3 compelling reasons to “go bananas”
Let’s face it - bananas are such a familiar, commonplace food that they are sometimes taken for granted. For example, they don’t receive nearly the attention or the favorable press of more trendy fruits – such as pomegranates, lychee, starfruit and dragonfruit – and have even been (wrongly) condemned as a “fattening” food.
But the humble banana, botanically known as Musa cavendish, deserves better. These sleek, yellow packages of nutrition feature an impressive collection of nutrients and polyphenols that can support health in surprising ways.
Bananas “check the boxes” for a heart-healthy food, according to Harvard researchers
Bananas are a low-sodium, high-potassium food – the exact qualities that researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health say are found in foods that can help lower heart disease risk. In recent research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the scientists reported that high sodium intake is linked with high blood pressure (which is, in turn, a risk factor for heart disease).
It turns out that potassium can help lower blood pressure while promoting sodium excretion, making bananas - with 400 mg of potassium a piece - a “two-for-one” bargain when it comes to heart health. (By the way, other good sources of potassium are leafy greens, nuts, beans and fruits). But, that’s not all.
Bananas are also high in magnesium - which also helps regulate blood pressure - as well as containing antioxidants such as beta-carotene and gallocatechin. Scientists report that antioxidants such as these can help to ward off the oxidative stress linked to heart disease. In addition, a medium-sized banana contains 33 percent of the recommended dietary allowance for vitamin B6, which helps lower levels of homocysteine, an inflammatory amino acid associated, in high levels, with heart disease. Finally, bananas are rich in dietary fiber, which may help lower harmful LDL cholesterol and reduce odds of atherosclerosis. If you want to support a healthy heart, you probably can’t pick a better food than bananas.
Support good digestion and maintain healthy weight with stomach-soothing bananas
With two grams of soluble and insoluble fiber in a medium-sized banana, this fruit makes an important contribution to digestive health. Bananas are a prebiotic food, meaning that their insoluble fiber supports the all-important microbiome - or community of bacteria in the digestive tract - by providing fuel for “friendly” bacteria.
Another “plus” is that butyrate - a beneficial anti-inflammatory short-chain fatty acid - is formed as a byproduct. Essential to overall health, the gut microbiome has a strong influence on immune defense, cognition and even mood. In fact, dysbiosis, or an imbalance in the microbiome, has been linked to a range of health problems, including obesity.
In addition, bananas contain a soluble fiber known as pectin, which “keeps things moving” through the gastrointestinal tract and helps prevent constipation. By creating a feeling of fullness, soluble fiber also may help control weight. (Pro tip: for heartburn, some natural health experts recommend eating an unripe green banana. These are believed to help neutralize stomach acid).
Bananas are an ideal pre- and post-workout snack
Packed with easily digestible carbohydrates, bananas can help provide a burst of energy. While they are high in natural sugars like sucrose, fructose and glucose, bananas’ high content of resistant starch means that their carbs hit the bloodstream (and turn into sugar) more slowly. So, despite their sweet taste, bananas have a relatively low glycemic index of about 50. And, far from being “fattening,” a medium-sized banana clocks in at a reasonable 100 calories - less than those contained in an apple.
Portable, convenient and needing no refrigeration, bananas can also be your best post-workout buddy. Their potassium and magnesium act as electrolytes to rehydrate the body, and may even help reduce muscle soreness and cramping.
Sweet, mild, versatile bananas “play well with others”
You can use bananas in the time-honored way, sliced atop cereal and oatmeal. Or, blend them into your favorite waffles or pancakes, use them instead of white sugar to sweeten recipes, or create an indulgent smoothie with bananas, honey and hazelnuts. (Pro tip: Bananas that are a little past their peak of ripeness can always be put to delicious use in banana bread and banana muffins). For a protein-packed snack, combine bananas with yogurt, raisins or peanut butter.
Bananas may trigger migraines in susceptible individuals. And, people with type 2 diabetes should not consume them in large quantities. If you are taking medicine to increase levels of potassium in the blood, check with your integrative doctor before consuming bananas. Don’t eat bananas if you are allergic to them.
The banana may be lacking in glamour and novelty. But this familiar fruit still has plenty of health-promoting power. Bananas make a fabulous addition to your healthy diet.
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