Banana or Plantain: Which is Better for our Exotic Birds?

I’ve wanted to address this topic for ages. Just this morning someone asked me about “cooking plantains” for our companion birds.

Machelle Pacion
Avian Nutrition Specialist

Well, most of you already know I am completely against cooked foods of any kind for our exotic feathered companions. However, there is always an exception to every rule…IF you have a seriously ill bird, it might be best to cook food. When cooked, food is a little easier to digest on an upset tummy or a bird dealing with immune system problems. (Soon you will see a “Baby Beaks / Ill Bird Origins Wild Diet food on our website!) But overall, our exotic feathered companions should always be fed raw foods. Feeding raw encourages their digestive system to function efficiently and properly by keeping their intrinsic digestive enzymes alive, plentiful and productive!

Concerning the nutritional difference between bananas and plantains…

Almost all of us have wide access to bananas, even organic bananas which I prefer. (Most organic food stores offer both bananas and plantains) If you have read any of my posts about feeding bananas you already know I suggest feeding them green and raw. Why green? First of all green bananas are lower in starch. Starch quickly turns to sugar. In fact, starch is a hard, waxy molecular “spiked” fiber which is really difficult to digest, especially if your bird doesn’t produce enough amylase, the digestive enzyme necessary to break down all starch. Even if your bird does produce sufficient amylase, birds don’t produce this digestive enzyme in their mouth (beak) like humans do. So starch doesn’t effectively begin breaking down until the lower digestive tract when it reaches the pancreas. Excess starch in the diet of exotic birds can lead to avian diabetes, clogged arteries, plaque build up in the brain and more.

Sure, starch can be cooked which helps break it down, but do you really want to destroy digestive enzymes, alter protein molecules, degrade vitamins and many minerals just to feed starch to parrots? It’s not necessary and certainly not advisable for a creature designed to consume only raw foods! Both green bananas and green plantains will offer minimal, but enough dietary starch in its best possible form, loaded with amylase for easier digestion.

Another really great reason to feed green, raw bananas is the butyric acid they have to offer. Yes, green bananas, and plantains too both offer butyric acid which is the precursor to hydrochloric acid, the main digestive acid necessary to begin total and complete digestion of proteins and all other nutrients. Hydrochloric acid is responsible for the maintaining the correct pH level in our birds’ digestive tract.

Whether you feed organic bananas or organic plantains, it is best to feed green and raw in my opinion for the reasons noted above.

Now, what about vitamin and mineral levels?

Overall plantain contains higher nutrient levels of specific nutrients companion birds require for optimum health. For instance, 100grams of banana contains 64.0IU of Vitamin A, 8.7mg Vitamin C, 20.0mcg of Folate. (1)

100grams of plantain, on the other hand, contains 909IU of Vitamin A, 10.9mg of Vitamin C, and 26.0mcg of Folate. (2)

As you can see, plantain contains higher amounts of certain essential nutrients exotic birds need!

Let’s get back to cooking…why? Really, it’s just that simple. As mentioned above cooking destroys all digestive enzymes, alters protein molecules, causes the starch to turn to sugar and degrades almost all vitamins and even some minerals. In the wild, our birds would consume both bananas and plantains completely raw and many times green, just before ripening. Although, birds do know just when perfect ripeness occurs, so it is highly likely that they may consume each of these fruits at a specific ripeness where the fruit is only slightly green, but not yet yellow. In fact, plantains are supposed to be consumed cooked for humans. Otherwise, they are very bitter when green, something birds actually like! Plantains and bananas can be eaten raw, but they taste better to us humans when eaten ripe or cooked. Neither of these fruits is poisonous when consumed green and raw.

All of this explained, if you really, really want to cook your bird’s bananas or plantains by frying or sauteeing, I recommend cooking in “ghee.” Ghee is clarified butter (make sure it comes from grass fed cows) or cooked in virgin, organic coconut oil for birds that are not feather destroyers. Ghee is a long chain dietary animal fat, high in Omega 3s (long chain Omega 3s easily cross the brain blood barrier), but doesn’t oxidize at high cooking temperatures. Like coconut oil, it does not need to be refrigerated. Ghee is totally free of all milk solids and doesn’t trigger feather destruction, whereas coconut oil is a medium chain dietary plant fat (does not cross the brain blood barrier without added GLA-gamma linolenic acid present in borage oil, black currant oil, evening primrose oil, hemp seed oil*). Coconut oil contains salicylates which may trigger feather destruction in birds who engage in that syndrome.

Here are a couple of interesting videos regarding plantains for your educational enjoyment:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6X-bF-E_2k

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAkz2hbmSSU

  • * Borage Oil – 20-24% GLA
  • Black Currant Oil – 17% GLA
  • Evening Primrose Oil – 10% GLA
  • Hemp Seed Oil – 3% GLA

(3)

Happy, healthy foraging!
TheBestBirdFood.com

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Ref: (1) http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1846/2http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1846/2; (2) http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/2031/2; (3) http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/gamma-linolenic-acid-weight-loss-fat-with-anti-inflammatory-benefits.