Bananas are one of the most deliciously rich and incredibly healthy fruits on planet earth. Not to mention convenient and affordable, due to popular demand. However, bananas often get mistakenly criticized for their high sugar and carbohydrate content. Of course, not all food is created equal, and we’re going to discuss the health benefits of eating bananas and how they can hep support your health and fitness goals.
What Are Bananas
Bananas are native to Southeast Asia and come from a variety of plants called musa. They are cultivated in warm climates and grown in many regions throughout the world. Bananas are amongst one of the healthiest fruit in the world, providing a healthy amount of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and phytonutrients.
According to the USDA Food Central database, one medium sized banana (100 grams) contains
- Calories: 89
- Water: 75%
- Protein: 1.1 grams
- Carbs: 22.8 grams
- Sugar: 12.2 grams
- Fiber: 2.6 grams
- Fat: 0.3 grams
- Potassium 422mg
- Vitamin B6 0.43mg 33% DV
Despite popular belief, bananas are not bad for you. Bananas are a rich source of carbohydrates, which mainly come in the form of sugar and starch, and the composition can drastically change dependent upon ripeness. For example, green bananas are 80% starch, and once they are ripened, end up being less than 1%.
The most common types of sugars found in bananas, are fructose, glucose, and sucrose and have a relatively low glycemic index, of 42-58.
A large portion of the starch in unripe bananas is what’s called resistance starch and is metabolized and undigested by the gut.
Banana contains several bioactive compounds, such as phenolics, carotenoids, biogenic amines and phytosterols, which are highly beneficial and exert many positive effects on overall well-being [R]. Many of these compounds have high antioxidant capabilities and can protect you against free radical damage and oxidative stress.
Health Benefits Of Eating Bananas
Bananas Increase Energy Levels
Carbohydrates provide the body with fuel with glycogen. Bananas are a fantastic source of carbohydrates and provide the body with a quick supply of natural energy. They are often used by endurance athletes as a fast acting fuel source, as well as their potassium, and antioxidant content.
In a randomized crossover study, published in the journal PLoS One fourteen trained cyclists were given either bananas, or carbohydrates (dextrose/maltodextrin) to compare and study acute effects on cycling performance, post-workout inflammation, and oxidative stress.
Mean power, heart rate, and perceived exertion did not differ between either groups, nor did any other performance outcomes. Therefore, bananas have comparable benefits on energy levels, as compared to carbohydrate sports drinks.
Bananas Benefit Heart Health
A major benefit of eating bananas is getting a robust amount of potassium. Studies suggest that potassium promotes better heart health and blood pressure. A large meta-analysis which included 247,510 participants, and a follow between 5-19 years, found that daily consumption of 1.3–1.4 grams of potassium was associated with 21% lower risk of stroke [R].
Additionally, bananas contain powerful plant compounds, such as carotenoids and flavonoids, which have also been associated with lower risk of chronic disease [R].
Bananas May Benefit Digestive Health
Bananas contain around 3g of dietary fiber, which has been linked to better digestive health. Resistance starch found in greener bananas, is also considered a prebiotic, which can aid in better gut health promoting healthy bacteria formation [R].
Starches that are able to resist digestion will arrive at the colon where they are fermented by the gut microbiota, producing a variety of products which include short chain fatty acids that can provide a range of health benefits.
Additionally, bananas contain pectin, another prebiotic fiber which can help prevent constipation and promote regularity [R].
Bananas May Improve Blood Sugar Levels
Another health benefit of eating bananas is that they are rich in soluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves into a gel-like substance, which takes longer to digest. Together with resistance starch, which again is not digested, may regulate blood sugar levels, and provide better satiation. Therefore, despite the high carbohydrate content of bananas, they will not cause major spikes in blood sugar levels. Bet you didn’t know that.
Health Benefits of Eating Bananas: Takeaway
Bananas are one of the most convenient and enjoyable fruits you can easily add to your diet. Rich in potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin C, a variety of phytonutrients, as well as fiber and heathy carbohydrates, bananas, will help prevent chronic disease, and keep your health and wellness in check. Now that you've learned the health benefits of eating bananas, try this amazing protein banana bread recipe!
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Wang X, Ouyang YY, Liu J, Zhao G. Flavonoid intake and risk of CVD: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Br J Nutr. 2014 Jan 14;111(1):1-11. doi: 10.1017/S000711451300278X. Epub 2013 Aug 16. PMID: 23953879.
D'Elia L, Barba G, Cappuccio FP, Strazzullo P. Potassium intake, stroke, and cardiovascular disease a meta-analysis of prospective studies. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2011 Mar 8;57(10):1210-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2010.09.070. PMID: 21371638.
Nieman, David C et al. “Bananas as an energy source during exercise: a metabolomics approach.” PloS one vol. 7,5 (2012): e37479. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0037479