Did you know that the bananas we eat are all clones of one plant? It’s true, 95% of exported bananas are genetically the same. However, there are hundreds of banana varieties that we in North America don’t eat. Red bananas, finger bananas, purple bananas… the varieties are endless. But are bananas and plantains good for you? Or should we leave them for the monkeys?
There are too many varieties to cover them all, so this article will focus on two: our banana clone, the Cavendish, and plantains. Plantains are a starchy, banana-like fruit popular in many parts of the world, including South and Central America and Southeast Asia. Are plantains good for you? Let’s find out!
Are Bananas and Plantains Good for You?
The answer is yes! Bananas and plantains are great additions to a balanced plant-based diet. Both of these fruits ripen in stages from green and starchy, to brown and sweet. Let’s dive into the health benefits of bananas and plantains in their different stages.
Green bananas and green plantains (or Verde, in Latin American cuisine) have a firm texture and a bitter flavor. At this stage, bananas and plantains contain a high amount of resistant starch. Our bodies can’t fully digest resistant starch until it enters the large intestine. Green banana starch has little impact on blood sugar, due to this delayed digestion.
Resistant starches are considered a prebiotic, meaning they feed the bacteria in our guts. Prebiotics help to balance gut bacteria, leading to many health benefits.
Green bananas and plantains are also full of pectin, which contributes to their firm texture. There is evidence that pectin, like all types of fiber, helps us feel full and satisfied after meals.
At this stage, bananas and plantains need to be cooked in order to be enjoyed. Green plantains can be boiled, baked and sauteed much like potatoes. Try Latin American recipes like mangu, a boiled plantain dish from the Dominican Republic. Or lightly saute slices of plantain with refried beans for a Salvadoran plant-based breakfast.
Green bananas are not quite as tasty or easy to cook as green plantains. However, research is emerging into the potential benefits and uses of green banana flour. This product has potential uses in gluten-free cooking and baking and is a way to add resistance starch to foods.
You may have heard the myth that yellow bananas are not good for you, or that they contain too much sugar. The fact is that a yellow banana contains fiber, vitamins and minerals and digestible carbohydrates that make it a healthy, plant-based food that IS good for you.
Like most fruits, bananas at this stage are mostly digestible carbohydrates and fiber. A medium-sized banana provides 27 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of fiber.
It is commonly known that bananas are an excellent source of potassium. Bananas and plantains also provide B vitamins, magnesium, and folate.
This nutritional profile makes bananas the perfect plant-based, post-exercise snack. While working out or training, your body uses carbohydrates and potassium. Bananas help to replace both!
A study on the recovery of long-distance cyclists found another surprising benefit of combining bananas and exercise. Cyclists that ate bananas had reduced inflammation compared to cyclists that drank just water or a sugary beverage. In fact, the effect of bananas was similar to if the athletes had taken ibuprofen.
For a plant-based exercise recovery meal, combine your banana with a fat and protein source. Carbohydrates, like those found in bananas, help to refuel your muscles after a workout. Try nut butter and protein powder in a frozen banana smoothie.
At this stage, the starch and pectin in bananas and plantains have been almost completely broken down into simple sugars. The texture is much softer, and the taste much sweeter. You may find that at this stage the soft texture makes it difficult to eat them alone. This is when brown bananas and plantains become ideal plant-based ingredients.
Use fully ripe bananas as a way to add sweetness to recipes with a boost of powerful antioxidants. Mashed brown banana can be used to replace eggs in baking or in pancakes for breakfast. For a quick and easy dessert, blend ripe frozen bananas with cocoa powder or cinnamon to create plant-based ice cream.
The simple sugars in ripe bananas make them an easily digestible source of carbohydrates. Mashed, ripe bananas are an affordable and safe choice to introduce among baby’s first foods.
Go Bananas for Bananas!
In conclusion, bananas and plantains at all stages are nutritious choices to add to your plant-based diet. Go green for resistant starches and savory dishes, yellow for post-workout snacks, and brown for baking and baby food!
At which stage do you enjoy bananas most often? Let us know in the comments below!
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