When we think of fruit, especially if we are in the United States, Australia or Europe, bananas are easily one of the top fruits that come to mind.
But did you know that most of us consume probably only 1-2 different varieties of banana? The common commercial variety we all picture with our Western imagination is just one version! There are literally hundreds of banana varieties. Some are tiny while others are huge! The color range goes way beyond the yellow fruit we most commonly think of. You’ll also find reddish and purplish peels. Some varieties are bland, and others will taste very different from what you would consider a “banana taste.” Trust me, I’ve tried them in my travels around the world!
The most popular commercial bananas found all across the western world are the yellow musa acuminata variety known as Cavendish.
What makes these fruits so universally appealing is their taste, naturally, but bananas are famous for high potassium levels and are frequently used as a recovery food by athletes. One medium banana can contain 300-400 mg of potassium. Since potassium is a very important mineral required for balanced hormones, blood pressure, heart health, nerve function, PH balance and many other vital functions, it is a SUPER reason to eat bananas. But focusing on this single benefit is a little embarrassingly limited – for the banana. What if I told you potassium is just scratching the surface? Bananas’ nutritional benefits go so much further than that!
Bananas’ Nutritional Benefits
1. Bananas give you fiber.
These yellow, little pieces of the tropics are biologically complex composed of wide range of compounds including vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates…and fiber. One medium banana can provide up to 12% of the recommended daily amount.
2. Bananas feed your gut bacteria.
Bananas just happen to be a good source of a particular form of fiber known as FOS, which stands for fructo-oligosaccharides (say that 10 times fast!).
FOS is mostly indigestible because humans don’t have the enzymes needed to break it down, and so it functions as fiber in the diet. When FOS reaches the large intestine, some of the bacteria that reside there do have the necessary enzymes to begin breaking down the FOS and they use the resulting components as their own food. The beneficial Bifidobacterium have been reported to use FOS in this way. In this case, FOS acts almost like a fertilizer for certain strains of gut bacteria.
Note: Some people have a hard time breaking down FOS because their gut bacteria isn’t balanced — and they would notice a problem digesting bananas and other foods with FOS.
Dietary fiber is now understood to be fermented by gut microorganisms such as those of the genus bifidobacteria and lactobacillus. These particular strains composed of various species have been widely regarded as key players in health promotion within the complex environment that is our gut microbiome. The gut is the next frontier of focus with regards to our overall health.
Besides a healthy gut, fiber has also been recommended for other health aspects such as cardiovascular health. A 2014 Harvard University study linked an increased intake of dietary fiber with reducing all-cause mortality after individuals had suffered a heart attack. Less ripe bananas will be starchier, with more fiber for your body. As bananas ripen, the starch breaks down into simple sugars, which is why ripe bananas taste sweeter.
3. Bananas prevent ulcers.
Bananas help protect against stomach ulcers. Bananas contain protease inhibitors, a compound that helps eliminate certain bacteria in the stomach including H. Pylori, that are suspected to cause stomach ulcers.Research also shows specific compounds in bananas help protect the stomach lining against hydrochloric acid by creating a thicker lining in the stomach.
4. Bananas are a source of tryptophan.
Bananas have also been deemed as a great source of tryptophan, which converts to 5-HTP — the amino acid your body needs to create the widely appreciated mood regulator serotonin, which improves mood, reduces stress, and helps improve sleep. We already know that bananas feed your gut bacteria and maintain a balanced gut. It turns out that the great majority of your circulating serotonin actually is not synthesized in your brain or nervous system but in your gut, up to 90%. Everything is so connected in the body!
You only get tryptophan, an essential amino acid, through your diet. Bananas are not the highest source out there, but they are certainly a delicious way to get a little more tryptophan.
5. Bananas contain vitamin B-6.
Bananas have high levels of vitamin B-6, which helps protect against type II diabetes, aids weight loss, and helps your body produce white blood cells. Vitamin B-6 also supports your nervous system and helps your body fight feelings of anxiety and panic. Interesting Fact: Wild bananas also give your body omega-3 fatty acids, which help metabolize B vitamins. Unfortunately, commercialized varieties don’t offer significant amounts on omega-3s.
6. Bananas replenish your body.
Ripe bananas are high in simple sugars such as fructose and sucrose, which quickly replenish exhausted muscles after exercise and help revitalize your body. There’s a reason you see athletes eating them during a long training session or match! I love to through a banana in my recovery shake with Shakeology after a workout.
7. Bananas provide sustained energy.
Less ripe bananas are more starchy, but this also helps with energy. The resistant starch resists digestion (hence the name) and provides a slower, longer-lasting energy, improving stamina. The slower digestion also prevents blood sugar spikes.
8. Bananas protect against chronic disease.
Bananas, which are rich in vitamin A and carotenoids, can protect you against chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other types of cancer. One study showed women who ate bananas four to six times a week had a 50% lower risk of developing kidney cancer compared to women who did not eat bananas.
9. Bananas help you sleep better with melatonin.
Bananas are rich in melatonin (a hormone that occurs naturally in the body) which helps you sleep better. hWhen scientists researched the impact tropical fruits have on melatonin production, they found that bananas increased the amount of melatonin circulating throughout the body by 180 percent.
Next time you peel a banana, remember you’re getting far more than a potassium boost! And who doesn’t want another reason to bite into a sweet banana or throw one into a smoothie? When you look at all of bananas’ nutritional benefits, you have plenty of reasons!
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