Health & Wellness

Should you be eating banana peels? The science is slippery

Why would anyone WANT to eat a banana peel? Once the butt of cartoon slip-and-fall jokes, the lowly banana peel is now being hyped as a health elixir.

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Just because something contains nutrients doesn't mean your body can absorb them.

Look up “eating banana peels” and numerous articles extol the virtues of the peel’s nutritional contents.

You’ll find: “Eating Banana Peels Will Make You Extremely Healthy”; “Don’t Forget the Peel”; and “Banana Peel Nutrition.” Banana peels are said to cure insomnia and depression, lower your cholesterol, protect your heart and benefit your eyes.

The problem is, there's scant, if any, science to back up the claims.

“People are always looking for a magical food,” says David Levitsky, a professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University. “This carries with it the idea that the root of all happiness lies in food. Food is essential, but it’s not the magic answer to any problem.”

Nutrition experts say that while there are many interesting nutrients in the banana peel, the amounts are small and, more importantly, there aren’t any studies showing that our bodies can actually absorb them.

“Just because a nutrient is in there doesn’t mean you can use it,” Levtisky explains.

And then there’s the issue of flavor. Banana peels just don’t taste good, says Leslie Bonci, a nutrition consultant and owner of Active Eating Advice. “They’re bitter and they’re very chewy.” Beyond that, there is the problem of the toughness of the peel. You’re not going to be able to puree them for a smoothie unless you have a super high-powered blender, Bonci says.

As for claims that people in other parts of the world eat the whole fruit, peel and all, banana expert Dan Koeppel disagrees.

“I’ve studied bananas for close to 15 years and traveled to every continent where bananas are grown and I have never seen anyone eat a peel,” says Koeppel, author of “Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World.”

“Go ahead and google ‘monkey eating a banana,’ and you’ll see that even most monkeys are peeling the banana before eating it. If monkeys are smart enough to figure this out, we should be, too," says Koeppel.

So, what valid reasons are there for eating a banana's peel?

The main reason is to avoid food waste, Bonci says.

Of course, if you're looking to be environmentally conscious, there are other earth friendly ways you can avoid waste with your banana peels — like tossing them in your compost heap. “Bananas are totally compostable,” Koeppel says. "They will rot away in days.”

If you're still dying to try banana peels in your smoothie, it's probably not going to hurt you.

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“The only harm I see is pesticides that may have accumulated on the surface,” Levitsky says. “So if you want to put them in your smoothie in the morning you might get a dose of that — if you don’t wash them really well.”

But don't expect your taste buds to jump for joy.

“If you love watermelon rinds, you’re going to love banana peels,” says Levitsky.

Linda Carroll is a regular contributor to NBCNews.com and TODAY.com. She is co-author of "The Concussion Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic" and the recently published "Duel for the Crown: Affirmed, Alydar, and Racing's Greatest Rivalry."

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