Health Benefits of Bananas
The fact that export of bananas on a global level in 2015 was around 18 million tons according to the United Nations shows how popular bananas are worldwide. Europe and the United States were among the largest importers. As per the U.S. Department of Agriculture, every person in America eats 11.4 lbs. of bananas every year; all in all, banana is a favorite fruit of Americans.
Besides its awesome taste, banana has a high nutritional value too. This curved yellow fruit is packed with potassium and pectin, a form of fiber. Bananas can also be a good source of vitamins B6 and C and magnesium. They are also high in antioxidants and offer protection against free radicals.
The Journey from Green to Black i.e. Raw to Ripe
Studies have suggested that raw (unripe) green bananas have some health benefits. They may help individuals control gastrointestinal disorders like ulcers and diarrhea and also may reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. A few more studies have also suggested that green bananas could be a treatment for HIV patients.
On the other hand, other studies have shown that ripe blackened bananas have increased levels of nutrients. In a 2009 research published in Food Science and Technology Research, bananas with dark spots were seen to be eight times more useful in improving the power of white blood cells than green-skin bananas. White blood cells protect human body from fungi, viruses, bacteria and other micro-organisms.
Nutritional Facts of Banans
1 medium-sized banana (126 g/4.5 oz) contains:
- Total carbohydrate: 30 g: 10% DV
- Protein: 1 g
- Dietary fiber: 3g: 12% DV
- Sugars: 19 g
- Vitamin A: 2% DV
- Vitamin C: 9 mg: 15% DV
- Folate: 25.0 mcg
- Niacin: 0.8 mg
- Riboflavin: 0.1 mg
- Iron: 0.3 mg: 2% DV
- Potassium: 450 g: 13% DV
- Magnesium: 34 mg
- Calories: 110
Note: '% DV' is 'daily value percentage'.
As one can see, most of the energy comes from carbohydrates.
Bananas Health Benefits
There is some evidence available that bananas can help prevent kidney cancer if eaten moderately. In a Swedish study done in 2005 it was seen that women who consumed more than 75 servings of fruits and veggies reduced the risk of kidney cancer by 40%, especially because of bananas. Women eating 4 to 6 bananas a week halved this risk.
The protection against kidney cancer is supposed to be due to the high levels of antioxidant phenolic compounds in bananas.
Eating bananas, oranges and orange juice in the initial two years of life may decrease the risk of developing childhood leukemia. Being a good source of vitamin C, bananas can help fight free radicals that can cause cancer. Also high fiber in fruits and vegetables including bananas can also lower the risk of colorectal cancer.
Bananas being full of potassium are good for heart health. Potassium is a mineral electrolyte that maintains the flow of electricity across human body, which is essential for heart to beat. The high potassium level and low sodium level in bananas also help in the protection of cardiovascular system against high blood pressure, as per the FDA.
According to a 2017 animal study done by scientists at the University of Alabama, potassium in bananas is also related to arterial effectiveness; the more potassium a person has, the less likely his arteries are to harden.
In a study by London’s Imperial College showed that children who consumed only one banana every day had 34% less risk of developing asthma.
Digestion and Weight Loss
Since fiber content in bananas is high, i.e. 10% of one’s daily fiber requirement, a person eating bananas has regular bowel movements. Vitamin B6 in bananas can help a person keep diabetes type 2 away and in weight loss. Overall, bananas are considered to be great for weight loss, because they are sweet and help in feeling full and thereby curb cravings.
Bananas are also high in resistant starch, a form of dietary fiber which has recently made researchers interested. According to a 2017 review published in Nutrition Bulletin, resistant starch in bananas may promote gut health and reduce blood sugar. Resistant starch elevates the production of short chain fatty acids in the digestive tract. These fatty acids are essential for gut health.
The calcium content in bananas is not very high, but still it’s helpful to keep bones strong. Bananas consist of abundant amount of fructooligosaccharides, which are non-digestive carbohydrates that support digestion-friendly probiotics and increase the ability of human body to absorb calcium.
Bananas may be helpful in preventing gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes may take place due to lack of sleep during pregnancy. Tryptophan and magnesium in bananas can contribute to a good night’s sleep.
Bananas can be more helpful than sports drinks to replenish electrolytes and energy. According to a 2012 study published in PLOS One, when male athletes competing in long-distance biking races eating bananas were compared to athletes drinking a famous sports drink, it was seen that body physiology and performance times were the same in both groups, but those who ate bananas had improved levels of serotonin and dopamine which further improved their antioxidant level which helped them in fighting oxidative stress and thus improved performance in general.
Helps in Mood and Depression
Bananas can help in overcoming depression due to their high amount of tryptophan, which is precursor of serotonin in the body, serotonin is a mood-elevating brain neurotransmitter.
Moreover, vitamin B6 in bananas can help a person sleep well and its magnesium helps in relaxation of muscles. Tryptophan in bananas too is known for its sleep-inducing properties.
Carrots are considered to be the best for eye health, but bananas too have a role to play. A small but remarkable amount of vitamin A in bananas protects eyes, maintains normal vision and improves night vision, as per the National Institute of Health. Vitamin A consists of compounds that help in preservation of membranes around eyes and are a part of proteins that bring light to corneas. Just like other fruits, bananas too can help protect against macular degeneration, an untreatable condition that blurs central vision.
Bananas Risk Factors
When eaten in moderation, bananas have no noticeable side effects. However, eating them in excessive amounts may trigger sleepiness and headaches. These headaches result from the amino acids in bananas that dilate blood vessels. These amino acids are in more amounts in overripe bananas than other types of bananas. The sleepiness is caused by high amount of tryptophan. Magnesium in bananas also relaxes muscles which is sometimes beneficial but sometimes risky.
Bananas being sugary fruits, their excessive eating and having poor dental hygiene can result in tooth decay.
All these risks are present only if bananas are eaten in excess. Eating two bananas per day has no problem according to the USDA. But eating dozens of them per day may be risky. Excessive consumption of bananas can also cause hyperkalemia due to their high amount of potassium content. Hyperkalemia is characterized by muscle weakness, irregular heartbeat and temporary paralysis. But a person has to eat 43 bananas within a short time to show any symptoms of hyperkalemia. The recommended intake of potassium is 4,700 mg per day for adults.
Also consuming more than 500 mg of vitamin B6 per day can perhaps cause nerve damage in legs and arms; but a person has to eat thousands of bananas to get that amount of vitamin B6.
For short: if your daily nutrient intake allows you to consume bananas, feel free to eat one or two of them, especially before exercises and other physical demanding activities.
Also, bananas can be mixed with other fruits and foods in general in salads, juices, smoothies and similar. Feel free to try different recipes and enjoy its flavor and aroma.