Plantains are fascinating. While they look much like bananas and are closely related, they’re also much higher in starch, even when fully ripe. The starchiness means that raw plantains aren’t appealing at all. But, when they’re cooked, they can be remarkable. So are plantains good for you?
Indeed, plantains are used in countless recipes and are a common feature of Puerto Rican cooking. They’re almost as versatile as potatoes, which is pretty impressive really. What about the health impacts, though? Are plantains good for you? Could they be healthy or are they simply too starchy?
There are plenty of benefits to be had. That can’t be denied. After all, plantains are a whole food that contains some fiber and plenty of nutrients. They’re certainly much better for you than a candy bar or some other type of processed junk.
Still, there are problems too. To see how plantains really impact health, we need to look at various features, including the calories in yellow and green plantains, their nutritional profile, and how they are prepared.
Are Plantains Good For You?
- Plantain Nutrition
- Benefits Of Plantains
- The Problems With Plantains
- Plantains Versus Bananas
- Yellow Plantains Versus Green Plantains
- How To Use Plantains Well
- Can You Eat Plantains Raw?
- Final Thoughts
When boiled and mashed, a half cup serving of green plantains contains the following:
- 116 calories
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbs: 31 grams
- Sugar: 14 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
The sugar content gets even higher if you focus on yellow plantains rather than green ones, which may slightly raise the calorie content too. However, direct comparisons are difficult, as there are so many ways to prepare plantains and there are always differences between one measurement and the next.
There are some interesting nutrients present too, including potassium, magnesium, iron, and vitamins A, B6, C, and K. These all influence your health, helping your body function well.
Benefits Of Plantains
Provide Plenty Of Complex Carbs
Carbs have a bad reputation these days. They’re often seen as something to be avoided altogether. Yet, carbs can still be helpful, as they’re a source of energy and our bodies do need energy.
The healthiest approach is to move away from simple carbs and focus on complex ones instead. Complex carbs tend to be digested more slowly, which minimizes their effect on your blood sugar.
Plantains are a good choice here, giving you plenty of nutrients and some fiber, along with the carbs. They’re also a natural type of food, rather than something heavily processed.
They Provide Nutrients And Antioxidants Too
Not surprisingly, plantains are a decent source of nutrients. Vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin A, and potassium are some of the main ones, while other nutrients are present in smaller amounts.
Each of these nutrients provides benefits. For example, potassium helps to decrease blood pressure and offset some of the effects of sodium. It’s important for preventing water retention too, while decreasing the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and strokes.
Impressive, right? And that’s just one of the nutrients that you find in plantains.
There are also plant-based compounds present, including antioxidants. Antioxidants are famous, known for their ability to protect against oxidation from free radicals, an effect that could lower your risk of some diseases.
Their Fiber Content
Plantains are also an excellent source of fiber. For ripe plantains, you’re looking at roughly 3.5 grams of fiber per cup. Green plantains should be even higher in fiber.
Boring as it might seem, fiber is always relevant. It is what keeps your digestive system working as it should. If your fiber intake is too low, you start to experience all kinds of issues, including fatigue, increased constipation, and inflammation.
Inflammation is particularly concerning, as chronic inflammation may contribute to many modern diseases. As such, anti-inflammatory foods and drinks like plantains are well-worth trying.
Fiber is found in plenty of foods, yet most of us still aren’t getting enough of it each day. Part of the problem is all the processed food in modern diets. Most of this is low in fiber and we rely on processed options a bit too much.
A Source Of Resistant Starch
Like green bananas, green plantains provide you with resistant starch. This is a type of fiber, so it has most of the same benefits that we talked about above.
However, resistant starch is also a particularly good prebiotic. Prebiotics act as food for our gut bacteria, which is incredibly important. After all, the microbes in our gut function almost like a second brain, offering benefits for our digestion, mental health, immune system, and more.
We’re still coming to grips with all the roles that gut bacteria play, but there clearly are many. As a result, anything you can do to help your gut bacteria could easily lead to long-term health benefits. Getting resistant starch from plantains is one such approach.
To see these benefits, you’ll need to be cautious when you cook plantains. Some cooking methods end up destroying most of the resistant starch (fried plantain chips actually contain no resistant starch at all).
This issue is most significant when food is cooked at high temperatures. So, to keep the resistant starch intact, you’ll need to focus on gentler cooking methods instead.
They’re Low In FODMAPs
While bananas are high in FODMAPs and a poor choice for IBS sufferers, plantains are low in FODMAPs instead.
This is excellent if you come across a recipe that requires cooked bananas, as you can easily use plantains instead. While plantains aren’t as sweet, they still work well in plenty of recipes.
The Problems With Plantains
They Require Preparation
Plantains aren’t like most other types of fruit. You don’t generally just grab one and eat it. Plantains are far too starchy for that.
Instead, you need to cook plantains in some way. There are many simple plantain recipes out there, like frying yellow plantains in oil. However, other plantain recipes are much more complicated. Such recipes can be a little tricky if you’re also unfamiliar with plantains.
They’re Often Cooked In Oil
Frying plantains in oil is the most common approach, giving you a delicious snack. Some versions are even deep fried. There are also classic dishes like tostones, which are literally twice-fried plantains.
This isn’t a great pattern. Fried food is seriously concerning. Not only is it high in unhealthy fats, but cooking food at such a high temperature can also produce potentially dangerous chemicals.
To make matters worse, plantains absorb the oil used to cook them, so you quickly end up with a high calorie snack.
They’re High In Carbs
Plantains are starchy. Not surprisingly, then, they’re high in carbs. In fact, a single cup of boiled plantains gives you a shocking 40 grams of carbs.
Some of these carbs are fiber or resistant starch, which provide benefits and generally aren’t digested. However, there are plenty of digestible carbs too.
This poses a problem, especially if you’re following a low carb diet. After all, carbs are controversial. They’ve been linked to increased inflammation, which may raise the risk of various health problems. Plus, carbs can increase your blood sugar levels, increasing your chance of diabetes.
Some people may metabolize carbs more poorly than others. For people in this situation, high carb diets can quickly lead to weight gain and make weight loss extremely difficult.
Starchy foods like plantains aren’t a great choice if you are sensitive to carbs. Sure, they offer some health benefits, but so do many other foods, including ones that are much lower in carbs.
They Can Raise Your Blood Sugar
Green plantains have a glycemic index (GI) of 40 and a glycemic load (GL) of 13. This puts them in the moderate range for both, suggesting that plantains can raise your blood sugar levels, especially when you’re eating them on their own.
Yellow plantains are higher in sugar, making their blood sugar effect even stronger. As a result, diabetics will need to be cautious with plantains.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to avoid plantains entirely. Pairing them with high fiber and high protein foods can help to offset the blood sugar impact. Be sure to keep an eye on your portion sizes as well.
Plantains Versus Bananas
Plantains and bananas seem pretty similar at first glance. That’s not surprising given that the two fruits are quite closely related.
However, while bananas tend to be eaten raw, plantains are almost always cooked first. This is because plantains are much higher in starch, while bananas tend to be high in sugar instead.
These differences mean that plantains are actually more like potatoes than they are like bananas. Strange right? Don’t worry, though. While plantains might be unfamiliar, they’re surprisingly easy to work with. There are also plenty of recipes to help you along the way.
Yellow Plantains Versus Green Plantains
We also need to talk about the differences between yellow and green plantains.
Like bananas, plantains start green and become yellow as they ripen. During this process, some of their starch is converted into sugar. As a result, yellow plantains tend to be sweeter, softer, and lower in starch than green ones.
These differences mean that yellow and green plantains behave differently when you cook them.
How To Use Plantains Well
The features of plantains are often undermined by the way we cook them. To avoid this problem, you need to choose your recipe carefully. Look for recipes that don’t add any extra fat, salt, or sugar during the cooking process.
For example, you can bake plantains rather than frying them. Baked plantain chips don’t have quite the same texture as fried ones, but they can still be delicious and are much better for you.
You don’t need to stick to yellow plantains either. Green ones can be baked too and can end up being very delicious. This recipe is a fantastic place to begin.
Boiling plantains works surprisingly well too. You can even do so while keeping the skin on, which may make the plantains a little less soggy. Once cooked, you can use the plantains in a similar way to other starchy sides like potatoes or rice. You could even add them to a stew.
Can You Eat Plantains Raw?
While plantains are normally cooked, they can be eaten raw. There’s no danger in doing so. When ripe, they have the same sweetness as a banana, but lack the familiar banana flavor.
Few people eat plantains raw, though. The high starch content is one reason. This gives raw plantains a texture that’s much like raw potatoes, rather than raw bananas. Plus, raw plantains don’t actually taste that good. It’s much better to cook them instead and fully enjoy their deliciousness.
On their own, plantains have some good features and some concerning ones. They provide you with fiber, nutrients, and resistant starch, but are also very high in carbs and are often cooked in fat.
The equation changes if you’re eating plantains with other ingredients. You might include them as part of a meal, perhaps serving vegetables and a source of protein at the same time. Doing so helps to balance out the carb content, giving you are more well-rounded dinner.
This is exactly what we do with other starchy foods, like potatoes, rice, and pasta. Following this pattern also helps you to keep your portion sizes reasonable, so you’re not overdoing it on the carbs. Of course, you’ll still need to decide how you feel about carbs. If you’re trying to cut down on carbs or often feel lethargic after a high carb meal, then plantains mightn’t be the right choice for you.