The humble banana is a staple of fruit bowls all over the English-speaking world – the versatility and sweet taste of the banana has made it one of the most popular fruits. Everyone knows that fruit and veg are important to a healthy diet and the banana should be included in the range of fruits that we consume. For those who are somehow unaware, the banana is a long, sweet, starchy fruit that grows in tropical climates and forms a large part of the diet of some cultures. Technically a berry, the banana has been a favorite for decades, originally being farmed in its native China in 200AD.
Calories and Macronutrients
The average banana contains around 105 calories , meaning that it is a relatively low-calorie snack for those who are trying to keep their intake low. Comparatively, a regular bar of chocolate would provide anywhere between 200 and 400 calories – clearly, for those trying to change their diet, swapping junk food for bananas is an effective start.
The macronutrient profile of a banana is less promising: when we look at fruit, the sugar content is usually the one to watch for and this is no different in bananas. An average banana contains around 12g of sugar, which can add up quickly. The fiber content of a banana is relatively low compared to a lot of vegetables and dark berries – at around 2.5g, the average banana contains about 5-10% of the amount of fiber an adult should consume in a day . This means that we’d need at least 10 bananas to reach the fiber requirements: the problem with this is that 10 bananas would be more than double the amount of sugar we should eat in a day!
This is no reason to not eat bananas, however – the sugar content is only a bad thing if we eat too many. For example, the sugar content of a banana makes it a favorite among many athlete: eating a banana before or during exercise will regulate blood sugar levels throughout and provide the necessary, fast-absorbing fuel necessary for hard exercise . Additionally, it can be an effective method for increasing blood sugar amongst those who experience hypoglycaemia.
Despite the claims of some people on the internet, bananas are not a complete dietary source: whilst they may be high in carbohydrates, they are low in both fats and proteins. The average banana will contain around a single gram of protein and trace amounts of fat (less than .5g). The low-fat and low-protein content of the banana may explain its low caloric content: it is easy to keep calories low if a food source contains only 1 of the 3 key macronutrients.
Micronutrients and Health
One of the most common things we hear about bananas is that they’re an excellent source of potassium. Potassium is great for bone and muscle health, as well as proper metabolic function . The banana isn’t the best source of potassium (things like Spinach, Tomatoes and Mushrooms have more) but they are one of the best sweet sources of potassium – this makes it easier to reach our daily requirements by incorporating bananas into desserts or snacks.
Bananas do, however, contain a relatively high amount of Vitamin B6 – B vitamins are important for energy transfer, recovery and skin health. Deficiency in this vitamin can cause severe symptoms such as dermatitis, ulcers, conjunctivitis and imbalances in the brain. Bananas will help to stave off these symptoms.
They also contain reasonable amounts of Manganese and Vitamin C. Manganese is involved with the metabolism and a crucial nutrient for reducing oxidative stress: a process that breaks down cells and has been linked to organ damage and the risk of cancer . Vitamin C is one of the most common nutrients in fruit and is linked to proper immune function: the vitamin is found in high quantities in the immune system and it is believed to be involved in the development of white blood cells and other protective roles in the body.
Bananas are also relatively high in Tryptophan, an Amino acid that has an important role in the regulation of brain chemistry and maintaining mood. Even at low doses, Tryptophan has been shown to improve the production and availability of serotonin in the brain , which improves mood and can alleviate symptoms of chronic stress and depression .
Health Benefits of Banana
The beauty of the banana is that it is such a versatile fruit – in terms of both how and why it might be included in a diet. Whilst the variety of positive health benefits have been listed above, the versatility of the fruit is most commonly seen in the way that it can be eaten. Whilst raw bananas are a common, ‘healthy’ snack, they can also be blended into smoothies and protein shakes, baked into banana bread or dried and blended to provide a starchy powder to replace sugar in other baked or cooked goods. When we look abroad to the places where bananas are native, they exist in an even greater variety of dishes: deep-fried as fritters or chips, baked with rice, as a form of Jam or even eaten in a sweet ‘gravy’.
The versatility of the banana is likely one of the reasons that it has become one of the most popular fruits on the planet: whilst we can’t speak to the health benefits of banana fritters or bananas in sweet gravy, we do believe that the banana should be included in everyone’s diet from time to time. A wide variety of fruits and vegetables provides the necessary vitamins and minerals that we all need for optimum health, performance and wellness. Our favorite choices are raw, during intense exercise, or sliced and eaten with a healthy oatmeal.