Let’s Go Bananas
Written by: Liz Elam, MS, RD, LDN
Bananas are a staple in my house. Every morning my husband grabs one as he heads out the door, I top my peanut butter English muffin with one for breakfast, and slice one for my baby boy – that’s a lot of bananas in a week! Despite my household’s obsession with this affordable, convenient, and nutritious fruit, there are plenty of people who would question our consumption of such a sugary food. In fact, many of the conversations I have in my office are about sugar, specifically the sugar in fruit.
Mixed messages from the media and the rising popularity of low-carbohydrate diets have given fruit a bad reputation because of its sugar content. Low-sugar fruit such as berries and grapefruit tend to be neutral foods, but grapes and bananas raise concern for dieters and those trying to manage their blood sugar. I’ve even had someone tell me they grabbed a bag of chips from a vending machine rather than eating a free banana from their workplace break room because the banana had “too much sugar”. Let’s get back to the basics of nutrition by increasing our consumption of fruits and vegetables and stop demonizing fruit, particularly bananas. Here are 3 reasons why you should eat more bananas — nature’s easiest, most delicious, pre-packaged snack.
1.) Bananas are packed with vitamins and minerals
One medium banana contains 105 calories, 27 grams of carbohydrate (including 14 grams of sugar and 3.1 grams of fiber), 1.3 grams of protein and .4 grams of fat. Some might raise their eyebrows at 14 grams of sugar… heck, an ounce of dark chocolate has 14 grams of sugar! However, fruit sugar (natural sugar) and added sugar are two different things. The biggest difference being the fiber in fruit. Fiber slows down digestion of carbohydrate (sugar), lessening a blood sugar spike. To further lessen a blood sugar spike, eat bananas with a source of protein or healthy fat such as Greek yogurt or peanut butter. Enjoying a banana will also give you:
- 17% of your recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin C – a powerful antioxidant that supports your immune system, skin, and protects your body on a cellular level against oxidative stress
- 12% of your RDI of potassium – important for managing blood pressure and heart health
- 22% of your RDI of vitamin B6 – important for brain and nervous system function, especially in the production of serotonin, melatonin, and norepinephrine (all helping your mood, sleep, and coping skills!)
2.) Bananas are gut friendly
Probiotics are all the rage. They are found in foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, or taken as a supplement to improve the “good” bacteria in the digestive tract. Prebiotics are not as popular but just as important as probiotics. Prebiotics are non-digestible parts of foods such as BANANAS, onions, garlic, the skins of apples, and beans that are fermented in our intestine and help to increase the number of good bacteria in our gut. Another way of looking at it is thinking about the two like a garden. The probiotic is the actual seed that you plant, where the prebiotic fiber is the water and fertilizer that makes the seed grow. Less ripe bananas have more of this prebiotic substance (also called resistant starch). If you have trouble with your bananas turning spotted and brown too quickly, try purchasing a few yellow ones and a few green ones at the store. By the time you’ve eaten the yellow ones, the green ones will be ready!
3.) Bananas are heart healthy
The combination of fiber, antioxidants, potassium, and magnesium (8% of your RDI) make bananas particularly heart healthy. Fiber, especially the soluble type, is known for lowering LDL, the “bad cholesterol”, and eating just one banana per day helps you meet 10% of both your total and soluble fiber needs. Bananas are also a source of the antioxidant catechin (also found in green tea and red wine), linked to reduced cardiovascular and degenerative disease risk. And lastly, potassium and magnesium are two of the three most important minerals for controlling blood pressure (the third being calcium). Each help to relax the walls of blood vessels, making them more flexible. Potassium works in your kidneys to balance out the negative effects of a high-salt diet and can protect against an irregular heartbeat by improving the conduction of electrical signals in the nervous system. Magnesium helps to transport potassium and calcium through cells walls.
Not only are bananas nutritious, they are affordable (a little more than 50 cents per pound) and one of the most quick and easy-to-eat foods that mother nature makes. Next time your “inner sugar police” gives you a hard time about grabbing a banana, you can be confident that you are making a good choice for your health.
Liz is the registered dietitian for the Garner Avance Care location. She enjoys experimenting in the kitchen and trying out new recipes for her husband and one-year-old son. Her philosophy is that delicious food is just as important as nutritious food and they can be one and the same. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, attending workout classes at the YMCA, and trying many of Raleigh’s amazing restaurants.