Whether you're looking for a portable grab-and-go snack or want to add a dash of sweetness to a smoothie or bowl of yogurt, bananas fit the bill.
Bananas are one of the most popular fresh fruits in the world. Not only are they naturally sweet and affordable, they are also packed with nutrients. Although bananas get a bad reputation for their high sugar and starch content, this tasty tropical fruit is loaded with potassium, vitamin B6, fiber and prebiotics. Not to mention bananas can replace sugar in many baked goods.
Here are a few more reasons you should add bananas to your eating plan and simple ways to use them.
Banana nutrition facts
One medium banana has:
- 105 calories
- 1 gram protein
- 0 grams fat
- 27 grams carbohydrates
- 3 grams fiber (12% daily value (DV))
- 422 milligrams potassium (16% daily value)
- 10 milligrams vitamin C (13% DV)
- 0.4 milligrams vitamin B6 (31% DV)
The health benefits of bananas
“Bananas are full of essential nutrients including vitamin B6, vitamin C, magnesium and fiber,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, registered dietitian and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook. “They are also one of the best sources of potassium, which is a shortfall nutrient in the American diet and important for regulating blood pressure and supporting function of the nervous system,” Harris-Pincus adds.
Unfortunately, most Americans don’t eat enough daily potassium (3400 milligrams for males and 2600 milligrams for females), which is why the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans lists potassium as a nutrient of concern. Research concludes that diets rich in potassium are linked to lower blood pressure levels, cardiovascular disease chance and stroke. What’s more, a study examining the effects of specific fruits on blood pressure found an inverse association between bananas and diastolic blood pressure. In other words, the more bananas you eat, the lower your risk of high blood pressure.
Potassium also plays a key role in fluid regulation within the body, and is an important electrolyte lost in sweat. The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) states that moderate to vigorous exercise results in potassium losses, and they recommend eating foods like bananas to recover those deficits.
Bananas have fiber, which makes them beneficial to digestive health. They also contain prebiotics, plant fibers that promote the growth of probiotics in the gut. Prebiotics have been linked to better digestive health, immune system function, cardiovascular health and cognition. A randomized controlled trial found that eating two bananas per day may encourage the growth of probiotics in the gut.
Lastly, bananas are a good source of vitamin B6, which performs many functions in the body. Vitamin B6 necessitates more than 100 enzyme reactions, and it’s a key part of protein metabolism. That said, most Americans get plenty of Vitamin B6 in their diet, so it’s not something you need to seek out.
Are there drawbacks to eating bananas?
Bananas contain a sugar alcohol called sorbitol, which may cause gas and diarrhea for some people. Generally, sorbitol is tolerated in small amounts, so many people can eat bananas without any issues. Ripe bananas are also high in FODMAPs, carbohydrates that may cause gas and bloating for some people. Again, this all comes down to the individual. While some can eat bananas without any complaints, others may find they don’t sit well in their stomach.
3 fun facts about bananas
Bananas are so much more than what you see on the nutrition facts label. Here are some little known facts about the bright yellow fruit.
Bananas are a source of resistant starch
“Bananas are a source of resistant starch, especially when they are more on the green side,” says Harris-Pincus. True to its name, resistant starch “resists” digestion and is absorbed more slowly by the large intestines. There, it’s fermented by the microbiome and produces molecules called short-chain fatty acids, which have been linked to reducing colon cancer and improving insulin sensitivity. “Therefore, (due to the resistant starch), a less ripe banana will likely have a slower blood sugar response than an overripe one,” notes Harris Pincus.
Bananas are good to eat before a workout
Bananas are rich in carbohydrates, which are the main energy source for exercise. One study compared bananas to a 6% carbohydrate sports drink to assess the effects of both on cycling performance. The study found that both resulted in similar performance outcomes. In addition, one study suggests that the properties of bananas, mainly fructose and phenolic (plant) compounds, may enhance overall athletic performance.
Bananas contain tryptophan
You likely the know the word ‘tryptophan’ as the annoying thing in turkey that makes you sleepy. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is prevalent in certain foods, but the common belief that eating it makes you lethargic is just a myth. Believe it or not, tryptophan is the only precursor for serotonin, a mood stabilizing chemical. So eating foods with tryptophan may positively affect your mood.
Healthy banana recipes and ideas
“I love using bananas to sweeten foods without needing to add much sugar,” says Harris-Pincus. Not surprisingly, most of the recipes that utilize bananas have a sweet distinct taste. Here are some simple ways to use bananas:
Breakfast: Bananas are the star of the show in a chia pudding or they blend up nicely to create a hearty baked oatmeal that tastes like cake. Or start your day with an energizing Chocolate Banana Coffee Smoothie with Turmeric.
Snacks: “One of my favorite recipes is one of the simplest- PB Banana “Sushi” where you spread your nut butter of choice (or sunflower for nut free) on a high fiber tortilla, add a banana and roll it up. Then cut into pieces like a sushi roll,” says Harris-Pincus. Or up your toast game with this recipe for Joy Bauer’s Sweet Potato, Peanut Butter and Banana Toast. Enjoy a banana-forward afternoon break with a slice of Classic Banana Bread or Dylan Dreyer’s Oatmeal-Banana Balls with Chocolate Chips.
Dessert: “Blending frozen bananas to make “nice cream” is a fabulous one ingredient dessert,” says Harris-Pincus. But you also can’t go wrong with Banana Doughnuts with Maple Glaze Recipe, Bananas Foster or Banana Pudding.