What Are Bananas?
Bananas are long, yellow tropical fruits that grow from a flowering plant. They're soft, sweet, and a convenient source of some important nutrients.
They have origins in Southeast Asia. People have grown bananas since ancient times, and their health benefits have been promoted for more than a century.
Today, 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.
Bananas are versatile as well as tasty. You can eat them raw, mixed into your favorite smoothie, or in a peanut butter-banana sandwich, banana bread, or muffins.
- Can be found at your grocery store all year long
- Are easily stored
- Travel well in their peel
Is a banana a fruit?
A banana is considered a fruit. Bananas grow in a cluster at the top of a tropical plant.
Is a banana a berry?
A banana is a berry from a botanical point of view. Berries are fruits that come from one flower and usually have several seeds.
Bananas are rich in potassium and other important minerals and vitamins that help your body perform critical functions. Their potential benefits include:
Heart health. Bananas are best known for containing potassium, which is a big player in heart health. This vital mineral and electrolyte carries a small electrical charge, causing nerve cells to send out signals for your heart to beat regularly and muscles to contract. Foods with potassium help protect against hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and high blood pressure.
A medium banana gives you 422 milligrams, which is 9% of what you need every day. Potassium-rich foods also help you get rid of more sodium when you pee and relax the walls of your blood vessels, both of which help lower your blood pressure.
What’s more, potassium:
- May lower your risk of stroke
- Can help keep your bones healthy as you age
- May help your muscles work better
- Can help prevent kidney stones
If you have kidney problems, too much potassium isn’t good for you. Check with your doctor to see how much you should have.
Digestive health. Despite their sugar content, bananas have a low glycemic index (GI) value of 51. (Glycemic index is a measure of how fast a food causes your blood sugar to rise.) Their fiber – which helps with digestion – is to thank for this. Bananas contain a type of fiber called pectin, which can play a part in controlling how quickly you digest carbohydrates.
Bananas may be good for your tummy, too. They have probiotics, which are the good bacteria found in your gut, and prebiotics, carbs that feed these good bacteria.
Probiotics may also help:
- Improve yeast and urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Treat some infections in your gut
- Ease irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Lessen lactose intolerance
- Ease some allergy symptoms
Bananas contain fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which are unique fructose-filled carbohydrates that you don't fully digest. These FOS are involved in a process that helps maintain the balance of good bacteria in your lower intestine.
Diabetes management. Eating a diet rich in low-GI foods (and avoiding higher-glycemic foods) may decrease the risk of complications in people with diabetes. If you have diabetes, you can enjoy half a banana when you need a snack.
Like all fruits, bananas have carbs, but they won’t blow up a low-carb diet. A medium one gives you about 27 grams of carbs.
Weight control. Eating low-GI foods may promote weight loss. Fiber, like that found in bananas, can also help you control your weight.
It’s no secret that the right amount of fiber in your diet is good for you. An average-size ripe banana gives you 3 grams of it. That’s about 10% of what you need each day. Most of the fiber in bananas is what’s called soluble fiber. It can help keep your cholesterol and blood pressure in check and help ease inflammation.
In general, foods that are high in fiber make you feel full without extra calories. That also makes them a good choice if you want to shed a few pounds.
Faster workout recovery: Research suggests bananas can also help you bounce back from strenuous workouts. But we need more studies to confirm this.
Bananas provide vitamins and minerals including:
- Vitamin B6: A medium banana gives you about a quarter of the vitamin B6 you should get each day. It helps with metabolism. And it plays an important role in brain development during pregnancy and infancy, as well as immune system health.
- Magnesium: This mineral helps control your blood pressure and blood sugar and keeps your bones strong. A banana gives you 8% of what you need.
- Fiber: One banana provides about 3 grams of fiber, which is roughly 10% of the recommended daily amount.
- Vitamin C: You should shoot for 75 to 90 milligrams per day. With about 10 milligrams, your morning banana can get you well on your way. Vitamin C helps protect you from the damage caused by harmful molecules in your body called free radicals. These form in reaction to the food we eat as well as cigarette smoke, pesticides, and other potentially harmful things. Vitamin C also helps your immune system work better and can help you heal.
- Vitamin A: This vitamin is good for your vision and might help protect you from cancer.
Benefits Of Organic Bananas
Organic bananas are grown without man-made pesticides or herbicides. While some believe they're more nutritious and better tasting than conventional bananas, very little scientific research has been done on the subject.
Organic bananas contain the same nutrients as conventionally grown bananas, including vitamin B6, and tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids that your body needs.
Some studies have shown that organically grown fruits and vegetables may have higher levels of certain nutrients, but we need more research on this.
Thanks to their thick peels, conventionally grown bananas are considered to have low to moderate levels of pesticide residue, according to the Environmental Working Group's rankings. But some chemicals can get through the peel.
How To Prepare Bananas
Like most fruit, bananas can be enjoyed raw – just peel and eat! But they can also 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 a sliced banana, dipping it in melted dark chocolate, and freezing it again for a sweet summertime treat
- Using overripe bananas to make sweet, moist banana bread
- Making indulgent bananas foster
- Tossing frozen bananas into smoothies with greens, protein, and healthy fats
Bananas can ripen quickly, so it's best to store them away from direct sunlight. You can also place yellow bananas in a sealed refrigerator drawer, which helps keep the taste even after the peel becomes brown, or on a banana hanger, which helps them to ripen more evenly.
If you want to ripen bananas fast, place them in a paper bag or store them close to other ripe fruit.
Once the peel darkens, cut up or mash the banana and freeze it to use in smoothies or other recipes.