It’s easy to mistake a plantain for a banana because they look alike. However, when it comes to their taste, the two are quite different.

Plantains are less sweet and much starchier as compared to bananas. And unlike bananas, you must cook plantains before you eat them.  

Plantains are rich sources of nutrients like potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, fiber and antioxidant compounds. They are also great for the digestive health and help boost immunity. Let us learn more about this banana lookalike.

What is a plantain?

Plantains are closely related to bananas and are a major staple food in  Africa, Central America and northern, coastal parts of South America and the Caribbean islands. Plantains are ranked as the tenth most important staple food in the world.

Plantains are starchier and contain less sugar than bananas, which is the reason why, unlike bananas, they are generally cooked before being eaten.

Plantains are prepared the same way as potatoes as they have a similar neutral flavor and texture when it is cooked by steaming, boiling or frying.

Plantains fruit all year round, so they are considered a reliable all-season staple food. In Africa, plantains and bananas provide around 25 percent of the carbohydrate requirement for over 70 million people.

Plantain nutritional profile

One cup of raw plantain contains (1) –

  • Calories: 181
  • Carbohydrates: 47 grams
  • Fiber: 3.4 grams
  • Proteins: 1.9 grams
  • Fats : .5 grams
  • Vitamin C: 27.2 mg (45% DV)
  • Vitamin A: 1,668 IU (33% DV)
  • Vitamin B6: 0.4 mg (22% DV)
  • Potassium : 739 mg (21% DV)
  • Magnesium : 55 mg (14% DV)
  • Iron : 0.9 mg (5% DV)

The nutritional value of plantain improves when we cook them. One cup of cooked, mashed plantain contains –

  • Calories: 232
  • Carbohydrates: 62.3 grams
  • Fiber: 4.6 grams
  • Proteins: 1.6 grams
  • Fats: .4 grams
  • Vitamin C: 21.8 mg (36% DV)
  • Vitamin A: 1,818 IU (36% DV)
  • Vitamin B6: 0.5 mg (24% DV)
  • Potassium : 930 mg (27% DV)
  • Magnesium : 64 mg (16% DV)
  • Iron: 1.2 mg (6% DV)

Health benefits of plantains

Plantains are a rich source of various antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They are also rich in fiber, which makes them great for the digestive system.

1. Improve heart health

Plantains contain serotonin, which is responsible for the dilation of arteries while improving blood flow. They also provide high levels of potassium which helps by enhancing the oxygen flow to various parts of the body.

The high fiber content of fiber also helps in reducing cholesterol from the body, which keeps the heart healthy.

Plantains also contain vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). One cup of plantains provides 34 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B6.

This vitamin helps decrease homocysteine levels in the body which are linked to coronary artery disease and stroke (2).

Plantain Benefits infographic

2. Rich source of potassium

Plantains are an excellent source of potassium. You can get 27 percent of your daily requirement for potassium from just one cup of cooked plantains.

Potassium plays many vital roles in the body. It helps to counteract the adverse effects of sodium in the diet which helps improve heart health. It also helps regulate blood pressure.

Adequate potassium is also essential for bone health and smooth muscle contraction. So, consuming plantains also helps regulate heart rhythm.

Research has shown that consuming food rich in potassium can reduce blood pressure, decrease cardiovascular disease mortality, and slow the progression of renal disease (3).

3. Improves digestive health

Plantains are a rich source of fiber which is excellent for digestive health. A cup of plantains can take care of 20 percent of your daily requirement for fiber. Dietary fiber adds bulk to the food which aids in digestion.

According to a study by the Department of Internal Medicine and Nutritional Science Program, University of Kentucky, increased fiber intake benefits many gastrointestinal disorders like gastroesophageal reflux disease, duodenal ulcer, diverticulosis, constipation and hemorrhoids (4).

Fiber also makes you feel full, which helps in weight loss. According to a study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, plantains can also prevent infectious disease associated with diarrhea.

The soluble fiber in plantains inhibits pathogens that cause diarrhea. According to a 2009 study by Venezuelan researchers published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, green plantains reduced the incidence of diarrhea in children.

Children who ate plantains also recovered faster and experienced more weight gain than those who ate yogurt.

4. High in antioxidants

Plantains are rich in powerful antioxidants like vitamin A and C, which are many essential roles in the body.

One cup of plantains contains 32 percent of the daily recommended amounts of vitamin C. This vitamin is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect against immune system deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, prenatal health problems, eye disease, and skin wrinkling.

High doses of vitamin C have help to reduce the speed of growth of some types of cancerous tissue. Many case-control studies have found an inverse association between dietary vitamin C intake and cancers of the lung, breast, colon, stomach, oral cavity, larynx and esophagus (5).

One cup of cooked plantains also provides 36 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A. This vitamin is essential for many processes in the body including ensuring health functioning of the immune system, maintaining healthy vision, and proper growth and development of babies in the womb.

A deficiency in vitamin A can increase your susceptibility to infection and delay recovery (6).

5. Healthy brain function

You can get as much as 24 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin B6 from a single cup of plantains. Vitamin B6 is necessary for healthy brain function because pyridoxine (vitamin B6) is necessary for generating neurotransmitters that regulate emotions, including serotonin, dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) (7).  

These hormones help keep the moods stable and control the body clock.

B6 can decrease the levels of homocysteine blood levels that increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. According to a 2013 study, when researchers gave patients with mild cognitive impairment high doses of vitamin B6, B12, and folate, it decreased their homocysteine levels (8).

Our body also needs vitamin B6 to metabolize carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

6. High in magnesium

Magnesium deficiency is common in the western world.

Magnesium is critical because it affects over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It plays a vital role in calcium absorption, preventing osteoporosis and regulation of blood pressure (9). It also lowers the risk of type-2 diabetes by controlling blood glucose levels.

Magnesium also helps in treating insomnia, depression, and headaches (10).

So, if you are looking to add magnesium to your diet, you must eat plantains. One cup of plantains provides 16 percent of your daily needs.

7. Prevents ulcers

Several studies have shown that plantains contain phytochemicals that can help cure and prevent ulcers. People who use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug therapy for rheumatoid arthritis and chronic pain are at high risk of developing ulcers in the membranes of their stomachs. According to research, dried plantain can stimulate the growth of the inner lining of the stomach.

8. Weight control

The fiber and carbs found in plantains are complex carbs. Complex carbs that are found in unprocessed food are more slowly digested than simple carbs that are found in processed foods.

The complex carbs in plantains keep you satiated for more time after meals, and this prevents unhealthy snacking.

What’s the difference between bananas and plantains?

Though they look alike, bananas and plantains are entirely different in taste. Bananas are the fruit of the herbaceous plant belonging to the genus Musa. Though they are originally from Southeast Asia, they are available and used in North American and European cuisine.

Plantains are larger and tougher, and they have thicker skin than bananas. Like bananas, plantains too are originally from Southeast Asia but are now grown all over the world.

Bananas can be eaten raw and cooked, but you have to cook plantains before eating as they are not enjoyable when eaten raw. While plantains are more suitable for savory dishes, bananas are perfect for desserts.

Both bananas and plantains have similar nutritional qualities and have the same health benefits. They are both high in potassium and have similar digestive health benefits thanks to their fiber content.

Uses of other parts of plantain

Almost every part of plantain has some practical or culinary application. In countries like Vietnam, Laos, and the Philippines, plantain flowers are used as food.

They are used in salads and added raw to vermicelli soup. In south India, a curry called poriyal is made from plantain flowers.

Though plantain leaves are not eaten, they are used to wrap other food to achieve a stronger aroma and flavor. In many Hindu rituals, plantain leaves are also used as plates.

Plantain shoots are rich in fiber, and they are chopped and added to curries. The juice from the shoot is also used by locals for snake bites, kidney stones, and stomach ulcers.

Concerns of eating plantains

Some people can have an allergic reaction to plantains. The symptoms include itching and swelling of lips, tongue, and throat, hives and difficulty in breathing.

Since plantains have high carb content and glycemic load, they can raise blood sugar. People with diabetes should avoid plantains.

Frying plantains also add to their calorie content. Roasting or baking is a healthier option for people trying to lose weight.

Final thoughts

Plantains may look similar to bananas, but they are quite different in taste. This starchier, less sweet version of banana is quite nutritious and has many beneficial properties. So go ahead and fry, boil or steam plantains and enjoy their health benefits.

Plantains are rich sources of nutrients like potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, etc. They are great for the digestive health & boost immunity.