Bananas are a very popular fruit eaten by people all over the world. They are high in nutrients and contain numerous health benefits that may help protect the heart, lower blood pressure, and aid in digestion.
Not only do bananas offer health benefits, but they are also tasty and fairly inexpensive. This fruit can be enjoyed in its raw form, in baked goods, cooked, and in smoothies.
Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about bananas.
Table of Contents
- History & Facts
- Nutrition Facts
- Benefits of Bananas
- Potential Risks
- Ways to Eat Bananas
- Frequently Asked Questions
History & Facts
Bananas have a sweet flavor with a mushy, creamy texture. They are typically yellow in appearance and are curved-shaped with an outer peel. They belong to the Musaceae family, which includes plantains and several other banana species that are both edible and non-edible.
Bananas, also called Musa, were domesticated in Southeast Asia around 7,000 years ago and have become an integral ingredient in food security around the world (1).
Bananas have been cultivated and domesticated for centuries, enabling them to thrive and diversify in tropical and subtropical regions, resulting in hundreds of edible types of this fruit (2).
There are several different types of bananas that range in flavor, color, and texture. However, the Cavendish banana is the most common type of banana typically consumed and seen at grocery stores. Cavendish bananas make up over 40% of world production and most of all export trade. They are a staple food item eaten by over 400 million people around the world (3).
Through the cultivation and diversification process, there are over 1,000 different types of bananas. Dessert bananas and cooking bananas are two categories of bananas, both of which have a variety of different subtypes (4).
Dessert bananas come in an array of flavors, sizes, and colors. The Cavendish banana is classified as a dessert banana, along with Lady Fingers, red bananas, Gros Michel, Mysore, Blue Java, and apple bananas, to name a few (5, 6).
Cooking bananas are another type of banana that include plantains, also called green bananas. Other types of cooking bananas include Fehi and Rhino Horn, all of which have a milder flavor and starchy texture (4, 5, 6).
Bananas contain a lot of great health benefits and are loaded with nutrients. The nutrient composition of bananas may vary depending on the size, type, and ripening age.
The nutrition facts for one medium banana are (7):
- Calories: 105 kcal
- Protein: 1.29 g
- Carbohydrates: 26.9 g
- Dietary Fiber: 3.07 g
- Fat: 0.389 g
Vitamins and Minerals
In addition to their adequate fiber, carb, and calorie content, bananas contain several micronutrients important for decreasing the risk of developing certain health issues.
Just one medium banana contains several vitamins and minerals, which include (7):
- Calcium (Ca): 5.9 mg
- Iron (Fe): 0.307 mg
- Magnesium (Mg): 31.9 mg
- Phosphorus (P): 26 mg
- Potassium (K): 422 mg
- Sodium (Na): 1.18 mg
- Zinc (Zn): 0.177 mg
- Copper (Cu): 0.092 mg
- Manganese (Mn): 0.319 mg
- Selenium (Se): 1.18 mg
- Vitamin C: 10.3 mg
- Folate: 23.6 µg
- Vitamin A: 3.54 µg
- Lutein + zeaxanthin: 26 µg
- Vitamin E: 0.118 mg
- Vitamin B-6: 0.433 mg
Bananas’ star nutrient is potassium. Potassium is an important mineral that serves to help protect the heart and cardiac function (8). Additionally, potassium is a vital electrolyte that helps maintain fluid and blood volume (9). One medium banana accounts for around 9% of the RDA for potassium in adults (10).
Vitamin C is another notable nutrient found in bananas. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and is important for collagen production, wound healing and infections, and improving the immune system. It also enables the body to better absorb iron from plant-based foods. One medium banana offers 10.3 mg of vitamin C, which accounts for around 14% of the RDA for women and around 11% for men (11).
Bananas also contain vitamin B-6, a nutrient that may be beneficial for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. B-6 has also been shown to help with nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. Moreover, some studies suggest that B-6 may improve cognitive function in the elderly, however, more research is needed to make a comprehensive conclusion. A medium banana provides 0.433 mg of B-6, offering around 33% of the DV (12).
Benefits of Bananas
Due to their adequate content of certain nutrients, there are many health benefits to consuming bananas and adding them to your diet.
Bananas May Reduce the Risk of Developing CVD
As previously mentioned, bananas contain a sufficient amount of potassium. Potassium plays an important role in many functions of the body which include regulating the heartbeat, making proteins, metabolizing carbohydrates, and aiding in muscle and nerve function (13).
Studies also show a positive association between potassium intake and reduced risk of developing CVD, as well as decreased incidence of stroke. This is largely due to potassium’s ability to help keep blood pressure in check (13, 14).
Keeping your blood pressure within healthy ranges is important because escalated blood pressure can lead to hypertension, stroke, CHD, and CVD. Moreover, consuming the right amount of potassium is one of the most important modifiable risk factors for developing CVD (15).
Furthermore, a meta-analysis study on potassium intake, stroke, and cardiovascular disease showed a significant association between potassium intake and reduction of risk in stroke. The effect potassium has on lowering blood pressure was important in this study, however, there was a greater intake of antioxidants overall, which may have helped reduce the risk of stroke and CVD (15).
Bananas May Support Digestive Health
Bananas are a good source of fiber, an important carbohydrate that may help lower the risk of developing certain health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, constipation, and diverticular disease. Fiber plays an important role in the gut microbiome, which may relieve help relieve chronic inflammation in the gut (16, 17).
Green bananas (unripe bananas) contain resistant starch, a carbohydrate that feeds the good bacteria in the gut, resulting in improved gut health. Resistant starch also has other benefits which include feeling fuller, helping with constipation, lowering cholesterol, and reducing the risk of developing colon cancer (18, 19).
Another reason bananas may support digestive health is due to their adequate content of prebiotics, a food source for probiotics found in the gut. Probiotics are vital for gut health and may help alleviate irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhea, and help with some gastrointestinal infections (20).
The BRAT diet is an approach often used to help ease symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. This diet includes bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast and is meant to be a bland diet for people recovering from illness or dealing with gastrointestinal issues. Physicians and dietitians will prescribe the BRAT diet to people who have consistent complaints of stomach conditions and acid-peptic disease (20, 21).
Bananas are High in Antioxidants
Antioxidants are important molecules that help protect the body against free radicals and oxidative damage. Bananas contain vitamin C and vitamin E, two vital antioxidant nutrients that help scavenge free radicals, along with other enzymes in the body. Free radicals are unstable, or unpaired, electrons that are highly reactive and damage DNA, carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids resulting in oxidative stress and increasing the risk of developing unwanted health conditions (22).
Bananas also contain phenolics, carotenoids, biogenic amines, and phytosterols which are beneficial for overall health and well-being. These compounds also have antioxidant activities that provide protection against free radicals and oxidative damage (4).
One study investigated the antioxidant and anti-cancer properties of banana flesh and found that the hexane extract (HE) variation contained the highest amount of polyphenol content and total flavonoid content, showing strong free radical scavenging potential. The results concluded that bananas may help protect against breast and pancreatic cancers (23).
Although bananas are a nourishing fruit and rich in nutrients, it is essential to note some potential risks to consuming them.
They may cause a blood sugar spike in people with diabetes
Bananas offer around 27 g of carbohydrates and as they ripen, their glycemic index and glycemic load increases, which could result in increased blood sugar. It is important for people with pre-diabetes and diabetes to monitor their carbohydrate intake to avoid blood sugar spikes and unregulated blood glucose (24).
Some people may be allergic or intolerant to eating bananas
Bananas aren’t for everyone’s biology. Although they offer health benefits, some people may experience stomach issues after consuming bananas, which could be the result of a bananas allergy or intolerance. Additionally, bananas could cause anaphylaxis in people with severe allergies to them (25).
They may not be safe for people with hyperkalemia
People with chronic kidney failure tend to have high levels of potassium in the bloodstream (hyperkalemia) and are unable to remove excess potassium due to the kidney’s inability to work properly. Since bananas contain a higher amount of potassium, it is important for people with CKD and hyperkalemia to consult with their doctor about which foods are safe to consume (26, 27).
ACE inhibitors: ACE inhibitors are used to lower blood pressure and treat heart problems. They tend to elevate potassium serum levels so it is important to monitor the intake of potassium while taking ACE inhibitors (28).
Ways to Eat Bananas
Bananas are enjoyed in a variety of ways depending on the type. They can be eaten as a snack or included with a meal and can also be used in cooking and baking.
- Raw: The most popular way to eat a banana is in its raw form. This fruit can be enjoyed whole or mixed with other fruits like strawberries, apples, berries, or cantaloupe. Bananas are also a great addition to smoothies, giving them a thick and creamy texture.
- Baking: Bananas are often used in baked goods like banana bread, banana muffins, banana cookies, and banana cake. One ripe banana can also be used to replace one egg, so using bananas in baking is perfect for those who don’t eat animal products.
- Cooking: Plantains are a type of banana used for cooking. They have a milder flavor and are not as sweet as bananas, making them a perfect addition to any meal. Plantains can be boiled, sautéed, baked, or steamed. Plantains are typically eaten with a starch, like rice, and a protein.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Eat Too Many Bananas?
Yes, just like any other food, too many bananas could cause an upset stomach, nausea, or diarrhea. Bananas are also higher in carbohydrates, so eating too many could result in weight gain and/or a spike in blood sugar. It’s always important to eat any food in moderation, even healthy foods.
Can You Eat the Banana Peel?
Yes! Although the flavor and texture are not as appetizing, banana skins are edible. More research is showing that banana peels are being used in medicine, as well as an ingredient in banana peel flour (29, 30).
Can I Eat Bananas if They Have Brown Spots?
Yes! Bananas with brown spots mean they are very ripe. The sugar content is higher in ripe bananas, resulting in a sweeter flavor. Alternatively, very ripe bananas are perfect for baking banana bread or banana muffins.
Bananas have been around for centuries and are one of the most popular fruits in the world. They are an integral part of the food system and have become important to food security around the world. Bananas come in a variety of shapes, colors, textures, and flavors. However, the most common type is the Cavendish banana which is what you find in grocery stores and farmers’ markets. Bananas can be eaten raw, cooked, or baked, and can be enjoyed in a variety of ways.
Bananas contain several beneficial nutrients that aid in reducing the risk of developing certain diseases like CVD and cancer. Bananas have also been used for helping to support and treat digestive issues. Additionally, they are high in antioxidants and other notable nutrients which include potassium, vitamin C, and vitamins B-6.
Due to their high carbohydrate content, bananas may cause a spike in blood sugar in those with diabetes. Since bananas contain a higher amount of potassium, it is important that people with hyperkalemia be cautious with their intake. Always consult with your physician or healthcare provider if you have questions about consuming bananas.