Bananas

Wonderfully sweet with firm and creamy flesh, bananas come prepackaged in their own yellow jackets and are available for harvest throughout the year.

The banana plant grows 10 to 26 feet and belongs to the Musaceae family of plants along with plantains.

The cluster of fruits contain anywhere from 50 to 150 bananas with individual fruits grouped in bunches, known as "hands," containing 10 to 25 bananas.

Banana, fresh
1.00 medium
(118.00 grams)
Calories: 105
GI: low

NutrientDRI/DV

 vitamin B625%

 manganese16%

 vitamin C14%

 potassium12%

 fiber12%

 copper10%

 biotin10%

Health Benefits

Creamy, rich, and sweet, bananas are a favorite food for everyone from infants to elders. They could not be more convenient to enjoy, and they are a good source of both vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber.

Cardiovascular Health and Bananas

A first type of cardiovascular benefit from bananas is related to their potassium content. Bananas are a good source of potassium, an essential mineral for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function. Since one medium-sized banana contains a whopping 400-plus mg of potassium, the inclusion of bananas in your routine meal plan may help to prevent high blood pressure and protect against atherosclerosis.

The effectiveness of potassium-rich foods such as bananas in lowering blood pressure has been demonstrated by a number of studies. For example, researchers tracked over 40,000 American male health professionals over four years to determine the effects of diet on blood pressure. Men who ate diets higher in potassium-rich foods, as well as foods high in magnesium and cereal fiber, had a substantially reduced risk of stroke. We've also seen numerous prospective clinical research trials showing substantial reductions of blood pressure in individuals eating the potassium-rich DASH Diet.

A second type of cardiovascular benefit from bananas involves their sterol content. While bananas are a very low-fat food (less than 4% of their calories come from fat), one type of fat that they do contain in small amounts are sterols like sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol. As these sterols look structurally similar to cholesterol, they can block the absorption of dietary cholesterol. By blocking absorption, they help us keep our blood cholesterol levels in check.

A third type of cardiovascular benefit from bananas involves their fiber content. At about 3 grams per medium banana, we rank bananas as a good source of fiber. Approximately one-third of the fiber in bananas is water-soluble fiber. For one medium-sized banana, this amount translates into 1 gram of soluble fiber per banana. Soluble fiber in food is a type of fiber especially associated with decreased risk of heart disease, making regular intake of bananas a potentially helpful approach to lowering your heart disease risk.

Bananas' Digestive Benefits

Bananas are a fascinating fruit in terms of their carbohydrate and sugar content. Even though bananas are a fruit that tastes quite sweet when ripe—containing 14-15 grams of total sugar—bananas receive a rating of low in their glycemic index (GI) value. GI measures the impact of a food on our blood sugar. This low GI value for bananas is most likely related to two of their carbohydrate-related qualities.

First, as mentioned previously, a medium-size banana contains about 3 grams of total fiber. Fiber is a nutrient that helps regulate the speed of digestion, and by keeping digestion well-regulated, conversion of carbohydrates to simple sugars and release of simple sugars from digesting foods also stays well-regulated.

Within their total fiber content, bananas also contain pectins. Pectins are unique and complicated types of fiber. Some of the components in pectins are water-soluble, and others are not. As bananas ripen, their water-soluble pectins increase, and this increase is one of the key reasons why bananas become softer in texture as they ripen. As their water-soluble pectins increase, so does their relative concentration of fructose in comparison to other sugars. This increase in water-soluble pectins and higher proportional fructose content helps normalize the rate of carbohydrate digestion and moderates the impact of banana consumption on our blood sugar. The bottom line here are some surprisingly digestion-friendly consequences for a fruit that might be casually dismissed as being too high in sugar to be digestion-friendly.

Similar to the importance of their water-soluble pectins is the digestive importance of fructooligosaccharides (FOS) in bananas. FOS are unique fructose-containing carbohydrates that are typically not broken down by enzymes in our digestive tract. Instead, they move along through the digestive tract until they reach our lower intestine and get metabolized by bacteria. This process helps maintain the balance of "friendly" bacteria (for example, Bifidobacteria) in our lower intestine, and as a consequence, it also supports our overall digestive health.

In one study involving female participants, eating two bananas each day for two months led to significant increases in Bifidobacteria. Along with these increased levels of Bifidobacteria, participants also experienced fewer gastrointestinal problems and more regular bowel function when compared to other women in the study who drank a banana-flavored beverage that did not contain any actual banana.

Athletic Performance and Bananas

The unique mix of vitamins, minerals, and low glycemic carbohydrates in bananas has made them a favorite fruit among endurance athletes. Their easy portability, low expense, and great taste also help support their popularity in this exclusive group.

A 2012 study of distance cyclists found that eating the equivalent of about one half a banana every 15 minutes of a three-hour race was just as good at keeping energy levels steady as drinking an equivalent amount of carbohydrate and minerals from a processed sports beverage. Bananas have long been valued by athletes for prevention of muscle cramps. Since bananas are a good source of potassium, and since low potassium levels are known to contribute to risk of muscle cramps, it is logical to think about the potassium content of bananas as being the reason for fewer muscle cramps after consumption of bananas. There is actually some recent research in support of this reasoning. In a recent study, consumption of one or two bananas prior to an hour of exercise was shown to keep blood potassium levels higher after the training. But there are still some big unanswered questions here, since researchers are not convinced that low potassium levels are the most frequent cause of muscle cramps with training.

Description

Bananas are elliptically shaped fruits "prepackaged" by Nature, featuring a firm, creamy flesh gift-wrapped inside a thick inedible peel. The banana plant grows 10 to 26 feet in height and belongs to the family Musaceae. Banana fruits grow in clusters of 50 to 150, with individual fruits grouped in bunches, known as "hands," of 10 to 25 bananas.

Bananas abound in hundreds of edible varieties that fall under two distinct species: the sweet banana (Musa sapienta, Musa nana) and the plantain banana (Musa paradisiacal). Sweet bananas vary in size and color.

While we are accustomed to thinking of sweet bananas as having yellow skins, they can also feature red, pink, purple and black tones when ripe. Their flavor and texture range with some varieties being sweet while others have starchier characteristics. In the United States, the most familiar varieties are Big Michael, Martinique and Cavendish. Plantain bananas are usually cooked and considered more like a vegetable due to their starchier qualities; they have a higher beta-carotene concentration than most sweet bananas.

History

Bananas are thought to have originated in Malaysia around 4,000 years ago. From there, they spread throughout the Philippines and India, where in 327 B.C. Alexander the Great's army recorded them being grown.

Bananas were introduced to Africa by Arabian traders and discovered there in 1482 A.D. by Portuguese explorers who took them to the Americas, the place where the majority of bananas are now produced.

Bananas were not brought to the United States for sale in markets until the latter part of the 19th century and were initially only enjoyed by people in the seacoast towns where the banana schooners docked; because of the fruit's fragility, they were unable to be transported far.

Since the development of refrigeration and rapid transport in the 20th century, bananas have become widely available. Today, bananas grow in most tropical and subtropical regions with the main commercial producers including Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador and Brazil.

How to Select and Store

Since bananas are picked off the tree while they're still green, it's not unusual to see them this color in the store. Base your choice of bananas depending upon when you want to consume them. Bananas with more green coloration will take longer to ripen than those more yellow in hue and/or with brown spots.

Bananas should be firm, but not too hard, bright in appearance, and free from bruises or other injuries. Their stems and tips should be intact. The size of the banana does not affect its quality, so simply choose the size that best meets your needs.

At WHFoods, we encourage the purchase of certified organically grown foods, and bananas is no exception. Repeated research studies on organic foods as a group show that your likelihood of exposure to contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals can be greatly reduced through the purchased of certified organic foods, including bananas. If you are shopping in a large supermarket, your most reliable source of organically grown bananas is very likely to be bananas that display the USDA organic logo.

While bananas look resilient, they're actually very fragile and care should be taken in their storage. They should be left to ripen at room temperature and should not be subjected to overly hot or cold temperatures. Unripe bananas should not be placed in the refrigerator as this will interrupt the ripening process to such an extent that it will not be able to resume even if the bananas are returned to room temperature.

If you need to hasten the ripening process, you can place bananas in a paper bag or wrap them in newspaper, adding an apple to accelerate the process. Ripe bananas that will not be consumed for a few days can be placed in the refrigerator. While their peel may darken, the flesh will not be affected. For maximum flavor when consuming refrigerated bananas, remove them from the refrigerator and allow them to come back to room temperature. For the most antioxidants, eat fully ripened fruit.

Bananas can also be frozen and will keep for about 2 months. Either puree them before freezing or simply remove the peel and wrap the bananas in plastic wrap. To prevent discoloration, add some lemon juice before freezing.

How to Enjoy

In addition to being eaten raw, bananas are a wonderful addition to a variety of recipes from salads to baked goods.

A few quick serving ideas:

If you'd like even more recipes and ways to prepare bananas the Nutrient-Rich Way, you may want to explore The World's Healthiest Foods book.

Safety

Bananas and Latex-Fruit Syndrome

Latex-fruit syndrom is a health problem related to the possible reaction of our immune system to certain proteins found in natural rubber (from the tree Hevea brasiliensis) and highly similar proteins found in certain foods, such as bananas. For helpful information about this topic, please see our article, An Overview of Adverse Food Reactions.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. Read detailed information on our
Food and Recipe Rating System.

Banana, fresh
1.00 medium
118.00 grams
Calories: 105
GI: low
NutrientAmountDRI/DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin B60.43 mg254.3very good
manganese0.32 mg162.7good
vitamin C10.27 mg142.3good
fiber3.07 g122.1good
potassium422.44 mg122.1good
biotin3.07 mcg101.8good
copper0.09 mg101.7good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DRI/DV>=75% OR
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
very good DRI/DV>=50% OR
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
good DRI/DV>=25% OR
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%

References

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