Are Plantains Healthy? Latina Dietitian Breaks it Down

Plantains may be delicious, but are they healthy? If you’ve ever wondered this, this blog post is for you!

As a dietitian and proud Cuban-American, one of the questions I hear the most is how to make healthier plantains. But the truth is, plantains are a good source of healthy complex carbohydrates, providing gut-healthy fiber and plenty of vitamins and minerals. 

While plantains are very nutritious, you may want to consider cooking method or the ripeness of your plantain, depending on your own health goals and medical history. 

If you’ve ever felt you had to give up plantains to follow a healthy diet, keep reading! In this article you’ll learn more about the health benefits of plantains, as well as the differences between types of plantains and cooking methods.

Let’s get started!

Key takeaway: Plantains are rich in resistant starch and fiber, providing gut health benefits. They are also a good source of vitamins and minerals. For people watching their blood sugar, green, boiled plantains may be the best bet.

(Note: this post was originally published in 2019. The most recent update was June 2024)

grid of photos of yellow plantains, green plantains, and stuffed plantains. Text reads "are plantains healthy"

Plantains in Latin American Food

Plantains are a staple food in the Caribbean, playing a major role in Dominican, Cuban, and Puerto Rican food. Plantain also shows up in dishes from southern Mexico and other areas of Central America .

Although plantains originated in Southeast Asia, they were introduced to Latin America by way of Africa. These starchy fruits grow well in tropical regions, so they are a good fit for Caribbean climates and food. 

Plantains may look like bananas but they are different. Plantains are starchier and have an earthier flavor. What’s most interesting about plantains is that they can be either sweet or savory, depending on how ripe they are when you cook them. 

Are plantains vegetables?

Many people get confused about whether plantains are a fruit or a vegetable. Technically, they grow as a fruit. But in the nutrition world, we consider plantains starchy vegetables like a potato. 

(Read more: Puerto Rican Vegetables)

Are plantains good for you?

One of the most common questions I get as a dietitian is how to make plantains healthier. In reality, I believe plantains are healthy! They offer plenty of health-promoting nutrients and can form the base of a very satisfying meal.

Depending on your nutrition needs, you may want to take into account how plantains are cooked and serving size when planning your balanced meals. 

Plantains nutrition facts

Let’s start by taking a look at the nutrition content of plantains. The first thing I want to point out is that there are nutrition differences between green plantains (unripe) and yellow plantains (ripe). So I pulled the nutrition facts for both green and yellow for us to compare and contrast. Let’s take a look!

100 g (~⅔ cup) of raw green plantain has (1):

Calories152 kcal
Carbohydrates37 g
Fiber2.2 g
Starch32 g
Sugar2.2 g
Potassium431 mg (~13% daily needs*)
Vitamin B10.1 mg (~9% daily needs)
Vitamin B50.5 mg (~11% daily needs)
Vitamin B60.1 mg (~8% daily needs)
Vitamin C20 mg (~27% daily needs)

100 g (~⅔ cup) of ripe plantain has (2): 

Calories122 kcal
Carbohydrates32 g
Fiber1.7 g
Starch12 g
Sugar17.5 g
Potassium487 mg (~14% daily needs)
Vitamin B10.1 mg (~9% daily needs)
Vitamin B50.3 mg (~6% daily needs)
Vitamin B60.2 mg (~16% daily needs)
Vitamin C18 mg (~24% daily needs)

*Daily needs estimates are based on an average adult woman’s needs. 

There are some differences between ripe and unripe plantains in terms of sugar and carb content. As plantains ripen, their starch content decreases and their sugar content increases (3).

This means green plantains are a little higher in resistant starch and fiber, while yellow plantains are a little higher in sugar. Green plantains are also higher in vitamin B5, while yellow plantains are higher in vitamin B6.

But all plantains are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B1, and potassium. Plantains are also complex carbs rich in fiber.

For the average person, this will not make a big difference in your health, but certain people may need to keep this in mind (more on that below). 

nutrition comparison of green vs yellow plantains

Health Benefits

So just what can plantains do for your health? Here are some of the best health benefits plantains have to offer:

  • Gut health: All plantains are rich in fiber, and green plantains are especially rich in resistant starch (4). Resistant starch can help promote healthy gut bacteria. One study found that adding resistant starch to participants’ diets helped increase beneficial gut bacteria (5).
  • Improve insulin sensitivity: The resistant starch and fiber in plantains can improve insulin sensitivity, which can have long term blood-sugar control benefits (6, 7). This may be why research has started to explore the potential benefits of plantain-based meals for blood-sugar levels (8, 9).
  • Fight oxidative stress: plantains are a good source of vitamin C, which is an important antioxidant. They also contain additional antioxidants called flavonoids (10). Antioxidants can help reduce oxidative stress which can cause chronic diseases (11). One study showed a plantain-based diet helped reduce inflammation and stress in rats (12). Another study saw an increase in antioxidant activity after adding plantain flour to cookies (13).
  • Heart health benefits: The fiber in plantains can lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, while the potassium in plantains may help lower blood pressure (14).

(Read more: Try These 10 Healthy Plantain Recipes)

two examples of healthy plantain dishes. text reads try these 10 healthy plantain recipes.

Nutrition Drawbacks

Of course, there are no perfect foods. Here are some nutrition drawbacks to keep in mind when eating plantains.

Plantains are frequently fried

Many common plantain dishes like tostones, maduros, and mofongo are fried. There is a higher risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes with frequent ried food intake (4 times/week or more) (15).

The higher risk may be due to chemical changes cooking oils undergo at the high temperatures needed for frying (13).

The average person would do well to limit fried food intake to 2-3 times/week, including fried plantains. However, a meal having one fried element does not automatically make the rest of the meal unhealthy or mean that it doesn’t also have other benefits like fiber, vitamins, minerals.

If you always eat plantains fried, try incorporating some new dishes into your routine that use other cooking methods. Mangu is boiled, for instance, and these sweet plantain canoas are roasted. 

Plantains for diabetes

Because of the high fiber and resistant starch, which help manage blood sugar, plantains can be perfectly fine in a diabetes-friendly diet.

But if you’re being extra careful with your blood sugar, you may want to keep in mind total carb servings as well as ripeness and which cooking method results in the lowest glycemic index (how quickly a food raises blood sugar) in plantains.

As we saw above in the nutrition facts section, unripe green plantains have less sugar than yellow ripe plantains.

One study from 2022 found that boiled green plantains had an antidiabetic effect in rats.

Cooking method matters, too. Boiled plantains also have a lower glycemic index than roasted or fried plantains (16). 

People with diabetes can easily enjoy plantains, especially if they choose boiled, green plantains. Mangú is a great example of a dish with boiled, green plantains.

The big picture

Plantains provide us with plenty of energy, fiber, and important nutrients like potassium. 

They can help support gut health, heart health, and they can even fit in a diabetes-friendly diet!

As Latinos, we often hear that our favorite cultural foods–like plantains–are unhealthy. But the truth is our foods are so nourishing!

As a Latina dietitian, I’ve made it my mission to help other Latinas feel confident enjoying their favorite foods and to know that our foods are healthy.

Want to see what I’m talking about? Get my free 1-week healthy Mexican meal plan! Get your copy when you sign up below.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top