It’s pretty easy to understand why bananas are one of the most popular fruits. They’re delicious, portable, offer the perfect portion size, pair well with other fruits, won’t break the bank, and are loaded with nutrients.
Despite their popularity, a lot of people ask the question: are bananas healthy? That’s because the nearly 100-calorie piece of fruit contains a relatively high amount of carbohydrates and sugar. As a banana ripens, its starch turns into glucose, fructose, and sucrose. Along with the high sugar content, bananas lack beneficial protein and healthy fats. However, that doesn’t mean they’re “unhealthy.”
Bananas are rich in various nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, fiber, iron, and antioxidants. Your body needs these vitamins and minerals in order to function properly. Check out the top 10 powerful health benefits of bananas below:
1) Improve Digestive Health
Constipation, diarrhea, and indigestion … oh my! It’s pretty fair to say that no one likes dealing with digestive issues. Not only are they embarrassing, but they can be extremely uncomfortable and at times downright painful. Next time your digestive system acts up, reach for a banana.
Bananas have been known to improve digestive health in a number of ways. First things first, they’re a relatively good source of fiber, containing about three grams in one medium size banana. That’s roughly 10 percent of your recommended daily fiber intake. In order to beat bloat, constipation, and other unwanted digestive issues, the body needs fiber. It works by binding to toxins and waste in the digestive tract and then helping to pull them out of the body. So, to help your body achieve regular bowel movements, add bananas into your daily diet.
Along with constipation, bananas are a great food to eat if you’re dealing with diarrhea. The high amounts of water and potassium in bananas can help restore lost electrolytes, keeping you from becoming dehydrated.
Additionally, bananas act as a natural antacid. That means they could help relieve painful acid reflux and heartburn symptoms.
2) Improve Gut Bacteria
Our guts are loaded with bacteria – ideally about 80 percent good and 20 percent bad. According to researchers, our gut bacteria is linked to our digestive health, immunity, mood/mental health, weight, and skin condition. It turns out the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates was right — all health really does begin in the gut. That’s why it’s crucial to keep our gut bacteria balanced. One way to do that is to eat bananas!
Bananas act as a natural prebiotic, which stimulates the growth of good gut bacteria (AKA probiotics). Unlike living probiotics, prebiotics aren’t alive. Rather, they are a non-digestible form of fiber that act as food for probiotics. If your beneficial bacteria didn’t have prebiotics to feed off, they would be easily destroyed and your body’s bad bacteria would take over. That’s when health suffers.
3) The Perfect Athlete’s Food
All of the carbohydrates and sugars in bananas that I mentioned above do have some benefit to the body — they provide you a quick energy boost. For that reason, bananas are known as the perfect pre-workout food, as well as post-workout food.
Pre-Workout – If you expect to get through a strenuous hour-long workout filled with cardio and weight training then make sure to fuel up first. About 30 minutes before hitting the gym, eat a banana. It will provide your body with fast-acting carbohydrates that boost energy and blood sugar. Additionally, it will supply your body with potassium, which can help protect against muscle cramps during your workout.
Post-Workout – Typically after a workout you want to reach for a protein-packed snack. However, a banana is also considered a great post-workout munchy. Bananas can help replenish the magnesium and potassium lost during your workout. It can also help restore your body’s levels of glycogen, which helps rebuild damaged muscles.
4) May Support Heart Health
Just as much as your taste buds heart bananas, so does your actual heart! Thanks to their high amounts of potassium, bananas are known to prevent high blood pressure, regulate circulation, and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. According to researchers, potassium helps to lower high blood pressure and support heart health because it counteracts the effect of sodium within the blood. While you can simply take a potassium supplement to increase nutrient levels, studies show the body reaps the biggest benefit when potassium is consumed naturally through fruits and vegetables. A banana is a perfect choice.
Banana’s high potassium levels aren’t the only reason they benefit heart health. The popular fruit is also rich in magnesium. Studies show that magnesium deficiency correlates with a number of chronic cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and hyperlipidemia. Here’s the scary part — nearly 80 percent of Americans are magnesium deficient and don’t even realize it. So start munching on bananas today!
5) May Support Kidney Health
Along with heart health, the high amounts of potassium in bananas also support kidney health. According to several studies, eating bananas can drastically reduce a person’s risk of developing kidney disease. In one 13-year study, researchers paid close attention to women between the ages of 40-76 years. They wanted to find out the association between fruits/vegetables and risk of renal cell carcinoma (RCC). Within the group of fruits, the strongest results came from bananas. Researchers found women who ate bananas two-to-three times per week were 33 percent less likely to develop kidney disease. Other studies have found people who consume a few more bananas each week are even less likely to develop kidney disease, reducing risk by as much as 50 percent.
6) Helps Aid Weight Loss
Do you feel like you do everything right when it comes to eating well and working out, but you still can’t seem to ditch those last few pesky pounds? Or maybe you’re just starting your weight loss efforts and struggling to get on track. Regardless of what stage you’re in, a lot of people fall victim to mindless snacking. A few potato chips here and a cookie or two there may not seem like a big deal at the moment, but trust me, all of those calories add up at the end of the day. Along with keeping a food journal to help you realize just how much you’re eating, try adding some bananas to your daily diet. Bananas contain soluble fiber that helps slow digestion and keeps you feeling full for longer. So if you eat a banana with your breakfast, you should be able to make it to lunch without a rumbling tummy. If you do find yourself craving a mid-afternoon snack, though, why not peel open another banana? One medium size banana only has around 110 calories, making it a great snack idea.
Additionally, when you’re trying to lose weight, the thought of dessert could be a stressful one. Rather than digging into a piece of guilt-ridden cake or ice cream that’s filled with refined sugar, try eating a sweet banana with a little organic coconut cream on top. Not only will it please your taste buds, but you’ll also be making your waistline very happy.
7) Can Help Boost Mood
Many times when people are stressed out or down in the dumps, they turn to “comfort” food for relief. By comfort food, I’m referring to carb-heavy mashed potatoes or sweets that are filled with refined sugar. The truth is, those foods just wind up making you feel sluggish. I don’t know about you, but feeling sluggish certainly doesn’t boost my mood! So instead of reaching for cake, next time you’re feeling low, eat a banana.
While most people don’t associate bananas with a comfort food, they have actually been known to fight depression and boost mood because they contain high levels of tryptophan. In the body tryptophan is converted to serotonin – the mood-elevating brain neurotransmitter. Additionally, studies show that bananas contain beneficial antioxidants that help with the release of dopamine within the brain. Dopamine is another feel-good brain chemical that can help boost mood.
8) Helps Fight PMS Symptoms
Bloating, cramps, cravings, and mood swings — the “time of the month” is certainly not a fun one for women and especially when experiencing “period poverty” too. But rather than caving into the cookies and chocolate cake you want oh so bad, there are some healthy foods that have been known to fight premenstrual symptoms (PMS). One such food is bananas. They work to fight PMS in several ways:
Melatonin – Bananas contain nutrients that turn into melatonin once consumed. In case you’re unaware, melatonin is known to be a natural sleep aid. When PMS strikes, so do the painful period cramps. This creates a vicious pain/sleep cycle since the pain interrupts sleep, and the lack of sleep intensifies the pain. To help combat both, munch on bananas for their melatonin benefits.
Vitamin B6 – Bananas also contain vitamin B6, which a number of studies have found effective in controlling PMS symptoms. The main role vitamin B6 plays on PMS is regulating mood. Researchers say this vitamin can help boost certain brain chemicals and control your mood.
Potassium – As you read earlier (in number three), potassium can help relax your muscles and prevent cramps. I’m not just talking about leg cramps. Many people swear that munching on bananas helps to relieve their painful period cramps too.
9) Fights Anemia
Anemia is a condition that affects nearly 3.5 million Americans. It develops when a person lacks enough red blood cells or hemoglobin. When this happens, the cells in a person’s body won’t receive enough oxygen. One of the main symptoms of anemia is fatigue. While there are many different types of anemia, the most common is iron deficiency anemia. The good news is this type of anemia can be treated with diet changes. One of the first diet changes you should make is to include bananas into your regular diet. That’s because bananas contain high amounts of iron and potassium that can send oxygen to the blood and increase hemoglobin.
10) Supports Strong Bones
When you think of foods that help build strong bones, what immediately comes to your mind? Probably calcium. Since bananas aren’t a great source of calcium (a medium banana is only one percent calcium), you may be wondering why they’re so good for bone health. Well, according to a 2009 article published in the Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry, bananas (especially green ones) contain an abundance of the compound fructooligosaccharides. This compound nourishes good gut bacteria (AKA probiotics), allowing for an increase in digestive enzymes and vitamins that help the body absorb bone-strengthening nutrients. That means bananas can help improve calcium absorption. Remember – you are what you absorb!
Don’t Toss The Peel
Think back to the last time you ate a banana … what did you do with the peel? Chances are you threw it out. A lot of people don’t realize that banana peels are in fact edible and contain good-for-you nutrients such as vitamin B6, B12, magnesium, potassium, fiber, polyphenols, and carotenoids.
While banana peels are usually served cooked, they can also be eaten raw. Since the peels aren’t the most pleasant tasting part of the fruit, one way you can enjoy a banana peel is to put it in a blender with other fruits/vegetables and include it in your morning smoothie. If you do eat the banana’s peel then make sure to wash it carefully because there may have been pesticides sprayed on it.
If you aren’t that interested in eating the banana peel, there is still good use for it. Some people swear that rubbing the inside of a banana peel on their skin helps stop itching from bug bites or other skin irritants.
If you’re bored eating bananas as they are, there are plenty of delicious healthy recipes to try with this versatile fruit!