Plantains are the less-sweet, starchier equivalent to the banana. Sweet bananas, sometimes called “dessert bananas” are much more popular in the United States and Europe, but plantains are an extremely important staple food for people in tropical countries. Unlike dessert bananas, plantains are almost always cooked before eating. In fact, they taste pretty awful raw, so don’t be tricked by their banana-like features.
Cooked plantains are nutritionally very similar to a potato calorie-wise, but contain more of some vitamins and minerals. They are a rich source of fiber, vitamins A, C, and B-6, and the minerals magnesium and potassium. This hidden superfood warrants a trip your local grocery. Read on to learn why.
Plantains are rich sources of complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, and are easily digestible. As a staple food, plantains have been the main fare of millions of people for centuries.
Here are the basic nutrition facts for one cup of sliced plantain (148 grams), according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Plantain Nutrition Facts
|Fat||0 grams (g)|
|Potassium||739 milligrams (mg)|
|Vitamin C||27 mg|
|Vitamin A||83 micrograms (ug)|
|Vitamin B6||0.44 mg|
Plantains are a poor source of protein and fat, so they only represent one part of a healthy, balanced diet, similar to many grains in the United States.
2. Digestive health
Fiber is especially important because it promotes bowel regularity. Fiber softens your stool and increases stool’s overall size and weight. Bulky stools are much easier to pass and therefore prevent constipation. Eating a high-fiber diet may also reduce your risk of hemorrhoids and small pouches in your large intestine known as diverticular disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. Fiber also increases fullness, slows digestion, and may help manage cholesterol.
3. Weight control
Carbohydrates aren’t necessarily a bad thing for weight management like most people believe. The fiber and starch found in plantains are complex carbs.
Fiber and complex carbs are less processed and more slowly digested than the simple carbs found in processed foods. They keep you full and more satisfied for longer after a meal, which can mean less snacking on unhealthy foods.
4. High in antioxidants
Plantains contain roughly 32 percent of the recommended amount of vitamin C in a single cup. This vitamin acts as an antioxidant and helps build up your immune system.
As an antioxidant, it may protect your body against free radical damage that has been associated with aging, heart disease, and even some types of cancer. Studies have found an inverse relationship between vitamin C intake and lung, breast, colon, stomach, esophagus, and other types of cancers. People with cancer were also found to have lower blood plasma concentrations of vitamin C.
5. Good for your heart
The high amount of potassium found in plantains are essential for maintaining the cell and body fluids that control your heart rate and blood pressure.
Plantains are also a good source of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). A cup of sliced plantains gives you roughly 34 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA). This vitamin helps decrease homocysteine levels which are often associated with coronary artery disease and stroke. The fiber in plantains also helps lower your cholesterol, which in turn keeps your heart functioning at its best.
6. Versatile (like a potato!)
You might commonly come across plantains fried and soaked in grease as a side dish in a restaurant, maybe even topped with sour cream. While they taste absolutely amazing, fried plantains aren’t exactly a healthy choice if fried in an unhealthy oil or if you are trying to manage your weight.
It’s better to think of plantains as a starchy vegetable or a substitute for potatoes. Their texture and mild flavor really shines when baked or grilled. You can incorporate plantains as part of a meat– or vegetarian-friendly stew, or grill them alongside fish.
Plantains are an excellent option for gluten-free or paleo-friendly recipes, like paleo pancakes. If you’re feeling more adventurous, try a Latin recipe, like ripe plantain arepas or boronía (mashed plantain and eggplant).
Where to find them
Plantains grow in tropical countries across the globe from Central and South America to the Caribbean, Africa, and Southeast Asia. As a non-seasonal crop, plantains are available all year long. They are considered a staple food in many regions, providing a significant source of calories to people in in the tropics.
Fortunately, plantains can also be found easily in supermarkets and grocery stores. Though it’s more than likely your local grocery chain will carry plantains, if you are having trouble finding them, try a Latin or Asian grocery store. Another plus: plantains are cheap! Like dessert bananas, you can usually get a handful of plantains for less than a dollar.