Plate, Meet Plantains

We find out how nutritious the banana’s starchy sister is
Published April 5, 2017

In many warm climes, namely the Caribbean, South and Central America, and Africa, plantains are a dietary staple, eaten fried, boiled, roasted, mashed, or in soups.

To the uninitiated, plantains are, like bananas, part of the Musaceae family. They are a type of cooking banana, and they’re starchier and firmer than bananas. They look like big bananas but have a thicker peel and more squared-off tips.

“Plantains are very versatile and can be cooked in many ways, similar to potatoes,” says Charlene Pors, a registered dietitian based in Kelowna, B.C.

Though it’s one of the most popular ways to cook them, Pors says frying should be limited, because the oil adds unnecessary calories and fat.

What’s in ‘em?

  • 1 cup = about 181 calories
  • Potassium
  • Fibre
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin B6
  • Complex carbohydrate
  • Low in fat
  • Low in protein

Offering a comparison to a more traditional starch, Pors says, “Due to plantains’ naturally sweet taste, they contain more sugar and carbohydrates than potatoes. In addition, they contain [about] 65 more calories per one-cup serving. However, plantains are higher in vitamin A, magnesium, and folate compared to potatoes.”

Pors explains, like any other starchy side dish, you need to consider the portion size when eating plantains.

“Plantains can be a nutritious addition to our diet, but they can also contain more calories and sugar than other starchy vegetables. For this reason, you should limit the portion size to half-one cup per serving. If you’re diabetic, you also need to consider the higher sugar and carbohydrate content of plantains.”

Oshawa, Ont.-based registered dietitian Nicole Osinga further explains the sugar connection plantains have.

“Although plantains are mostly carbohydrates, the green plantains are actually low on the glycemic index. The glycemic index measures how much a particular food affects blood sugar levels. You want your blood sugar to be steady, which can reduce feelings of fatigue and food cravings.”

“Green plantains have a similar glycemic index to sweet potatoes and pasta. Typically bread and white potatoes have a higher glycemic index, meaning these foods spike your blood sugar higher. Sweet plantains have a higher glycemic index than green plantains. This means your blood sugar will have a large spike after you eat sweet plantains, which could lead to feelings of lethargy and food cravings after,” Osinga says.

“Eating low glycemic index foods have helped a lot of my clients lose weight,” she adds.

She suggests including a one-half cup serving of plantains as a carbohydrate choice at breakfast or lunch. She recommends boiling as a healthy way to cook plantains, and suggests pairing them with a high-protein food to keep you feeling full and avoiding a blood sugar spike. “Make them into a delicious protein pancake recipe,” Osinga suggests.

Both Pors and Osinga agree plantains can be eaten raw, but they taste better when cooked.