Health benefits of bananas
Blood pressure: Maintaining a low sodium intake is essential to lowering blood pressure, however increasing potassium intake may be just as important because of its vasodilation effects. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, fewer than 2% of US adults meet the daily 4700 mg recommendation.3
Also of note, a high potassium intake is associated with a 20% decreased risk of dying from all causes.3
Asthma: A study conducted by the Imperial College of London found that children who ate just one banana per day had a 34% less chance of developing asthma.
Cancer: Consuming bananas, oranges and orange juice in the first two years of life may reduce the risk of developing childhood leukemia. As a good source of vitamin C, bananas can help combat the formation of free radicals known to cause cancer. High fiber intakes from fruits and vegetables like bananas are associated with a lowered risk of colorectal cancer.
Heart health: The fiber, potassium, vitamin C and B6 content in bananas all support heart health. An increase in potassium intake along with a decrease in sodium intake is the most important dietary change that a person can make to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, according to Mark Houston, MD, MS, an associate clinical professor of medicine at Vanderbilt Medical School and director of the Hypertension Institute at St Thomas Hospital in Tennessee.3
In one study, those who consumed 4069 mg of potassium per day had a 49% lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease compared with those who consumed less potassium (about 1000 mg per day).3
High potassium intakes are also associated with a reduced risk of stroke, protection against loss of muscle mass, preservation of bone mineral density and reduction in the formation of kidney stones.
Diabetes: Studies have shown that type 1 diabetics who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetics may have improved blood sugar, lipids and insulin levels. One medium banana provides about 3 grams of fiber.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 21-25 g/day for women and 30-38 g/day for men.
Treating diarrhea: Bland foods such as apple sauce and bananas are recommended for diarrhea treatment. Electrolytes like potassium are lost in large quantities during bouts of diarrhea and may make those affected feel weak. Bananas can help to promote regularity and replenish potassium stores.
Preserving memory and boosting mood: Bananas also contain tryptophan, an amino acid that studies suggest plays a role in preserving memory and boosting your mood.
According to the USDA, one large banana has more than 120 calories. While that still makes it a low-calorie snack in comparison with a large cookie or bag of chips, the fact remains that a banana has nearly three times the calorie count of a cup of diced watermelon and six times the calorie count of a 3-cup spinach salad without dressing. Since extra calories manifest themselves as extra pounds, eating bananas on top of your regular daily diet might promote gradual, unwanted weight gain over time. As Dr. Melina Jampolis, physician nutrition specialist for CNN.com, points out, fruits tend to have nearly three times the caloric value as nonstarchy vegetables, which makes them more likely to contribute to weight gain.
Compared with other fruits and vegetables, bananas have a relatively poor shelf stability. Green and firm yellow bananas will stay ripe for several days after you buy them, but as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out, you can prolong the shelf life of ripe bananas for only three to five days in the refrigerator. In contrast, apples store for up to six weeks.
Bananas have relatively high sugar contents in comparison with other natural foods, which contributes to their glycemic index and glycemic load values. A large banana has more than 16.5 g sugar, which is a mixture of sucrose, glucose and fructose. According to Harvard Medical School, a ripe banana’s glycemic index is 51 and its glycemic load is 13, higher values than those for apples, grapefruits, grapes, oranges, peaches or pears. When a food has a higher glycemic index and glycemic load, you are more likely to experience spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels after you eat that food. However, bananas’ glycemic index value is not nearly as high as values from baked goods and desserts that include refined sugar.
It’s important to look at bananas from a balanced perspective and understand that they also have many advantages, including high potassium and fiber contents. Rather than avoiding them altogether, it can be healthy to include them in moderation in your diet along with a mixture of other fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, low-fat or nonfat dairy products and whole grains. For individual nutrition guidance, see your doctor or a registered dietitian.