Helping with everything from digestion to diabetes management, bananas are a popular tropical fruit — so well liked that we eat over 100 billion of them every year. Americans rack up an average of 27 pounds of banana per person per year. They eat more bananas than oranges and apples combined.
Bananas are grown in more than 150 countries in tropical climates, including Africa, South and Central America, China, and India. There are hundreds of types. The dessert banana (Cavendish) is the most popular variety in North America and Europe. Other varieties include:
- Plantain (Green Banana)
- Red Banana
- Lady Finger
Bananas are among the healthier snacks you can add to your diet. They’re rich in potassium and other important minerals and vitamins that help your body perform critical functions. Their benefits include:
Bananas are best known for containing potassium. This vital mineral and electrolyte carries a small electrical charge, causing nerve cells to send out signals for the heart to beat regularly and muscles to contract. Foods with potassium help protect against atherosclerosis and high blood pressure.
Despite their sugar content, bananas have a low glycemic index (GI) value of 51. Their fiber — which helps regulate digestion — is to thank for this. Bananas contain a type of fiber called pectins, which can be water-soluble or insoluble. Water-soluble pectins increase as they ripen, raising fructose concentration in the fruit. These increases work together to help regulate the rate of carbohydrate digestion.
Bananas contain fructooligosaccharides (FOS). These unique fructose-filled carbohydrates aren’t fully digested. Rather, FOS move through our digestive tract until they reach our lower intestine, where they’re metabolized by gut bacteria. This process helps maintain the balance of good bacteria in the lower intestine.
Eating a diet rich in low-GI foods (and avoiding higher glycemic foods) may decrease the risk of complications in people with diabetes. A Cochrane review of 11 randomized, controlled trials involving 402 people with diabetes revealed that low-GI diets reduced A1C, a blood test, by 0.5% compared to those on a high-GI diet.
Eating low-GI foods may promote weight loss and maintenance. In a study of healthy pregnant women, a high-GI diet was associated with greater weight at term than was a nutrient-balanced, low-GI diet. Another study of diet and type 1 diabetes complications showed that the overall diet’s GI was an independent predictor of waist circumference in men.
One medium-sized ripe banana (about 100 grams) contains about 450 milligrams of potassium.
Bananas are also an excellent source of:
Nutrients per Serving
One medium-sized banana contains:
- Calories: 105
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fat: 0 gram
- Carbohydrates: 27 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Sugar: 15 grams (naturally occurring sugars)
Half a banana is equivalent to one serving of fruit. You should aim for four servings of fruit per day. So go ahead, have the whole banana.
If you eat a dozen bananas every day you may risk negative side effects from excessive vitamin and mineral levels. Overconsumption of potassium can lead to hyperkalemia. Hyperkalemia can cause muscle weakness, temporary paralysis, and an irregular heartbeat. Consuming over 500 milligrams of vitamin B6 daily can possibly lead to nerve damage in your arms and legs.
How to Prepare Bananas
Like most fruit, bananas can be enjoyed raw — just peel and eat! But they can be used in many recipes. Bananas can be a substitute for eggs, butter or oil, or a sweetener in healthy baked goods.
Some other ways to enjoy them include:
- Adding sliced bananas to your morning cereal
- Making dairy-free "nice cream" by tossing frozen bananas in a food processor
- Slathering halved bananas in nut butter and topping with chocolate chips, raisins, or shredded coconut
- Slicing banana into pancake batter
- Freezing sliced banana, dipping in melted dark chocolate, and freezing again for a sweet summertime treat
- Using overripe bananas to make sweet, moist banana bread
- Making indulgent bananas foster, a popular New Orleans dessert
- Tossing frozen bananas into smoothies with greens, protein, and healthy fats