If you’re trying to live a healthier lifestyle, bananas might just be one of the best fruits you can eat. They’re fat-free, sodium-free, and cholesterol-free. In addition, they’re also affordable, portable, readily available, easily eatable, and you don’t need to wash or refrigerate them.
But that’s just the beginning. Read on to learn more about how bananas can help you whether you’re trying to lose weight, get healthier, or maintain your current good health. There’s a lot of interesting tidbits around these perfectly bite-sized fruits.
Nutritional Content of Bananas
Each individual banana will vary slightly in its nutritional content. However, for a standard medium-sized banana like you find in the grocery store, here’s what the average nutritional content will probably be, according to the US FDA:
|Calories from Fat||0|
|Potassium||450 mg / 13% daily value|
|Total Carbohydrate||30 g / 10% daily value|
|Daily Fiber||3 g / 12% daily value|
|Vitamin A||2% daily value|
|Vitamin C||15% daily value|
|Calcium||0% daily value|
|Iron||2% daily value|
What’s Potassium All About, Anyway?
You might have heard that bananas are high in potassium, and it’s true. Bananas do have a very high potassium content for each serving. But they’re not the only thing high in potassium. You can get just about the same amount of potassium from two kiwi fruits or 1 ½ cups of grapes as well.
Potassium is a chemical element, just like oxygen or carbon. It’s very rarely found in its pure form in nature, but when it is, it’s a light gray, shiny, very soft metal. In fact, it’s so soft that you can cut it with a knife (here’s a cool video of it).
It’s a bit strange to think about bits of metal floating around in our bodies. But in fact, it’s actually in a different, water-soluble chemical form in living things—no need to worry!
Potassium is especially important for your body because it’s an electrolyte. This means that it has a very important job: it helps to regulate your bodily fluids (including your blood pressure). It also helps to carry electrical currents from your brain to the rest of your body.
In fact, one of the main symptoms of a potassium deficiency is weakness, muscle cramping, difficulty moving, and heart palpitations. This is because there isn’t enough potassium to carry nerve signals from your brain to your muscles and your heart.
Most people won’t notice these effects until they become very deficient in potassium, however. Mild potassium deficiencies often don’t have any observable symptoms.
Potassium, like all other electrolytes, is lost in your urine and through your sweat. That’s why it’s really important to stock up on electrolytes after a hard workout, and bananas are a perfect way to do that.
Sugar in Bananas
Sometimes people will warn against eating bananas because they can have a high sugar content.
That’s true; one banana (19g sugar) has a higher sugar content than a single nectarine (11g sugar) or an individual orange (14g sugar), for example. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid bananas. In fact, bananas have less sugar than many snack foods, such as four Fig Newtons (24g sugar), or even two tablespoons of honey (32g sugar).
And besides, there are other fruits out there higher in sugar than a single banana, such as a large apple (25g sugar), ¾ cup of grapes (20g sugar), or two cups of watermelon (20g sugar).
Counting the sugar content of your food and trying to stay under a certain limit can be useful. But, perhaps a better measure of the sugar content of bananas is their glycemic load.
Banana Glycemic Load
Not all sugars are created equal. Some sugars, like sucrose and glucose, digest very quickly and create blood sugar spikes that can pack on fat and lead to diabetes over time. Other forms of sugar, like starch and fiber, digest very slowly or even not at all.
Glycemic load is a useful measure that tells you how good or bad the sugars are in different foods. It does this by combining two important factors into one useful number: how much sugar is in a food, and how fast that sugar digests (the slower, the better).
The lower the glycemic load number for a particular food, the better. In general, here is how different numbers pan out in terms of glycemic load:
- Low glycemic load: <10
- Medium glycemic load: 11-19
- High glycemic load: >20
Bananas can have different glycemic loads depending on how ripe they are. Green bananas tend to hand more starch in them. As the banana ripens, that starch is converted into simple sugars, making the banana taste sweeter.
Here are the glycemic load numbers for bananas at different stages of ripeness:
- Under-ripe: 6
- Slightly under-ripe: 11
- Ripe: 13
- Over-ripe: 12
As you can see, under-ripe and slightly under-ripe bananas have the lowest glycemic load of all. This means that they’re the healthiest types of bananas to eat overall in terms of sugar. Of course, this doesn’t mean that yellow and overripe bananas are unhealthy, just that they’re not necessarily as healthy as green bananas.
Other Health Benefits of Bananas
Bananas can affect your health in many different ways.
In one meta-analysis study (a review of many individual studies published by the US National Library of Medicine), researchers found that eating more potassium (like that found in bananas) significantly reduced blood pressure for people with heart disease like hypertension.
This reduction in blood pressure also had many other healthy side effects. For example, the risk of stroke was also lowered by 24% in people who consumed more potassium.
In another meta-analysis study, researchers found that people who consumed more potassium had overall lower rates of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease.
Bananas are also a good source of fiber, containing about 12% of your daily fiber needs. Bananas contain two different types of healthy fiber: resistant starches and pectin.
These two types of fiber are found in higher concentrations in unripe and slightly-unripe bananas, and are part of the reason why the glycemic load is lower for these fruits. Fiber slows down digestion to prevent all the sugars from being digested at once.
In addition, the resistant starch acts as a prebiotic. Because you can’t digest the resistant starches, it passes down to microorganisms in your gut that also work to keep you healthy. The more prebiotics you can include in your diet, the healthier your gut microorganisms—and thus your own digestive tract—will be.
Green Vs. Yellow Bananas
It’s a battle that’s been waging for as long as people can remember: are you a green-banana person, or a yellow-banana person?
The two different types of bananas are very different from each other. Green bananas can have more of a tart, tangy taste to them, while yellow bananas are often softer and sweeter.
Aside from taste, there are some very real nutritional differences between them as well. As we’ve discussed above, green (or slightly green) bananas have more starch that can benefit your gut health.
Green bananas also reduce the sugar load put on your system. Another side benefit of this is that you’ll feel full for longer, since these types of bananas take longer to digest.
Yellow bananas, on the other hand, have less starch and more sugar. You may feel hungry sooner after you eat a yellow banana compared to a green banana. However, if you’re solidly in the yellow banana camp, don’t fret these differences too much: any banana is still better than a tub of ice cream.
Are bananas good for weight loss?
Some people claim that if you’re trying to lose weight, you should avoid eating bananas because of their relatively high sugar content compared to other fruits. While we’ve shown that bananas do contain a relatively high sugar content for fruits, that doesn’t necessarily mean that bananas will hinder your weight loss goals.
Unfortunately, there haven’t been any studies that look at the effect of bananas on weight loss specifically. But, there have been many other studies that point out how the health benefits we’ve already described help with weight loss.
Bananas are a naturally fat-free and low-calorie food (even if those calories are made up of a slightly higher proportion of sugar), perfect for dieters.
Bananas are also full of fiber (3g), more so than many other fruits. In fact, of the most common fresh fruits available at grocery stores, only pears (6g) and apples (5g) contain more fiber than bananas.
Fiber is important because it’ll suppress your appetite for longer. It’ll also make your food take longer to digest, so that the sugar is released more slowly into your bloodstream. This gives more time for your cells to use it all up as energy, rather than releasing insulin to store it all into body fat like what happens with high-sugar, low-fiber foods.
Healthy Ways to Eat More Bananas
While bananas on their own are very healthy foods, of course it is possible to prepare them in unhealthy ways that negate their beneficial health effects.
If you slather bananas in sugar and fry them, for example, they’re not really that healthy of a food item anymore. (sorry, Bananas Foster lovers—we commiserate with you). Similarly, the Bluth frozen bananas from Arrested Development that were dipped in hot fudge are also not really that healthy of a food, thanks to the wads of extra sugar.
But don’t worry. There are plenty of healthy, tasty ways to get more bananas in your diet. Of course, the easiest way is to eat them fresh, right from the peel.
The second-most popular way to eat more bananas is by putting them in smoothies. Bananas have a naturally creamy texture. This can really bring out the consistency for a good fruit smoothie with other fruits and a few ice cubes or protein powder thrown in.
Fruit salad is another option. You can also dice bananas and put them in with other foods, like oatmeal, cereal, or yogurt. Homemade banana chips are also easy to make.
If you like eating ice cream, have you tried banana “nice cream”? This nifty recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie involves blending frozen bananas with a touch of milk to create a frozen treat similar in texture to frozen ice cream.
Banana pancakes are also another tasty, quick, healthy breakfast treat. This recipe from Melanie Cooks calls for just three ingredients—a banana, two eggs, and a pinch of cinnamon. Strawberry-banana jello (sugar-free, of course) with chopped bits of whole bananas are also a nice treat.
When to Avoid Bananas
We’ve shown you that bananas are definitely a fantastic healthy food item to include in your diet. But that doesn’t mean they’re right for everyone.
If you have certain heart diseases or kidney diseases, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor first to see if bananas are OK for you to eat.
This is because healthy, functioning kidneys are required to properly get rid of excess potassium in the body. Certain heart medications, such as beta-blockers, can interfere with your kidney’s ability to excrete potassium.
If your body can’t get rid of excess potassium properly, it’s easy for your blood levels of potassium to become too high and for you to become hyperkalemic—i.e., to have too much potassium in your blood.
In addition, some people can actually be allergic to bananas. It’s very rare, but when it does happen, the symptoms can range from anything from mild mouth irritation and swelling all the way to life-threatening anaphylaxis, much like a peanut allergy. If you think you might have a banana allergy, it’s also very important to stop eating bananas until you can talk to your doctor.
The good news is that for most people, bananas are not only healthy, but health professionals recommend we get more of them in our diet in place of things like Cheetos and candy bars. Eating more bananas can ensure that you stay strong and healthy for years to come.
What’s your favorite way to get more bananas in your diet? Leave a comment below!