Unripe Plantain: Important Nutritional and Health Benefits

Unripe plantain fruit (Musa paradisiaca) is a herbaceous plant from the family, Musaceae. The large shrub can grow up to 9 m tall, has an obust tree-like pseudo-stem, a crown of large elongated oval deep-green leaves, and a prominent midrib. Unripe fruits of plantains have been suggested to be much beneficial to diabetic patients as it has less sugar content than the ripe fruits.

The fruits are oblong and fleshy. It resembles bananas, but is much larger, longer, has thicker skin, and rarely eaten without cooking, frying or roasting. The color changes from green to yellow on ripening. Unripe plantain has green peel, the pulp is filled with starch and the taste is somehow neutral.

Studies on the health benefits of plantains propose it could improve spermatogenesis in Wistar rats. Other health benefits include maintaining of blood pressure, reduction of stroke risks, preventing of spasms, and improvement in the functioning of the muscles due to high potassium content. The plantain peel extract is believed to prevent human lung cancer.

Plantain can be boiled, roasted, fried and is part of the diet in Florida, Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, and other countries in Africa, Southern, and Central America. Flour made from wheat and plantain has been used to formulate reads and biscuits.

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Plantain flour, made from unripe plantain that is sun-dried, is used to make dishes such as “Amala ogede” in Yoruba, “Ebue” in Ogoni, “elubo”. The sticky paste is served with vegetable soup. Unripe plantain can be boiled, fried, and processed into chips.

Also, Unripe plantain flour (UPF) is a source of indigestible carbohydrates, and type II resistant starch (RS).

Composition of Unripe Plantain

Nutritional Composition

Unripe plantain contains crude fat, protein, carbohydrate, moisture, ash, and high dietary fiber. It has high quantity of potassium, and other minerals such as iron, sodium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin C. However, the protein content is low.

Processing such as sun drying, boiling, and roasting seems to improve the quantity of crude lipid, ash,
crude fiber, carbohydrate, potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.

Bioactive Compounds

Alkaloids, flavonoids (rutin, isoquercitrin, and quercetin), phenolic acids (gallic acid, caffeic acid, ellagic acid), glycosides, saponins, steroids, tannins and xanthoproteins are obtained from the extract of the unripe plantain.

Health Benefits of Unripe Plantain

Anti-diabetic action: Lab studies by Adekunle O. Ajiboye et al. using boiled unripe plantain to test fat-fed/low dose streptozotocin-induced diabetic Wistar rats to determine its activity. The effect of the unripe plantain was compared to standard antidiabetic medication, acarbose.

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Both the plantain and acarbose treated rats witnessed a decrease in blood glucose level and the activities of α-amylase, α-glucosidase, angiotensin I converting enzyme, thiobarbituric reaction substance (TBARS).

Unripe plantain is consumed by diabetic patients as it is believed to lower postprandial glucose levels. This may be because it contains high carbohydrates (starch and low sugar) and high energy. It is also suitable for hypertensive patients as it contains low sodium.

High dietary fiber: Unripe plantain contains high quantity of dietary fiber. Fiber also called roughage are indigestible part of the plant. They help to prevent constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulitis, cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart diseases, stroke, hypertension, and also cancer forms such as colorectal, and bowel cancers.

Dietary fiber also lowers blood glucose, cholesterol levels and prevent weight gain.

High potassium content: High potassium content means unripe plantain can help to maintain fluids inside the cells, and the blood volume. It also helps in muscle contraction and helps to maintain normal blood pressure.

Antioxidant effect: Unripe plantain contains polyphenols, flavonoids, and vitamin C. Ripening may cause a reduction in the total phenolic and flavonoids compounds, as well as radical scavenging property. Antioxidants prevent oxidative damage that cause cardiovascular diseases, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

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Aids in bowel movement: The unripe fruit is believed to aid in bowel movement and prevent constipation, and bloating.

May boost libido: Unripe plantain is believed to enhance sexual drive, prevent weak erection, improve sperm quantity and quality. Some homemade remedy involves combining it with spices such as ginger, onions, and garlic.

Weight loss: Unripe plantain contains dietary fiber, complex carbs (resistance starch), low fat and high energy. This means we eat less after taking it. Dietary fiber also prevents obesity and stimulate bowel movement.

Ulcer treatment: Studies by R Best, et al. sugggested that unripe plantain has anti-ulcer activity against aspirin-induced ulcer in the rat. It may stimulate the gastric mucosa growth, preventing ulceration.

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