Bananas are one of the most widely consumed fruits in the world for good reason. It has been an important fruit for many countries, although the genus of bananas, Musa, is native to South and Southeast Asia. They are now grown in many warmer parts of the world.
The scientific name of bananas is Musa acuminata. The fruit of the banana tree is eaten directly when ripe or is included in fruit salads, juice, and shakes.
There are many types of bananas available, which vary in colour, size and shape. The most common type is the yellow banana, which is green when unripe.
Nutritional Profile of Bananas
Bananas contain a fair amount of fibre, as well as several antioxidants. One medium-sized banana also contains:
Each banana contains only about 105 calories, and consists almost exclusively of water and carbs. Bananas contain very little protein and almost no fat.
The carbs in unripe (green) bananas consist mostly of starch and resistant starch, but as the banana ripens, the starch turns into sugar (glucose, fructose and sucrose).
Possible Health Benefits of Bananas
Bananas are extremely healthy and delicious. Aside from being very nutritious, they are also a highly convenient snack food.
Bananas May Reduce Risk of Developing High Blood Pressure
Maintaining a low sodium intake is essential to lowering blood pressure, however increasing potassium intake may be just as important because of its vasodilation effects.
Bananas May Improve Kidney Health
Potassium is essential for blood pressure control and healthy kidney function.
As a good dietary source of potassium, bananas may be especially beneficial for maintaining healthy kidneys.
Eating a banana several times a week may reduce the risk of kidney disease by up to 50%.
Bananas May Support Heart Health
The fibre, potassium, vitamin C and B6 content in bananas all support heart health.
In one study, those who consumed 4069 mg of potassium per day had a 49% lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease compared with those who consumed less potassium (about 1000 mg per day).
High potassium intakes are also associated with a reduced risk of stroke, protection against loss of muscle mass, preservation of bone mineral density and reduction in the formation of kidney stones.
Reduce Risk of Asthma Attacks
A study conducted by the Imperial College of London found that children who ate just one banana per day had a 34% less chance of developing asthma.
Reduce Risk of Developing Cancer
Consuming bananas, oranges, and orange juice in the first two years of life may reduce the risk of developing childhood leukaemia. As a good source of vitamin C, bananas can help combat the formation of free radicals known to cause cancer.
High fibre intakes from fruits and vegetables like bananas are associated with a lowered risk of colorectal cancer.
Bananas Contain Powerful Antioxidants
Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of dietary antioxidants, and bananas are no exception.
They contain several types of potent antioxidants, including dopamine and catechins.
These antioxidants have been linked to many health benefits, such as a reduced risk of heart disease and degenerative diseases.
However, it is a common misunderstanding that the dopamine from bananas acts as a feel-good chemical in the brain.
In reality, dopamine from bananas does not cross the blood-brain barrier. It simply acts as a strong antioxidant instead of altering hormones or mood.
Bananas May Help You Feel More Full
Resistant starch is a type of indigestible carbohydrate found in unripe bananas, which functions sort of like soluble fibre in the body.
As a rule of thumb, you can estimate that the greener the banana is, the higher the amount of resistant starch it contains.
On the other hand, ripe (yellow) bananas contain lower amounts of resistant starch and total fibre, but proportionally higher amounts of soluble fibre.
Both pectin and resistant starch have been shown to have appetite-reducing effects and increase the feeling of fullness after meals.
Bananas Contain Nutrients that Moderate Blood Sugar Levels
Bananas are rich in a fibre called pectin, which gives the flesh its structural form. Unripe bananas contain resistant starch, which acts like soluble fibre and escapes digestion. Both pectin and resistant starch may moderate blood sugar levels after meals as well. Bananas should not cause major spikes in blood sugar levels in healthy individuals.
However, this may not apply to diabetics, which should probably avoid eating lots of well-ripened bananas and monitor their blood sugars carefully when they do.
Improve Digestive Health
Bland foods such as apple sauce and bananas are recommended for diarrhoea treatment. They are part of an approach known as the BRAT diet; this stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.
Electrolytes like potassium are lost in large quantities during bouts of diarrhoea and may make those affected feel weak. Bananas can replace these lost nutrients.
Bananas can also help to promote regularity and replenish potassium stores.
Preserving Memory and Boosting Mood
Bananas also contain tryptophan, an amino acid that studies suggest plays a role in preserving memory and boosting your mood.
Bananas May Improve Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin resistance is a major risk factor for many of the world's most serious diseases, including type 2 diabetes.
Several studies have shown that 15–30 grams of resistant starch per day may improve insulin sensitivity by 33–50%, in as little as 4 weeks.
Unripe bananas are a great source of resistant starch, and may therefore help improve insulin sensitivity.
However, the reason for these effects is not well understood, and not all studies agree on the matter.
Bananas May Have Benefits for Exercise
Bananas are often referred to as the perfect food for athletes, largely due to their mineral content and easily digested carbs.
Eating bananas may help reduce exercise-related muscle cramps and soreness, which affect up to 95% of the general population.
The reason for the cramps is basically unknown, but a popular theory blames a mixture of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
However, studies have provided mixed findings about bananas and muscle cramps. Some find them helpful, while others find no effects.
That being said, bananas have been shown to provide excellent nutrition before, during and after endurance exercise.
Bananas Are Easy to Add to Your Diet
Not only are bananas incredibly healthy, they're also one of the most convenient snack foods around.
Bananas make a great addition to your breakfast yogurt, cereal or smoothie. You can even use them instead of sugar in your baking and cooking.
Furthermore, bananas rarely contain any pesticides or pollutants, due to their thick protective peel.
Bananas are incredibly easy to eat and transport. They are usually well-tolerated and easily digested, and simply have to be peeled and eaten.
It doesn't get much easier than that.
Incorporating More Bananas into Your Diet
In addition to being eaten raw, bananas are a wonderful addition to a variety of recipes from salads to baked goods.
A few quick serving ideas:
A peanut butter and banana sandwich drizzled with honey is an all-time favourite comfort food for children and adults alike.
Like apple sauce, ripe mashed bananas can be used in baked goods to replace oil or butter. Mashed bananas lend a moist, naturally sweet flavour to muffins, cookies and cakes.
Frozen bananas can be added to smoothies in place of yogurt or ice cream.
Add sliced banana to your morning cereal or oatmeal for a more nutritious breakfast, or take a banana with you on your way to work or school for a healthy, portable snack.
Risks and Precautions
Beta-blockers, a type of medication most commonly prescribed for heart disease, can cause potassium levels to increase in the blood. High potassium foods such as bananas should be consumed in moderation when taking beta-blockers.
Consuming too much potassium can be harmful for those whose kidneys are not fully functional. If your kidneys are unable to remove excess potassium from the blood, it could be fatal.
Some people may have an allergy to bananas. If anyone with a banana allergy eats a banana, they may experience symptoms in the mouth and throat such as itching, hives, swelling and wheezing.
Bananas may trigger migraines in some people. People who often experience migraine headaches are advised to eat no more than half a banana daily.
Bananas also contain a lot of fibre. Eating too much fibre can lead to bloating, gas, and stomach cramps.
Should We or Shouldn't We Eat Bananas on an Empty Stomach?
Of all the meals, breakfast is the most important one, which should be eaten like a king, including wholesome and nutritious ingredients in the platter. However, most often, it ends up becoming a meal on the go and we tend to grab one of the easiest options, which is a banana, as it requires no washing.
It is alright to have a banana first thing in the morning but by teaming it with other foods. You should plan your breakfast carefully by mixing and matching different ingredients to start off the day in a healthy manner. So next time if you feel like binging on bananas, try pairing it with other foods. This way you will be able to avoid any health hazard and kick start your morning on a healthy note
How to Select and Store
Since bananas are picked off the tree while they're still green, it's not unusual to see them this colour in the store. Base your choice of bananas depending upon when you want to consume them. Bananas with more green coloration will take longer to ripen than those more yellow in hue and/or with brown (dark) spots.
Bananas should be firm, but not too hard, bright in appearance, and free from bruises or other injuries. Their stems and tips should be intact. The size of the banana does not affect its quality, so simply choose the size that best meets your needs.
While bananas look resilient, they're actually very fragile and care should be taken in their storage. They should be left to ripen at room temperature and should not be subjected to overly hot or cold temperatures. Unripe bananas should not be placed in the refrigerator as this will interrupt the ripening process to such an extent that it will not be able to resume even if the bananas are returned to room temperature.
If you need to hasten the ripening process, you can place bananas in a paper bag or wrap them in newspaper, adding an apple to accelerate the process. Ripe bananas that will not be consumed for a few days can be placed in the refrigerator. While their peel may darken, the flesh will not be affected. For maximum flavour when consuming refrigerated bananas, remove them from the refrigerator and allow them to come back to room temperature. For the most antioxidants, eat fully ripened fruit.
Bananas can also be frozen and will keep for about 2 months. Either puree them before freezing or simply remove the peel and wrap the bananas in plastic wrap. To prevent discoloration, add some lemon juice before freezing.