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Plantains – The Banana Lookalike and its Health Benefits

A plantain belongs to Musaceae, the banana plant family, and is closely related to the typical banana. They are often mistaken for a banana since plantains look like large bananas. Despite almost looking the same, plantains are pretty different from bananas. For example, plantains are starchier, tougher, and slightly larger than bananas. You can not eat raw plantains; you must cook them like a vegetable due to their high resistant starch content. As plantains ripen, their starch converts to natural sugar, making it even sweeter.

Plantains are an essential part of the Caribbean, Central and South American, African, and Southeast Asian cuisines. They are nutrient-dense, offer high potassium and fibre content, and are suitable for heart and high blood pressure patients. Moreover, plantain flour is gluten-free. In addition, it is a highly nutritious staple for your immune system and promotes weight loss. 

Nutritional Profile of Plantains

As per USDA, 100 grams of yellow, raw plantain contains the following nutrients.

Water: 65.2 gCalories: 122 kcalProtein: 1.3 gCarbohydrate: 31.9 gFibre: 1.7 gCalcium: 3mg

As per USDA, 100 grams of green, raw plantain contains the following nutrients.

Water: 61.1 gCalories: 152 kcalCarbohydrates: 36.7 gProtein: 1.25 gFibre: 2.2 gFat: 0.07 gPotassium: 431 mgMagnesium: 41 mgVitamin C: 20.2 mgFolate: 28 µg

The HealthifyMe Note

Eating one yellow plantain can offer 329 calories, 86.1 grams of carbohydrate, and 3.51 grams of protein. However, one green plantain is slightly higher in calories. It has about 406 calories with 98 grams of carbohydrates and 3.34 grams of protein. The fibre content is significantly higher in green plantains than in yellow ones. 

Differences Between Plantain and Banana

Appearance

Plantains are large, elongated with thicker skin, while bananas are small, soft, and have thin skin compared to plantains. Bananas are usually curved, while plantains are primarily straight in appearance. Initially, bananas in raw form are green in colour, but as they ripen up, they turn to bright yellow, followed by brown when over-ripped. Plantains have a green colour, which further changes to black.

Taste

Banana is a fruit that is mainly eaten raw and possesses a sweet taste depending on the variety, while people eat plantains in a fried/baked or boiled form. It is because plantains have resistant starch and require cooking before consumption. Moreover, plantains get sweet as they ripen up and caramelise when cooking. 

Origin

Both plantains and bananas have their origin in Southeast Asia. Although both are grown worldwide, Central Africa focuses more on plantains than North America and Asia. At the same time, the banana is very well known in every household in North America and is mainly grown in tropical areas.

Nutrition

Plantains are more starchy and low in sugar than bananas. Both are rich sources of carbohydrates, but carbs in bananas come from sugar, while carbs in plantain come from resistant starch, making it healthier for people with diabetes. As both have similar nutritional values, their health benefits are almost the same: potassium content helps lower blood pressure, is suitable for heart diseases, and lowers blood sugar levels. Also, the rich fibre helps with digestive issues like constipation and diarrhoea.

Culinary Uses

People use bananas mainly in raw form or in the form of shakes or banana smoothies, sometimes used as a topping. Because of its starchy nature, you need to cook plantains. It is famous in fried form or chips. Apart from frying, you can also boil and roast plantains. 

As banana mostly becomes a part of recipes for sweet dishes, plantain gets used in vegetable-based meals because of its savoury flavour. 

Potential Benefits of Plantains

Rich in Antioxidants

A study shows that plantain peel is an excellent source of antioxidant dietary fibre. In addition, the flour prepared from matured plantain and its peel offers antioxidant activities that potentially benefit the management and prevention of lifestyle-associated diseases. Furthermore, the aqueous extracts of unripe plantain showed antioxidant activity due to the high vitamin C content.

Manage Diabetes

Researchers believe boiled unripe plantains can manage diabetes since they have a more beneficial effect on blood glucose levels. Interestingly, plantains are a diabetes remedy in Nigeria. Furthermore, since plantains are rich in antioxidants, they can reduce type 2 diabetes risk by improving insulin sensitivity.

Plantain contains approximately 16% of the body’s daily magnesium requirement per 100 grams serving. Magnesium promotes many of the processes involved in glucose metabolism. While plantains are a magnesium source, they have a high glycemic load. Therefore people with diabetes should pair plantain with other foods with a low glycemic load and index.

Support Weight Loss

100g of plantain provides roughly 8% of the recommended daily intake of fibre. And one common piece of advice regarding losing weight is to eat more fibre. Although fibre has no fat-burning properties, eating fibre-rich food can keep you satiated for longer. This feeling of fullness helps with portion control, prevents overeating, and eventually helps with weight management. And a study shows that dietary fibre promotes weight loss independently of macronutrient and caloric intake. 

Anti-Inflammatory Effect

Plantain is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C that boost inflammatory effects. As per the study, the anti-inflammatory nature of plantains helps treat chronic irritative cough, especially in children. It is also beneficial for treating infections of the upper respiratory airways.

Good for Heart

Plantain is a good source of potassium and can lower the risk of heart diseases. Potassium in plantain can also help regulate an individual’s fluid balance and heart rate. It also benefits cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure. The fibre that is present in plantain can help in reducing cholesterol. Antioxidants in plantains can neutralise free radicals and oxidative damage, which is harmful to the heart. 

Healthy Ways to Eat Plantains

1. Baked Plantains

Serves: 2

Preparation time: 25 Minutes

Ingredients

Medium ripe plantain: 1Olive oil (or melted coconut oil): 1 tablespoonSalt as per taste

Method of Preparation

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.Pull the peels off and discard them. Cut the plantains in a circular shape with 1/4- to 1/3 inch thick.Place the plantain slices on the baking sheet, sprinkle some salt and drizzle a few drops of oil.Bake the plantains for 10 minutes. Then flip and bake for another 10 minutes. You can also add cinnamon and nutmeg to the plantains. Or sprinkling cumin, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder give you a spicy-hot version of baked plantains. 

2. Boiled Plantains

Serves: 2

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

Plantains: 1Water: 2 cupsSalt

Method of Preparation

Rinse the unpeeled plantains to remove any dirt. Slice the plantains into 2-inch pieces, leaving the skin on.Add the sliced plantains into the boiling, salted water. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes.Drain and allow to cool. Remove skins before eating.Boiled plantains taste a bit like a sweet potato. So, you can use it as a substitute in soup or stew recipes that call for potatoes. Boiled plantains also taste great with scrambled eggs.

Potential Downsides of Plantains

Pollen Based Allergy

Some people are allergic to grass or weed and can develop such allergies from plantain. These allergies cause itchiness, swelling and wheezing. However, as per research, plantain causes pollen-based allergy due to cross-reacting allergens found in pollen. 

The immune system, as it recognises pollen and similar protein in the food, gives rise to an allergic reaction, as per the study. Plantain pollen reacts with pollens like grass, birch, olive pollen, and ash. Allergies caused by plantain pollen include allergic rhinitis and asthma.

Latex-based Allergy

Latex-based allergies lead to itchy skin, hives, and anaphylaxis shock, leading to severe breathing problems and life-threatening symptoms. In addition, a study shows that individuals allergic to natural rubber latex can show hypersensitivity to some plant fruits like plantain. This allergy is known as Latex fruit syndrome, and an individual with such an allergy should be cautious while eating plantains.

Plantains are popular as fried delicacies. However, frying significantly increases the calorie count. These additional calories from frying also come with added carbohydrate count. Eating one cup of fried plantains has almost 365 calories, 58 grams of total carbohydrates, and 14 grams of fat. Moreover, plantains lose more than half of their water volume while frying. Further, eating a bag of fried plantain chips equals consuming more than 600 calories, 32 grams of fat, and 72 grams of carbohydrates. 

Conclusion

Plantains are nutritious powerhouses that require cooking before consumption. It contains dietary fibres and is a rich source of potassium and magnesium like bananas. The rich source of dietary fibre in plantains helps ensure healthy bowels and reduces constipation. You can also replace potatoes with plantains as your carb source. While plantains are a good source of essential nutrients, they have a high carbohydrate content and glycemic load. Therefore, it requires mindful eating and portion control. Frying the plantains increases the fat, carb, and calorie count. Baking and boiling are the healthier cooking options for plantains. 

Frequently Asked Questions( FAQS)

Q. What are the disadvantages of eating plantain?

A. Plantains have a high amount of resistant starch, so you cannot eat them raw, and it requires careful preparation in making them. Additionally, recipes that include frying add a lot of fat, making them unhealthy for people with chronic heart diseases such as high blood pressure or cholesterol problems.

Q. What are the side effects of eating plantain?

A. Although plantains are entirely safe, people with pollen-based or latex allergies should avoid eating them. Excess consumption of plantains can lead to diarrhoea and low blood pressure. The potassium present in plantains can remove sodium, which disturbs the balance of the sodium-potassium pump, leading to lower blood pressure. Additionally, consumption of excess fibre can lead to diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, and other gastrointestinal issues.

Q. What does the plantain do in the body?

A. Plantains are rich in potassium which helps maintain the body’s fluid balance and thus regulate the blood pressure, aids in various cardiovascular diseases, and lowers cholesterol levels. Additionally, the presence of fibre makes it a good source for gut health and improves problems related to constipation. Furthermore, antioxidants in plantain can help fight free radicals and treat skin diseases.

Q. What does plantain cure?

A. In folk medicine, plantain is a remedy to cure cough, wounds, and insect bites. In addition, the antioxidants in plantains fight free radicals, the presence of vitamin C helps boost the immune system, aids in gastrointestinal problems, and B6 present in plantains can help reduce cardiovascular risk and helps improve an individual’s mood.

Q. Can I eat plantain every day?

A. Plantains are healthy, but it depends on the cooking method. For example, eating fried plantains every day can increase the total fat in your diet, leading to heart problems and spiking cholesterol levels in the blood.

Q. Is it reasonable to eat plantain at night?

A. Plantain is rich in fibre and takes the longest to break down and digest. But metabolism is slow at night, so eating such fruits in the daytime is advisable for better digestion. Moreover, eating plantain at night can produce excess mucus, leading to disturbed sleep and breathing issues. 

Q. Does ripe plantain raise blood sugar?

A. Moderate amounts of plantain do not raise blood sugar levels. However, they do have high carbohydrate and Glycemic scores. Therefore, people with diabetes must pair plantains with other low-carb foods. Other than that, plantain fibre can help manage blood glucose levels.

 Q. Does plantain give you gas?

A. Yes, it has a resistant starch that is difficult to digest. A lot of fibre can lead to discomforts like gas, bloating and constipation. Therefore, it is advisable to eat the required amount.

Q. Are plantains toxic?

A. Plantains are not toxic unless some toxic chemical invades during their growth and storage. They are entirely safe to consume unless a person has a latex or pollen-based allergy, as they can lead to symptoms like itching, rashes, heavy breathing, or hives. It is always better to consume plantains in cooked form.

Q. Is eating boiled plantain healthy?

A. Yes, it is always better to consume them in cooked form. The boiling method is one of the safest and healthy methods to eat something. Other methods include using oil and deep-frying, which can be harmful to health, but boiling is a way that does not increase calories. Boiled plantains are similar to potatoes and contain many vitamins and minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

Q. Is plantain good for the liver?

A. Plantain is used in the treatment of liver disorders. Plantains are rich in vitamin C, A, and B6 and high resistance starch which is very beneficial for liver health. Vitamin B6 in plantain helps in the production of red blood cells. In addition, antioxidants in plantains help remove unwanted chemical compounds from the liver. 

Q. Does boiled plantains make you fat?

A. No, boiled plantains have significantly less fat. Instead, they are suitable for weight control as fibre helps control your appetite by keeping you feeling satiated for extended periods, thus reducing binge eating and hunger pangs. 

Q. Can you drink plantain water?

A. There is no evident research that supports the benefits of drinking plantain water. However, people use it as a folk remedy for diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, urinary tract diseases, and skin problems.

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