After a hectic afternoon of meetings, you finally have time to breathe and grab a convenient, no-brainer snack. Do you reach for chips and cookies? Fair enough – they’re so convenient! But, there’s another option that won’t lead to a sugar crash.
In the past, health experts have given bananas a bad rap because of the number of carbs they contain. But they were wrong. So, let’s talk about bananas, a convenient, nutrient-dense fruit that can curb your 4 pm hunger pangs.
How many banana-based foods can you name? We’ll give you a minute. The fruit, banana bread, banana pudding, banana pancakes? Banana’s are everywhere!
Cultivated around 300 BC in Southeast Asia, bananas have since become a household staple in North America, but they’ve become controversial in the past years – we owe this fruit an apology!
Today we’ll clear the air with information on nutrients, health benefits, and downsides.
Bananas Have Essential Vitamins and Minerals
Don’t judge a fruit by its size – the banana may be small and compact, but it’s bursting with good stuff, like macro and micronutrients that keep your body functioning at an optimal level.
Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of glucose, and you need glucose to survive and thrive. Carbohydrates break down into the glucose in your bloodstream, which enters your cells to provide energy. Glucose is your body’s primary energy source and your brain’s only source of energy. When you don’t have carbs, your body produces glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis. One banana provides 27g of carbs, an adequate amount as a snack during your eating window.
Fiber and Resistant Starch
Bananas are an excellent source of fiber and resistant starch, which helps:
- Keep you regular and relieve constipation (ripe) or diarrhea (less mature – starch)
- Feed the good bacteria in your gut
- Fuel colon cells
Vitamins and Minerals
Has muscle pain got you down? Bananas are rich in potassium and magnesium, which help regulate your muscle and nerve contractions, fluid balance, and reduce your heart disease risk. Magnesium deficiency may increase your depression risk. Bananas have Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that helps maintain proper immune function and your skin’s radiance. Who knew? And the fruit has high levels of Vitamin B6, which promotes brain health, and may reduce your risk for depression. One banana has 20% of your average daily needs.
Health Benefits of Bananas
- Energy boost. The quick digesting carbs provide an immediate energy boost. Having a banana one hour before your workout may give you that extra boost you need to hit your new PR goal.
- Weight loss. They’re not a magic pill, but they’re filling thanks to the fiber, and bananas are low in calories. Switch your white bread and crackers for a banana. Compared to other sources of medium to high-carbohydrate foods, bananas, particularly greener bananas, have a low-to-medium glycemic index (GI). Low GI foods won’t cause big spikes in your blood sugar levels, promoting hunger and causing you to overeat and gain weight.
- Improves your digestive health. Bananas can help reduce constipation or diarrhea; ripe bananas can relieve constipation, whereas less mature may exacerbate it. Chronic constipation can cause hemorrhoids, and you can quickly become dehydrated. Bananas provide a non-digestible form of fiber and starch that feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut microbiome, which may help:
- Improve heart health. What’s the most vital muscle in your body? The heart! The potassium in bananas helps regulate your nerve contractions, muscle contractions, and fluid balance. This powerhouse mineral helps ease the tension in your blood vessel walls, lowering your blood pressure. That’s why potassium is an essential component of the heart-healthy DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). Bananas are a powerful food that can help protect your heart.
Potential Risks and Downsides
Banana allergies affect less than 1% of the population. Interestingly, if you’re allergic to latex, you may be allergic to bananas since the proteins are similar. If you eat a raw banana and get hives, shortness of breath, or your mouth swells, you may want to avoid raw bananas. But, you may be able to eat cooked bananas with no issues since allergen protein disintegrates when you cook bananas. You can cook a banana with cinnamon for a delicious after-meal dessert!
Watch Out for Excess Sugar
Speaking of desserts, remember that banana-based products like banana bread typically have lots of added sugar, fat, and salt. Quarantine bread baking is so darn relaxing, but the bananas don’t automatically make it a nutritious choice. But that’s okay – remember to practice mindful eating and moderation!
Although bananas are a nutrient-dense food, they’re a source of carbohydrates, so it’s best to practice portion control if you have challenges managing your blood sugar. Limit your intake to one per day. In other words – don’t go bananas. If you live with chronic kidney disease, you may need to limit your potassium intake, so speak to your Medical Doctor or a Registered Dietitian.
Bananas and IBS
If you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, you may not tolerate bananas well. According to Monash University, you can handle one medium banana if you have IBS. Larger unripe bananas contain high amounts of oligo-fructans, which could trigger symptoms like bloating and gas. For ripe bananas, you may only tolerate 1/3 of the fruit. These are guidelines – to experiment with portions and track your symptoms individually.
How to Choose and Store Bananas
How to Choose a Banana
The way you choose your bananas depends on how ripe you want them! Less ripe bananas are abundant with oh-so-many gut benefits and can help firm up your poop if you have diarrhea. However, they can worsen constipation, so steer clear of less ripe bananas if you’re feeling a bit plugged-up. Very ripe yellow bananas with brown spots can relieve your constipation. But, it takes four-five days for a green banana to ripen, so plan accordingly.
Have your bananas ever done a 180 when you’re snoozing? We’ve all seen it- one day they’re green, the next day they’re yellow with brown spots! So, store your bananas at room temperature, uncovered in a bowl, or hanging position. Separate your bananas or cover the stalk with plastic wrap to slow down the ripening. The stalk releases ethylene gas, which ripens the bananas, protecting the stem from reducing ethylene emissions. Once they’ve reached your preferred level of ripeness, pop them in the fridge. If you want to speed up the ripening process, place the entire banana in a brown paper bag – the ethylene will speed up the ripening process.
There you have it! Bananas are an excellent food for weight-loss and are chock-full of essential vitamins and minerals which help your physical and mental health and wellness. Enjoy them in a smoothie, parfait, or as a dessert.