Mad About Berries

Health Benefits of Bananas

Bananas are believed to be a great fruit mainly because a banana provides a significant amount of nutrition and palatability at one of the lowest possible costs. There are also good reasons to eat bananas today.

Bananas can help increase one’s immunity with its nutritional goodness and antioxidant content. The most important fact is that bananas are suitable for everyone, from taste and nutrition point of view as well as the cost point of view.

Published: May 28, 2020

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No wonder, it’s one of the most popular fruits in the world. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in the United States alone, each person eats 11.4 pounds of bananas per year. One should take into consideration the information by FoodData Central Database of the USDA and the opinion of experts from the departments of dieticians and diabetics from Tiong Bahru Community Health Centre who explain the health benefits of bananas.

Health Benefits of Bananas for Blood Pressure and Heart

The heart health benefits of bananas are mainly attributed to the potassium content in bananas. There is about 320-400 mg of potassium in a medium-sized banana (118 grams). This is sufficient to meet around 9% of one’s daily needs of potassium according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Potassium is important for maintaining the health of the heart and healthy levels of blood pressure.

It helps maintain fluid levels in the body and normalize the movements of nutrients and waste matter in and out of cells. It’s actually an electrolyte that helps electricity move constantly throughout the body and thus keeps the heart beating regularly and can decrease the bad effects of sodium on blood pressure. Individuals who consume a lot of potassium get their risk of heart disease reduced by 27%. Above that, bananas are also low in sodium. High potassium content and low sodium content together help control high blood pressure.

Even the AHA recommends people to reduce the intake of salt i.e. sodium and increase the intake of potassium-containing foods for a healthy cardiovascular system.

According to an animal study conducted by the researchers at the University of Alabama in 2017, the potassium in bananas is also associated to the health of arteries. The more potassium in the body, the less likely are one’s arteries to stiffen. The study found that mice with a low-potassium diet had stiffer arteries than mice on a normal amount of potassium. Arterial hardening in humans is associated with heart disease.

It should also be remembered that bananas contain a fair amount of magnesium, a nutrient also good for heart health.

In addition, bananas also contain fiber, folate, and antioxidants like vitamin C, all of which contribute to their heart health benefits. Individuals taking a high-fiber diet have less chances of developing heart disease than those who take a low-fiber diet, according to a 2017 study. A high-fiber diet has also been shown to reduce the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) alias ‘bad’ cholesterol.

Health Benefits of Bananas for Diabetes

Bananas contain two important nutrients that help in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. One of them is pectin which gives the spongy texture to bananas. The other one is the resistant starch that isn’t digested in the small intestine. Both these nutrients may help maintain a healthy blood sugar level after meals and since they slow down emptying of the stomach, they reduce appetite.

NOTE: A few test-tube studies claim that pectin may provide protection against colon cancer as well.

Moreover, bananas also have a low glycemic index (GI). GI is a measure – from 0 to 100 – of how rapidly foods elevate blood sugar levels. GI of unripe bananas is around 30 while that of ripe bananas is around 60. Thus average GI of bananas is 51. Therefore bananas are not supposed to cause a significant spike in blood sugar levels in healthy persons.

Note: This may not apply to patients of type 2 diabetes. These patients should actually avoid eating a lot of ripe bananas and carefully observe their blood sugar if they do.

Another health benefit of bananas in providing protection against diabetes is its ability to improve insulin sensitivity. And insulin resistance is not only risky for type 2 diabetes but for many other serious diseases.

Unripe bananas are packed with resistant starch which, according to several studies, can improve insulin sensitivity by 33%-50% if taken 15-30 grams per day just for 4 weeks.

However, the reason behind this phenomenon is still not known and also, not all studies agree to it. Hence more studies need to be conducted to confirm it.
The American Diabetes Association, on the other hand, recommends eating bananas (and other fruits) for their fiber content, because fiber too can help reduce blood sugar levels. The ability of a high-fiber diet of reducing the likeliness of type 2 diabetes and lowering blood sugar in people who already have diabetes has also been endorsed by the author of a 2018 study.

Bananas have also been found to prevent gestational (pregnancy-associated) diabetes. A meta-analysis published in Sleep Medicine Reviews says that gestational diabetes may be caused by a lack of sleep during pregnancy. However, bananas being rich in tryptophan and magnesium can help bring a good night’s sleep.

Health Benefits of Bananas for Digestive System

Everyone knows how important fiber is for the health of the digestive system. It’s recommended to take 20 grams and 26 grams of fiber every day for women and men respectively. One can understand how a banana is helpful in the health of the digestive system with the fact that a medium-sized banana contains around 3 grams of fiber and it can provide around 10%-12% of one’s daily fiber requirements.

Fiber is of two types – soluble and insoluble. Both these are important in maintaining the digestive system’s health. Soluble fiber helps keep blood sugar levels in check and also helps eliminate harmful fats like cholesterol. On the other hand, insoluble fiber makes stools weighty and soft, making it easier for them to pass through bowels. Regular bowel movements keep one’s gut free from harmful bacteria and thus healthy.

Bananas maintain digestive health also because of the starch that’s present especially in the unripe bananas. This starch acts like soluble fiber and doesn’t digest (resistant starch) in the small intestine and thus passes into the large intestine where it provides nutrition to the beneficial gut bacteria. This also helps in maintaining or losing weight because bananas make one feel full for longer. Resistant starch also increases the formation of short-chain fatty acids in the digestive tract. These fatty acids are important for gut health.

Bananas are also well-known among doctors for rectifying stomach upset. The BRAT diet approach taken by some doctors for treating diarrhea contains bananas. BRAT stands for bananas, rice, apples, and toast. Diarrhea can cause loss of water and electrolytes, and bananas can replenish them.

Thus bananas help combat:

- Constipation

- Diarrhea

- Heartburn

- Stomach ulcers

Bananas are recommended as a snack food by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America in their diet plan.

Health Benefits of Bananas for Kidneys

Potassium in bananas is good also for the health of kidneys. Potassium in bananas may lessen the risk of formation of kidney stones with age. In turn, healthy kidneys help maintain the right quantity of potassium in the body.

A 13-year study conducted in women proved that eating bananas 2-3 times a week reduced the likeliness of developing kidney disease by 33%.
It’s observed in some other studies too that eating bananas 4 to 6 times a week reduces the risk of developing kidney disease by almost 50% than those who don’t eat bananas.

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Packed with Antioxidants

A lot of nutrients act as antioxidants and fruits and vegetables contain a lot of them. Bananas are fruits that are no exception to this. Many of bananas’ ingredients are actually potent antioxidants, e.g. catechins and dopamine.

Since these antioxidants protect cells from getting damaged, they mainly reduce the risk of dangerous diseases like heart disease and other degenerative diseases.

Dopamine in bananas is mistaken as a feel-good chemical in the brain. The fact is that dopamine in bananas cannot reach the brain due to the blood-brain barrier. It just acts as a great antioxidant rather than controlling hormones or mood.

Health Benefits of Bananas in Cancer

Bananas contain a protein named lectin which may help prevent the growth of leukemia cells according to laboratory investigations. Lectin acts as an antioxidant and thus cleans out free radicals that can damage cells and potentially cause cancer.

Children consuming bananas or orange juice or both were found to have reduced the risk of developing leukemia in a 2004 study. This could be due to the vitamin C content according to the study authors as vitamin C too has antioxidant properties.

Bananas have also been found to protect against kidney cancer. In a 2005 Swedish study, women eating 4-6 bananas a week got their risk of developing kidney cancer reduced by 50 percent. Bananas prevent kidney cancer due to high levels of antioxidant phenolic compounds in them.

Health Benefits of Bananas in Asthma

Bananas might be helpful in preventing wheezing in children having asthma. This is commonly attributed to the potassium and antioxidant content in bananas. Nevertheless, these findings need to be confirmed by more studies.

Health Benefits of Bananas in Strengthening Bones

A 2009 study published in the Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry says that bananas contain fructooligosaccharides in abundance. These are non-digestive carbohydrates that induce digestive-friendly probiotics and thus improve the body’s capability of absorbing calcium.

Health Benefits of Bananas for Weight Loss

Although no direct connection between bananas and weight loss has been found by studies, several qualities of bananas can make them good weight-loss food.

Firstly, bananas are relatively less calorie-rich. An average-sized banana has only a little more than 100 calories.

Secondly, as mentioned earlier, the high fiber content in bananas makes one feel full for longer and reduces appetite. Also, bananas being sweet help curb cravings for sweets, thus contribute to weight loss.

The only issue with bananas and weight loss is the fact that many people can't stop eating them after just one banana :)

One of the Best Sources of Vitamin B6

Of all vitamins, vitamin B is hardly available to vegetarians and vegans because it’s mainly found in meats and dairy. In such a condition, bananas are like a godsend for this populace as it’s one of the richest sources of vitamin B6.

Vitamin B6 is necessary for one’s body because it:

- Helps maintain the health of the nervous system

- Helps eradicate undesirable chemicals from kidneys and liver

- Metabolizes amino acids

- Metabolizes fats and carbohydrates to produce energy from them

- Helps produce red blood cells

When it comes to pregnant women, vitamin B6 is very important because it helps in the development of a fetus.

Rich in Manganese

Bananas are a rich source of manganese. There is enough manganese in a medium-sized banana to provide around 13% of the daily need of manganese of a person. Manganese is necessary for the production of collagen and protection of skin and other cells against oxidative stress.

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Good Source of Vitamin C

When vitamin C is concerned, everyone visualizes lemon, oranges, and all other citrus fruits. Hardly anyone can guess it, but bananas are really capable of providing this vitamin. One may not believe but a medium-sized banana can meet 14% of one’s daily need of vitamin C.

Vitamin C is helpful in:

- Maintaining brain health by forming serotonin, a hormone that controls moods, sleep cycle, and feelings of pain and stress

- Production of collagen, a protein that is responsible for the health of skin, bones, hair and overall body

- Better absorption of iron

- Protection of body against cell damage

Brain and Mental Health Benefits of Bananas

Bananas contain tryptophan in large amounts. Tryptophan is converted by the body into serotonin which is a neurotransmitter that elevates mood. Tryptophan is also known for its calming properties.

Vitamin B6 in bananas can help one sleep well.

Magnesium in bananas helps in the relaxation of muscles.

All in all, bananas promote brain and mental health.

Great Source of Energy

If one needs energy without taking in fats and cholesterol, bananas are the way to go. Three natural sugars are present in bananas, viz. fructose, sucrose and glucose. Thus bananas provide energy without fats and cholesterol. Thus, bananas are perfect for children and athletes, along with everyone else, as breakfast, midday snack, and before and after physical activities (sports, exercise).

Along with the natural sugars, minerals and easy-to-digest carbs are also present in large amounts in bananas and with their help, bananas can be helpful in reducing exercise-related fatigue and muscle cramps which probably arises due to electrolyte imbalance and dehydration and with which around 95% of the general population is affected.

Although research has a mixed opinion about bananas being helpful in post-exercise recovery, it’s true that bananas provide high-quality nutrition before, during, and after endurance workout.

Research has found that bananas are more effective in replenishing energy than sports drinks. A 2012 research published in PLOS One observed that in two groups of male contestants in a long-distance cycling race, one refueling with a sports drink every 15 minutes and the other with a banana and water, body physiology and performance remained the same, but banana’s dopamine and serotonin enhanced the antioxidant capacity of the contestants and helped them to reduce free radical damage and improve overall performance.

Ripe and Unripe Bananas

Both ripe and unripe bananas are nutritious in their own ways. Unripe green bananas may help control gastrointestinal problems like ulcers and diarrhea, and may reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, according to a meta-analysis published in 2017 by Prilozi Section of Medical Sciences. Some studies have also found that lectin in green bananas can be helpful for treating HIV patients.

Regarding ripe bananas, research shows that the amount of nutrients grows in bananas as they ripen. According to a 2009 study published in Food Science and Technology Research, ripe bananas with dark spots were eight times more efficient in improving the power of white blood cells in fighting fungi, bacteria, viruses and other harmful pathogens, than green-skin bananas.

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Nutritional Content of Bananas

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 1 banana (130 grams) contains:

Calories: 105 (DRI/DV 6%)
Protein: 1.2 grams (DRI/DV 2%)
Carbohydrates: 26.95 grams (DRI/DV 12%)
Total Fat: 0.39 grams (DRI/DV 1%)
Dietary Fiber: 3.07 grams (DRI/DV 11%)
Vitamin A: 75.52 IU
Vitamin B1: 0.04 mg (DRI/DV 3%)
Vitamin B2: 0.09 mg (DRI/DV 7%)
Vitamin B3: 0.78 mg (DRI/DV 5%)
Vitamin B6: 0.43 mg (DRI/DV 25%)
Biotin: 3.07 mcg (DRI/DV 10%)
Choline: 11.56 mg (DRI/DV 3%)
Folate: 23.6 mcg (DRI/DV 6%)
Pantothenic Acid: 0.39 mg (DRI/DV 8%)
Vitamin C: 10.27 mg (DRI/DV 14%)
Vitamin E: 0.12 mg (DRI/DV 1%)
Vitamin K: 0.59 mcg (DRI/DV 1%)
Boron: 122.14 mcg
Calcium: 5.3 mg (DRI/DV 1%)
Chromium: 0.93 mcg (DRI/DV 3%)
Copper: 0.09 mg (DRI/DV 10%)
Iodine: 9.44 mcg (DRI/DV 6%)
Iron: 0.31 mg (DRI/DV 2%)
Magnesium: 31.86 mg (DRI/DV 8%)
Manganese: 0.32 mg (DRI/DV 14%)
Phosphorus: 25.96 mg (DRI/DV 4%)
Potassium: 422.44 mg (DRI/DV 9%)
Selenium: 1.18 mcg (DRI/DV 2%)
Sodium: 1.18 mg (DRI/DV 0%)
Zinc: 0.18 mg (DRI/DV 2%)

Note: DRI stands for Dietary Reference Intake; DV stands for Daily Value.

Risk Factors

While eating bananas, one should remember the risks associated with them.

Tooth Decay: Bananas being a sugary fruit can cause tooth decays if teeth are not properly cleaned after eating them.

Headache and Sleepiness: Although eating bananas in moderation may not cause any major side effects, eating them in excess can cause headaches and sleepiness. Amino acids in bananas (overripe bananas contain more of them) dilate blood vessels and cause headaches. Sleepiness is caused by tryptophan in bananas and also by magnesium which relaxes muscles.

Beta-blockers: Some people are prescribed beta-blockers by their doctors to reduce the risk of complications associated with heart disease. These drugs can increase the potassium levels in the blood. Too high levels of potassium can be dangerous to people with their kidneys not fully functioning. Such kidneys cannot remove excess potassium from the blood and this can be fatal. Therefore people who are already taking beta-blockers should eat bananas or any other high-potassium foods in moderation.

Hyperkalemia: Overly consumption of bananas and thus potassium can also cause hyperkalemia, a condition characterized by irregular heartbeat, muscle weakness, and temporary paralysis. It can be serious, but is rare, as one should eat around 43 bananas in a short while for developing it.

Allergic Reactions: Some people may be allergic to bananas. Thus if one experiences wheezing, swelling, difficulty in breathing, hives, or itching after eating bananas should immediately seek medical help. A severe reaction can cause anaphylaxis which can be life-threatening.

Migraines: Some people may even suffer from migraines after eating bananas.

The health benefits of bananas are many as compared to the risks associated with them. Moreover, there is no harm to eat bananas in moderation for an overall healthy individual. It will only benefit them and is very less likely to cause any harm.

Long Story Short: Bananas are great fruits, just be aware of a few things about them. As always in life, if something is good, too much of something good doesn't have to be good.

Unless You have some medical condition that keeps You away from bananas, treat yourself with a banana here and there, and enjoy both the taste and health benefits the bananas provide to your body.

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