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 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 certain vitamins and minerals. They’re 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 baked yellow plantains (139 grams), according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Nutrition will vary on cooking style.
|Vitamin C||23 mg|
|Vitamin A||63 ug|
|Vitamin B-6||0.29 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.
Fiber is important because it promotes bowel regularity. Fiber softens your stool and increases its 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. Fiber also increases fullness, slows digestion, and may help manage cholesterol.
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 fuller and more satisfied for longer after a meal, which can mean less snacking on unhealthy foods.
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.
The high amount of potassium found in plantains is essential for maintaining the cell and body fluids that control your heart rate and blood pressure.
The fiber in plantains also helps lower your cholesterol, which in turn keeps your heart functioning at its best.
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.
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.
Plantains are an excellent option for gluten-free or paleo-friendly recipes, like paleo pancakes. If you’re feeling more adventurous, try ripe plantain arepas or boronía (mashed plantain and eggplant).
Plantains grow in tropical countries across the globe from Central and South America to the Caribbean, Africa, and Southeast Asia. As a nonseasonal crop, plantains are available all year long.
They’re considered a staple food in many regions, providing a significant source of calories to people 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’re having trouble finding them, try a Latin or Asian grocery store.
Another plus: Plantains are cheap! Like bananas, you can usually get a handful of plantains for less than a dollar.
Jacquelyn Cafasso has been in a writer and research analyst in the health and pharmaceutical space since she graduated with a degree in biology from Cornell University. A native of Long Island, NY, she moved to San Francisco after college and then took a brief hiatus to travel the world. In 2015, Jacquelyn relocated from sunny California to sunnier Gainesville, Florida, where she owns 7 acres and 58 fruit trees. She loves chocolate, pizza, hiking, yoga, soccer, and Brazilian capoeira. Connect with her on LinkedIn.