plantains are extremely versatile and can be enjoyed in a variety of tasty and interesting ways while still maintaining their health profile.
Plantains grow year-round in tropical climates and serve as a staple in many cultures and cuisines, such as Central America, South America, sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean Islands. Because they are a staple in many diets, plantains have been studied for their health benefits and potential to help people manage chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes.
Learn more about the health benefits of plantains, how to pick plantains for the right flavor and dish, and how to prepare them in tasty and healthy ways for a snack or an exciting new addition to your meals.
What Makes Plantains Healthy?
Plantains are a starchy fruit with a variety of health benefits. While they may look like bananas, they taste different and have different nutritional profiles. For example, plantains contain more carbohydrates than bananas but have fewer simple sugars, making them less sweet and lower on the glycemic index than bananas.
Some of the health benefits of plantains are:
Low in sugar
Low in calories
High in potassium
High in vitamin C
Boosts the immune system
Helps with digestion
May aid in blood sugar control
Plantains are a good source of potassium and vitamin C and have been shown to aid in digestion and boost the immune system. Potassium lowers blood pressure and keeps it from increasing after consuming sodium. This can, in turn, help manage associated conditions like high blood pressure (hypertension).
Vitamin C is a vital nutrient, meaning you must get it through your food. It is an antioxidant that prevents illness and serious diseases like cancer and heart disease.
In addition to the vitamin and mineral content, plantains may help promote better digestion. The fiber in plantains aids in digestion by adding bulk to food being pushed through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which can help prevent constipation and promote regular bowel movements.
The high carbohydrate content of plantains has led many people to think of plantains as unsafe for people needing to control their blood sugar, such as those with type 2 diabetes. However, research suggests eating plantains and other plant-based foods may help control blood sugar. One study found that plantains, as well as moringa (extracted from a drought resistant tree) and beans, each significantly improved blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes.
What Color Are Ripe Plantains?
Like bananas, the ripeness of plantains can be seen by the color of the plantain. Green skin means the plantains are unripe, while yellow skin means they are ripe, and black even riper. Also like bananas, plantains will ripen over a number of days. The ripening process can be sped up by placing the plantains in a paper bag or by baking peeled plantains in the oven.
Do Plantains Taste the Same as Bananas?
Plantains taste different from bananas in that they are starchier and less sweet. As such, plantains are usually eaten as a savory snack or side dish, while bananas are usually enjoyed as a sweet snack or in dessert. However, ripe plantains can be sweet when cooked.
Plantain Nutrition Breakdown
The nutrition profile of plantains will depend on how they are prepared. For example, fried plantains usually contain more fat than baked plantains. At their core, however, plantains are mostly carbohydrates and water.
One cup of minimally processed (green, boiled) plantains contains:
Calories: 166 kilocalories (kcal)
Carbohydrate: 40 grams (g)
Protein: 1.49 g
Fat: 0.11 g
Sodium: 2.74 milligrams (mg)
Potassium: 396 mg
Vitamin C: 12.5 mg
Most of the carbohydrates in plantains come from starch, followed by fiber, then sugar. Starches are slower to break down than sugars and therefore have a slower rise in blood sugar than sugar. As plantains ripen, the sugar content increases as the starches break into sugars.
For example, one raw, green plantain contains approximately 6 g of sugar, while one yellow raw plantain contains about 47 g of sugar.
Healthiest Plantain Preparation
Plantains can be eaten raw or cooked but are usually enjoyed cooked in some way. Plantains can be baked, fried, boiled, or grilled. Ripe plantains can be peeled and eaten like a banana, but even ripe plantains are usually best enjoyed cooked.
Fried plantains are a tasty snack, but preparing fried plantains usually involves a lot of oil, and therefore fat. If you’re looking for a healthier preparation method, consider baking your plantains instead of frying them. Once peeled, the plantain can be baked whole or in slices. You can also add spices and seasoning, such as salt, cayenne, or cinnamon.
There are plenty of baked plantain recipes to be found online to experiment with to find the tastiest and healthiest version for you.
With the right preparation, plantains can be a safe and healthy option for people needing to watch their carbohydrate consumption, such as those with diabetes.
Because plantains are a staple food in many cultural diets, some scientists have argued that it’s inappropriate for healthcare providers to advise against plantain consumption based on its potential impact on blood sugar. Instead, providers are encouraged to suggest healthier ways to prepare plantains that can make them a safer food for people concerned about high carbohydrate load to eat.
For example, researchers have said that choosing less-ripe plantains and eating them after a protein dish or with a leafy green salad can help reduce the plantains’ glycemic index (a measurement of how quickly blood sugar rises when eating certain foods).
In addition, choosing smaller-sized plantains, serving smaller portions, and engaging in some moderate physical activity before eating a meal containing plantains can help reduce the glycemic load.
Fried Plantains to Enjoy (in Moderation)
Fried plantains are probably the most enjoyable way to eat plantains for many people. Made with oil and sometimes topped with salt, fried plantains can be a delicious way to eat plantains as a snack or part of a meal.
But since fried plantains are usually fried in lots of oil, the amount of added fat (and oftentimes salt) makes them a less healthy option than baked plantains, especially for people who are watching their fat and sodium intakes. Nonetheless, fried plantains need not be labeled a “bad” food when enjoyed in moderation.
There are also healthier ways to enjoy fried plantains, such as making or buying air-fried plantains. An air fryer doesn’t use oil and, therefore, does not add fat in the frying process. While air-frying plantains will not taste the same as traditionally fried plantains, it still gives the fried, crunchy texture that makes a tasty snack.
Different Uses Around the World
Plantains are eaten and enjoyed in a variety of ways across the world. They may be served as a side dish, in a stew, in a baked dish, or in numerous other forms. Some different uses of plantains around the world include:
Fried plantain chips
Plantain mash (also called plantain fufu), served alongside soup or stew
Plantain lasagna (also called pastelón)
You can find online recipes for all sorts of plantain-based dishes from around the world to bring to your kitchen. Or you can use traditional recipes as inspiration to experiment with plantains in your favorite dishes.
Difference Between Plantains and Plantain Weed
Plantain weed is unrelated to plantains, the fruit. Plantain weed (Plantago major) has large, oval-shaped leaves and produces a green flower. Plantain the fruit (Musa paradisiaca) resembles a banana and grows like a banana in bunches. Plantain weed is often used for medicinal purposes while plantain fruit is often eaten as part of an everyday diet.
Plantains are a versatile fruit different from bananas in taste, texture, and nutrition. They are packed with potassium and vitamin C and, depending on how they’re prepared, they can be a healthy snack or side dish that may even help manage blood sugar levels. Thanks to their versatility, plantains can be easily added in interesting and tasty ways to create new or culturally traditional snacks and meals.
Read the original article on Verywell Health.