Bananas: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks

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The banana, scientifically known as Musa acuminata, is a versatile and delicious fruit packed with numerous health benefits. It’s one of the most produced, traded, and consumed fruits globally, with more than 1,000 varieties, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Originating from the South and Southeast Asian-Australiasian region, the banana is now grown worldwide in over 120 countries.

 

Bananas are a rich source of nutrients, such as potassium and vitamin B6. These nutrients along with other components in bananas can offer various health benefits from supporting heart health to providing energy.

 

Here’s why adding bananas to your diet can benefit your overall well-being, and some ways to incorporate it into your meals.

Health Benefits of Bananas

Increases Fiber Intake

It’s recommended that people consume between 22 to 34 grams (g) of fiber per day, depending on their age and gender. Unfortunately, many Americans only consume half of this amount. Fiber, also known as roughage, is found in plant foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and is an important nutrient that helps support digestive and heart health. It may also play a role in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, such as colon cancer.

 

Consuming fruits like bananas can help you meet the recommended fiber intake. A medium-sized (about 7-inch long) raw banana provides 3 g of fiber. Due to their soft texture and portability, bananas can be consumed by many people including those with busy schedules, chewing difficulties, and young children, making them an easy source of dietary fiber.

 

Supports Heart Health

Adding more soluble fiber to the diet, found in fruits, can lower LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. The way that soluble fiber does this is by binding to cholesterol molecules in the small intestine and preventing their absorption.

 

In addition to fiber, bananas contain potassium, an essential mineral that helps manage blood pressure according to the American Heart Association. A medium-sized banana delivers 422 milligrams (mg) of potassium, meeting 9% of the recommended intake, or daily value (DV).

 

Potassium intake increases urinary excretion of sodium. It also helps ease the tension in blood vessel walls, aiding in lowering blood pressure. This is important to note because excess sodium in the bloodstream pulls water into the blood vessels, increasing the blood flow and blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease.

 

Maintains Digestive Health and Easy to Digest

Fiber in general helps with regularity and maintaining digestive health. Bananas contain soluble fiber and another type of fiber called prebiotics. Both of these types of fiber are especially helpful in supporting good bacteria in your gut to thrive, which keeps your digestive system working smoothly and promotes overall health.

 

Bananas are also considered an easy-to-digest food that’s part of a bland diet prescription for people experiencing gastrointestinal issues like gas, diarrhea, or vomiting. A bland diet may be useful for people with gastrointestinal conditions such as gastrointestinal reflux disease or GERD, traveler’s diarrhea, diverticulosis, and for individuals recovering from gastrointestinal-related surgeries.

 

Provides Energy

Bananas provide and support energy levels in a few ways. Firstly, they are a source of carbohydrates, the body’s primary fuel source. The carbohydrate content in bananas is primarily starch when they’re unripe and as they ripen, the starch content drops, and the sucrose (a type of simple sugar) content increases. Simple sugars are readily absorbed into the bloodstream, providing a quick burst of energy.

 

Bananas also provide vitamin B6, which is essential for various bodily functions, including energy metabolism and supporting brain health. Bananas are well-known for their potassium content. Potassium plays a crucial role in regulating muscle function and nerve transmission. Additionally, bananas contain fiber, which helps you feel fuller for longer.

 

Bananas’ portability makes them ideal for carrying on the go, ensuring you have readily available energy whenever you need it. Whether you need a snack for busy mornings, pre-workout fuel, or a quick energy boost throughout the day, bananas are a convenient source of energy.

 

Promotes Muscle Function

Bananas are a natural source of electrolytes like potassium, required for proper muscle function. Inadequate blood potassium levels can cause muscle weakness. Adequate potassium is especially important for exercise as suboptimal levels can contribute to muscle and whole-body fatigue and impaired exercise performance.

 

A Source of Antioxidants

Although banana may not be the first fruit you think of when it comes to antioxidants, it does contain these beneficial compounds. Antioxidants are naturally present in many foods, particularly plant foods like fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants support the immune system and help protect cells from free radical damage caused by natural and man-made elements like environmental toxins, ultraviolet rays, and chemicals produced by the body during metabolism.

 

Bananas contain vitamin C, a known antioxidant. They also deliver the nutrients copper and manganese, considered antioxidant minerals because they’re required for the activity of antioxidant enzymes.

 

Green Bananas Offer Resistant Starch

Although green bananas aren’t typically eaten due to their hard texture and high astringency, demand for green banana products like green banana flour and green banana pulp is booming due to their potential health benefits. One of the main reasons why people and researchers are interested in green bananas is because they contain resistant starch.

 

Resistant starch is the portion of starch that resists digestion in the small intestine. Instead, it travels to the large intestine or colon, where it’s fermented by gut bacteria, essentially feeding the gut bacteria. Resistant starch is similar to fiber and can improve gut health and blood sugars and reduce inflammation, according to research.

 

Nutritional Facts of Bananas

Listed is the nutritional information for one medium-sized (about 7 inches long and 118 grams) raw banana.85

 

  • Calories: 105 kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 27 grams (g)
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Manganese: 0.319 milligrams (mg) (14% of the DV)
  • Copper: 0.092 mg (10% of the DV)
  • Potassium: 422 mg (9% of the daily value or DV)
  • Magnesium: 31.9 mg (8% of the DV)
  • Riboflavin: 0.086 mg (7% of the DV)
  • Vitamin B6: 0.433 mg (25% of the DV)
  • Folate: 23.6 micrograms (mcg) (6% of the DV)
  • Vitamin C: 10.3 mg (11% of the DV)

 

Bananas are especially high in vitamin B6, a nutrient involved in more than 100 enzymatic reactions in the body, including metabolism. Vitamin B6 is also involved in brain development during pregnancy and immune function.

 

Bananas are also a good source of other minerals and vitamins, particularly manganese, a mineral involved in making energy, bone health, reproduction, blood clotting, and supporting the immune system.

 

Risks of Eating Bananas

Bananas are a source of allergy for 0.6% of the general population and up to 67 and 46% for people with asthma or atopic dermatitis. A food allergy occurs when the body identifies a certain food as a threat, resulting in symptoms such as itching and swelling of the skin. Consult your healthcare provider if you suspect you have a banana allergy or any type of food allergy and avoid foods that trigger your allergy.

 

Bananas are a rich source of carbohydrates and ripe bananas in particular are higher in natural sugar content. Eating too many carbs in one sitting generally raises blood sugar, especially in individuals with diabetes. To minimize the impact of carbs on blood sugars it’s recommended to practice portion control and combine carb-rich foods with lean proteins and non-starchy vegetables.

 

Bananas contain potassium, a mineral that people with kidney disease are at risk of having too much or too little of. People with high blood potassium may be advised to limit foods like bananas that are high in potassium.

 

Ripe bananas are high in oligo-fructans, a type of carbohydrate that may not be tolerated by people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a digestive condition characterized by symptoms like abdominal pain and bloating. For people who are sensitive to oligo-fructans, it’s recommended to limit ripe banana intake to a small serving, about 1/3 of a banana.

 

Tips for Consuming Bananas

Bananas can help you meet the requirements for certain essential nutrients. Moreover, they’re easy to incorporate into a variety of meals.

 

Store bananas at room temperature on a countertop away from sunlight where they’ll ripen. Once they’re at their peak ripeness, they can be stored in the refrigerator or the freezer. Bananas that have gone bad will emit an unpleasant odor, leak fluids, or have dark flesh, and should be discarded.

 

Here are some easy tips for consuming bananas:

 

  • Add sliced bananas to your morning cereal or oatmeal.
  • Blend fresh or frozen bananas with milk/water, other fruits, vegetables, protein powder, or nut butter for a delicious and nutritious smoothie.
  • Spread mashed bananas onto toast and top with chopped nuts or seeds and cinnamon.
  • Pair them with protein sources like milk, cheese, Greek yogurt, nuts, nut butter for an easy nutritious breakfast or snack.
  • Use ripe bananas in baked goods recipes to reduce added sugar.
  • Freeze bananas that are about to turn and use them later to make smoothies or banana frozen yogurt.

 

A Quick Review

Bananas offer a versatile and delicious way to boost your health and well-being. What’s more, they’re a natural source of sweetness, which can satisfy a sweet tooth craving without all the added sugar and additives in processed sweet treats.

 

From breakfast to dessert, they can be incorporated into a variety of meals and beverages, whether fresh or frozen. They’re also portable and the banana peel serves as its packaging. When you need a healthy and delicious snack or a quick source of energy, a banana is a great choice.

 

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