That you can’t eat plantains with diabetes is false. You can avoid blood sugar spikes after eating them by following the guidelines in this post.
Plantains only cause blood sugar spikes if you eat large portions and pair them with other carbohydrate-rich foods.
This post discusses how to eat and enjoy plantains without getting blood sugar spikes if you have diabetes.
Nutritional value of plantains
Also known as ‘cooking bananas’ and ‘green bananas’, plantains (Musa paradisiaca L.) are fruits from the Musaceae family.1 They are tropical plants that grow predominantly in Asia, South America, Caribbean islands and sub-Saharan Africa.1
In Nigeria, plantain is the third most important staple after yam and cassava.2 It is edible in its unripe (green) or ripe (yellow) form, with both types a rich source of carbohydrates and low in protein and fat.3 Of note, plantains are a rich source of magnesium, potassium, vitamins A and C, micronutrients beneficial to people with diabetes.3
Let’s explore how these nutrients benefit diabetes.
Magnesium is a vital co-helper mineral for many proteins involved in blood sugar control and insulin action.4 According to research, people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, are often deficient in magnesium.5
Potassium is essential for mineral, electrolyte and fluid balance in cells. It also helps muscles contract while regulating blood pressure and heart function.6 Low potassium levels are associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.6
Vitamin A is crucial for vision and immunity. Evidence suggests that low vitamin A increases the risk of diabetes.7 Besides, uncontrolled diabetes or persistent high blood sugar can damage the blood vessels in the eyes, causing vision impairments and sometimes blindness. People with diabetes-related eye damage or retinopathy have low vitamin A levels.8 Notably, vitamin A injections improve vision in mice with type 1 diabetes, suggesting that increased vitamin A intakes may benefit people with diabetes.9
Inflammation plays a leading role in diabetes;10 Vitamin C is an antioxidant that neutralises harmful free radicals and curbs inflammation in diabetes.11
|Nutritional value of Plantains|
|Per 100g (raw)||Unripe (green plantain)12||Ripe (yellow plantain)13|
|Carbohydrates (g) |
Of which sugar (g)
Vitamin A (mcg)
Vitamin C (mg)
Glycaemic index of plantains
The glycaemic index measures how quickly carbohydrate-rich foods raise blood sugar.14 Fast-digesting carbohydrates can spike blood sugars or raise them quickly and are called high-glycaemic. Moderate-digesting or medium-glycaemic carbohydrates increase blood sugars moderately, while slow-digesting or low-glycaemic carbohydrates increase them slowly.14
The glycaemic index ranks food on a scale of 0 (low) to 100 (high). Low glycaemic foods have a score of 0-55, medium glycaemic foods have a score of 56-59, and high glycaemic foods have a rate of 70 and above.14
Researchers investigated the glycaemic index of ripe and unripe plantains after frying, boiling and roasting.15 They found that both unripe and ripe plantains had low-glycaemic indices regardless of cooking methods. However, unripe plantain had a lower glycaemic index than ripe plantain. The glycaemic indices for fried, boiled, and roasted unripe plantain were 45, 44 and 46, respectively, and for ripe plantain were 56, 54 and 55, respectively.
Best cooking methods for plantain
Eating boiled, roasted or fried plantain will cause your blood sugars to rise slowly or moderately, which is good. However, a food’s glycaemic index is not the only factor to consider when you have diabetes.
Most people with pre- and type 2 diabetes carry excess fat, and many studies show that weight loss can increase insulin sensitivity and improve blood sugar control.16,17 Frying adds unnecessary calories to plantain, which can promote weight gain. So, boiling, roasting, grilling and baking are the best cooking methods if you have diabetes.
Please note that refining plantain into flour such as amala makes it much easier to digest, increasing its glycaemic index. Onuoha and colleagues showed that unripe plantain flour has a glycaemic index of 52.8.18
How many plantains can I eat with diabetes?
The amount of plantain or portion size you need depends on different factors, including your age, sex, activity levels, weight and health goals. A registered nutritionist and dietitian can determine the correct portion for you.
What to pair plantains with to avoid blood sugar spikes
Eating large quantities of any carbohydrate alone, including unripe plantain, will cause blood sugar spikes, especially if you have diabetes. The best way to eat plantain and avoid blood sugar spikes if you have diabetes is to pair it with leafy vegetables and quality protein.
These recipes, baked plantains with cod and asparagus and curried plantain with cauliflower rice and baked salmon, are excellent examples of how to eat plantains.
Don’t forget that pairing is one side of the story; your portion size matters too.
Are unripe plantains better than ripe plantains for blood sugar control?
Based on the 2013 study by Odom and colleagues, it is clear that ripe and unripe plantains have similar glycaemic indices. However, you have also learned that the best way to avoid blood sugar spikes is to always pair your plantains with proteins and vegetables and eat small-moderate portions. If you stick to this, it doesn’t matter whether you eat ripe or unripe plantain, as they will have a similar impact on your blood sugar.
Unripe plantain is not necessarily better than ripe plantain for blood sugar control in diabetes because they are both low-glycaemic. The key point is to eat a small-moderate portion of either type and pair it with vegetables and protein to avoid blood sugar spikes.
The bottom line
Plantains are a significant part of African (and tropical) cuisines, and they are a rich source of nutrients that benefit blood sugar control. You will likely find it challenging to avoid or eliminate them from your diet simply because you have diabetes.
The great news is that you don’t have to eliminate them; you can enjoy plantain if you stick to the guidelines, i.e., eat an appropriate portion, pair it with vegetables and protein, and boil, grill, bake or roast.
Now go enjoy plantains! And don’t forget to come back and tell me how you ate them.
- Oyeyinka, B.O. & Afolayan, A.J. (2019) Comparative evaluation of the nutritive, mineral, and antinutritive composition of Musa sinensis L. (Banana) and Musa paradisiaca L. (Plantain) fruit compartments. Plants (Basel), 8(12): 598.
- Famakin, O., Fatoyinbo, A., Ijarotimi, O.S., Badejo, A.A., & Fagbemi, T.N. (2016) Assessment of nutritional quality, glycaemic index, antidiabetic and sensory properties of plantain (Musa paradisiaca) – based functional dough meals. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 53(11): 3865-3875.
- Borges, C.V., Maraschin, M., Coelho, D.S., Leonel, M., Gomez, H.A.G., Belin, M.A.F., Diamante, M.S>, Amorim, E.P. Gianeti, T., Castro, G.R., & Lima, G.P.P. (2020) Nutritional value and antioxidant compounds during the ripening and after domestic cooking of bananas and plantains. Food Research International, 132: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2020.109061
- Barbagallo, M., & Dominguez, L.J. (2007) Magnesium metabolism in type 2 diabetes mellitus, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. Archives in Biochemistry and Biophysics, 458(1): 40-7.
- Chen, S., Jin, X., Liu, J., Sun, T., Xie, M., Bao, W., Yu, X., Yang, X., Zhang, Y., Zhang, H., Shan, Z., & Liu, L. (2017) Association of plasma magnesium with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes mellitus in adults. Scientific Reports, 7: 12763.
- Chatterjee, R., Yeh, H-C., Edelman, D., & Brancati, F. (2011) Potassium and risk of type 2 diabetes. Expert Reviews in Endocrinology and Metabolism, 6(5): 665-672.
- Trasino, S.E., & Gudas, L.J. (2015) Vitamin A: a missing link in diabetes? Diabetes Management (London), 5(5): 359-367.
- Rostamkhani, H., Mellati, A.A., Tabaei, B.S., Alavi, M., & Mousavi, S.N. (2019) Association of serum zinc and vitamin A levels with severity of retinopathy in type 2 diabetic patients: a cross-sectional study. Biological Trace Element Research, 192(2): 123-128.
- Malechka, V.V., Chen, J., Cheng, R., Ma, J-X., & Moiseyev, G. (2020) The single administration of a chromophore alleviates neural defects in diabetic retinopathy. The American Journal of Pathology, doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajpath.2020.03.009
- Tsalamandris, S., Antonopoulos, A.S., Oikonomou, E., Papamikroulis, G-A., Vogiatzi, G., Papaioannou, S., Deftereos, S., & Tousoulis, D. (2019) The role of inflammation in diabetes: current concepts and future perspectives. European Cardiology Review, 14(1): 50-59.
- Ellulu, M.S., Rahmat, A., Fatimah, I., Khaza’ai, H., Abed, Y. (2015) Effect of vitamin C on inflammation and metabolic markers in hypertensive and/or diabetic obese adults: a randomised controlled trial. Drugs design, development and therapy, 9: 3405-12.
- Nutrition value of green plantain. Available: https://www.nutritionvalue.org/Plantains%2C_raw%2C_green_nutritional_value.html?size=100+g&utm_source=share-by-url. Accessed: 08 November 2022.
- FoodData Central. Plantains, yellow, raw. Available: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169130/nutrients. Accessed: 08 November 2022.
- Augustin, L.S.A, Kendall, C.W.C., Jenkins, D.J.A., Willett, W.C., Astrup, A., Barclay, A.W., Bjorck, I., Brand-Miller, J.C., Brighenti, F., Buyken, A.E., Ceriello, A., La Vecchia, C., Livesey, G., Liu, S., Riccardi, G., Rizkalla, S.W., Sievenpiper, J.L., Trichopoulou, A., Wolever, T.M.S., Baer-Sinnott, S., & Poli, A. (2015) Glycaemic index, glycaemic load and glycaemic response: an international scientific consensus summit from the International Carbohydrate Quality Consortium (ICQC). Nutrition Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease, 25(9): 795-815.
- Ogbuji, C.A., Odom, T.C., Ndulaka, J.C., and Ogbodo, M.O. (2013) Effects of various processing methods of ripe and unripe plantain diets on blood glucose levels. European Journal of Biology and Medical Science Research, 1(3): 49-54.
- Wilding, J.P.H. (2014) The importance of weight management in type 2 diabetes mellitus. The International Journal of Clinical Practice, https://doi.org/10.1111/ijcp.12384.
- Clamp, L.D., Hume, D.J., Lambert, E.V., & Kroff, J. (2017) Enhanced insulin sensitivity in successful, long-term weight loss maintainers compared with matched controls with no weight loss history. Nutrition & Diabetes, 7(6): e282.
- Onuoha, N.O., Okafor, A.M., & Okeke, L.K. (2017) Glycaemic indices of unripe plantain (Musa paradisiaca) and unripe red banana (Musa sp. AAA) flour meals. Bio-research, 15: 955-960
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