BananasPosted 9 years ago under Food, Health, Natural ingredients, Nutrition
- Health Benefits
- How to Select and Store
- How to Enjoy
- Bananas and Latex Allergy
- Nutritional Profile
- Banana nutrition facts - nine things you probably never knew about this nutritious tropical food
- Additional Sources
Bananas are elliptically shaped fruits “prepackaged” by nature, featuring a firm, creamy flesh gift-wrapped inside a thick inedible peel. The banana plant grows 10 to 26 feet in height and belongs to the family Musaceae. Banana fruits grow in clusters of 50 to 150, with individual fruits grouped in bunches, known as “hands,” of 10 to 25 bananas.
Bananas abound in hundreds of edible varieties that fall under two distinct species: the sweet banana (Musa sapienta, Musa nana) and the plantain banana (Musa paradisiacal). Sweet bananas vary in size and color.
While we are accustomed to thinking of sweet bananas as having yellow skins, they can also feature red, pink, purple and black tones when ripe. Their flavor and texture range with some varieties being sweet while others have starchier characteristics. In the United States, the most familiar varieties are Big Michael, Martinique, and Cavendish. Plantain bananas are usually cooked and considered more like a vegetable due to their starchier qualities; they have a higher beta-carotene concentration than most sweet bananas.
Bananas are thought to have originated in Malaysia around 4,000 years ago. From there, they spread throughout the Philippines and India, where in 327 B.C. Alexander the Great’s army recorded them being grown.
Bananas were introduced to Africa by Arabian traders and discovered there in 1482 A.D. by Portuguese explorers who took them to the Americas, the place where the majority of bananas are now produced.
Bananas were not brought to the United States for sale in markets until the latter part of the 19th century and were initially only enjoyed by people in the seacoast towns where the banana schooners docked; because of the fruit’s fragility, they were unable to be transported far.
Since the development of refrigeration and rapid transport in the 20th century, bananas have become widely available. Today, bananas grow in most tropical and subtropical regions with the main commercial producers including Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador, and Brazil.
Creamy, rich, and sweet, bananas are a favorite food for everyone from infants to elders. They could not be more convenient to enjoy, and they are a good source of both vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber.
The first type of cardiovascular benefit from bananas is related to their potassium content. Bananas are a good source of potassium, an essential mineral for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function. Since one medium-sized banana contains a whopping 400-plus mg of potassium, the inclusion of bananas in your routine meal plan may help to prevent high blood pressure and protect against atherosclerosis.
The effectiveness of potassium-rich foods such as bananas in lowering blood pressure has been demonstrated by a number of studies. For example, researchers tracked over 40,000 American male health professionals over four years to determine the effects of diet on blood pressure. Men who ate diets higher in potassium-rich foods, as well as foods high in magnesium and cereal fiber, had a substantially reduced risk of stroke. We’ve also seen numerous prospective clinical research trials showing substantial reductions in blood pressure in individuals eating the potassium-rich DASH Diet.
The second type of cardiovascular benefit from bananas involves their sterol content. While bananas are a very low-fat food (less than 4% of their calories come from fat), one type of fat that they do contain in small amounts are sterols like sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol. As these sterols look structurally similar to cholesterol, they can block the absorption of dietary cholesterol. By blocking absorption, they help us keep our blood cholesterol levels in check.
The third type of cardiovascular benefit from bananas involves their fiber content. At about three grams per medium banana, we rank bananas as a good source of fiber. Approximately one-third of the fiber in bananas is water-soluble fiber. For one medium-sized banana, this amount translates into a gram of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber in food is a type of fiber especially associated with decreased risk of heart disease, making regular intake of bananas a potentially helpful approach to lowering your heart disease risk.
Bananas are a fascinating fruit in terms of their carbohydrate and sugar content. Even though bananas are a fruit that tastes quite sweet when ripe — containing 14-15 grams of total sugar—bananas receive a rating of low in their glycemic index (GI) value. GI measures the impact of a food on our blood sugar. This low GI value for bananas is most likely related to two of their carbohydrate-related qualities.
First, as mentioned previously, a medium-size banana contains about three grams of total fiber. Fiber is a nutrient that helps regulate the speed of digestion, and by keeping digestion well-regulated, conversion of carbohydrates to simple sugars and release of simple sugars from digesting foods also stays well-regulated.
Within their total fiber content, bananas also contain pectins. Pectins are unique and complicated types of fiber. Some of the components in pectins are water-soluble, and others are not. As bananas ripen, their water-soluble pectins increase and this increase is one of the key reasons why bananas become softer in texture as they ripen. As their water-soluble pectins increase, so does their relative concentration of fructose in comparison to other sugars. This increase in water-soluble pectins and higher proportional fructose content helps normalize the rate of carbohydrate digestion and moderates the impact of banana consumption on our blood sugar. The bottom line here are some surprisingly digestion-friendly consequences for a fruit that might be casually dismissed as being too high in sugar to be digestion-friendly.
Similar to the importance of their water-soluble pectins is the digestive importance of fructooligosaccharides (FOS) in bananas. FOS are unique fructose-containing carbohydrates that are typically not broken down by enzymes in our digestive tract. Instead, they move along through the digestive tract until they reach our lower intestine and get metabolized by bacteria. This process helps maintain the balance of “friendly” bacteria (for example, Bifidobacteria) in our lower intestine, and as a consequence, it also supports our overall digestive health.
In one study involving female participants, eating two bananas each day for two months led to significant increases in Bifidobacteria. Along with these increased levels of Bifidobacteria, participants also experienced fewer gastrointestinal problems and more regular bowel function when compared to other women in the study who drank a banana-flavored beverage that did not contain any actual banana.
The unique mix of vitamins, minerals, and low glycemic carbohydrates in bananas has made them a favorite fruit among endurance athletes. Their easy portability, low expense, and great taste also help support their popularity in this exclusive group.
A 2012 study of distance cyclists found that eating the equivalent of about one-half a banana every 15 minutes of a three-hour race was just as good at keeping energy levels steady as drinking an equivalent amount of carbohydrate and minerals from a processed sports beverage. Bananas have long been valued by athletes for prevention of muscle cramps. Since bananas are a good source of potassium, and since low potassium levels are known to contribute to the risk of muscle cramps, it is logical to think about the potassium content of bananas as being the reason for fewer muscle cramps after consumption of bananas.
There is actually some recent research in support of this reasoning. In a recent study, consumption of one or two bananas prior to an hour of exercise was shown to keep blood potassium levels higher after the training. But there are still some big unanswered questions here since researchers are not convinced that low potassium levels are the most frequent cause of muscle cramps with training.
How to Select and Store
Since bananas are picked off the tree while they’re still green, it’s not unusual to see them this color in the store. Base your choice of bananas depending upon when you want to consume them. Bananas with more green coloration will take longer to ripen than those more yellow in hue and/or with brown spots.
Bananas should be firm, but not too hard, bright in appearance, and free from bruises or other injuries. Their stems and tips should be intact. The size of the banana does not affect its quality, so simply choose the size that best meets your needs.
While bananas look resilient, they’re actually very fragile and care should be taken in their storage. They should be left to ripen at room temperature and should not be subjected to overly hot or cold temperatures. Unripe bananas should not be placed in the refrigerator as this will interrupt the ripening process to such an extent that it will not be able to resume even if the bananas are returned to room temperature.
If you need to hasten the ripening process, you can place bananas in a paper bag or wrap them in newspaper, adding an apple to accelerate the process. Ripe bananas that will not be consumed for a few days can be placed in the refrigerator. While their peel may darken, the flesh will not be affected. For maximum flavor when consuming refrigerated bananas, remove them from the refrigerator and allow them to come back to room temperature. For the most antioxidants, eat fully ripened fruit.
Bananas can also be frozen and will keep for about 2 months. Either puree them before freezing or simply remove the peel and wrap the bananas in plastic wrap. To prevent discoloration, add some lemon juice before freezing.
How to Enjoy
In addition to being eaten raw, bananas are a wonderful addition to a variety of recipes from salads to baked goods.
A few quick serving ideas:
— A peanut butter and banana sandwich drizzled with honey is an all-time favorite comfort food for children and adults alike.
— Add chopped bananas, walnuts and maple syrup to oatmeal or porridge.
Bananas and Latex Allergy
Like avocados and chestnuts, bananas and plantain contain substances called chitinases that are associated with the latex-fruit allergy syndrome. There is strong evidence of the cross-reaction between latex and these foods.
Bananas are a very good source of vitamin B6 and a good source of manganese, vitamin C, potassium, dietary fiber, potassium, biotin, and copper.
Banana nutrition facts – nine things you probably never knew about this nutritious tropical food
Hands and Fingers
Bananas do not grow on trees. The banana plant is classified as an arborescent (tree-like) perennial herb and the banana itself is actually considered a berry. The correct name for a bunch of bananas is a hand of bananas; a single banana is a finger.
One banana contains 467mg of potassium, providing powerful protection to the cardiovascular system. Regular consumption of the potassium-packed fruit helps guard against high blood pressure, atherosclerosis and stroke.
Although bananas do not contain high amounts of calcium, they do supply the body with an abundance of fructooligosaccharide, a prebiotic substance (one which encourages probiotics, the friendly bacteria in the digestive system). As fructooligosaccharides ferment in the digestive tract, they enhance the body’s ability to absorb calcium.
Energy and Mood Balancing
Another benefit to bananas high potassium content derives from that mineral’s role as an energy-supplying electrolyte. Since bananas also contain tryptophan, serotonin, and norepinephrine, they help prevent depression while encouraging feelings of well-being and relaxation. In addition, the vitamin B6 in bananas helps protect against sleeplessness, mood swings, and irritability.
Bananas, combined with the African herb orinol, have been used to treat cataracts in Nigeria. They also share with other fruits the ability to prevent macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in adults. According to a study published in the Archives of Opthmalogy in 2004, people who eat three servings of fruit per day are statistically unlikely to develop the vision-diminishing disease.
Bananas suppress acid in the digestive tract, alleviating heartburn and helping guard against ulcers. Since bananas contain pectin, a soluble fiber, they aid in the elimination process, helping prevent constipation.
Since they are easily digested, bananas are a perfect food for babies just beginning to move to solid foods.
The Journal of Biological Chemistry in March 2010 published a study which revealed the healing potential of BanLec, a lectin protein in bananas. Researchers found that this protein which binds to sugars can also bind to HIV-infected cells, enveloping them and preventing their replication and transmission.
Due to modern shipping practices, this tropical yellow berry born of a herb seems so ubiquitous that most consumers take it for granted. However, the banana’s constant availability could end soon. Nearly all the bananas sold in stores are cloned from just one variety, the Cavendish banana plant, originally native to Southeast Asia. This means disease could potentially wipe out the cloned plants in one fell swoop. Next time you peel and eat a banana, take the time to savor its flavor and texture, so if this fruit disappears, you can tell future generations about the healthy snack encased in yellow flesh.
That potential disappearance does not derive from science fiction speculation. Botanists say it is likely to happen in the next 20 years and in fact it already has happened. At the beginning of the last century, the dominant banana species was the Gros Michel, also a cloned species, which was wiped out by fungus. The Gros Michel was preferred over the Cavendish because it was larger and had a longer shelf life, and, according to old-timer recollections, better-tasting. The Cavendish replaced the Gros Michel after the latter species decimation because, of the over 1,000 varieties of bananas in the world, most do not have an appealing taste. There are the less sweet plantains, and also a variety called Goldfinger which has an apple-like taste.
Save the peels
Even the peels of this fruit are useful. Apply the inside of a banana peel to pimples to naturally dry out these skin blemishes. Also, banana peels make a wonderful fertilizer, particularly for roses.
- Duan X, Cheng G, Yang E, et al. Modification of pectin polysaccharides during ripening of postharvest banana fruit. Food Chemistry, Volume 111, Issue 1, 1 November 2008, Pages 144-149.
- Gylling H, Plat J, Turley S, et al. Plant sterols and plant stanols in the management of dyslipidaemia and prevention of cardiovascular disease. Atherosclerosis 2014;232:346-60.
- Miller KC. Plasma potassium concentration and content changes after banana ingestion in exercised men. J Athl Train 2012;47:648-54.
- Mitsou EK, Kougia E, Nomikos T, et al. Effect of banana consumption on faecal microbiota: a randomized, controlled trial. Anaerobe 2011;17:384-7.
- Nieman DC, Gillitt ND, Henson DA, et al. Bananas as an energy source during exercise: a metabolomics approach. PLoS One 2012;7:e37479.
- Oliveira L, Freire CS, Silvestre AJ, et al. Lipophilic extracts from banana fruit residues: a source of valuable phytosterols. J Agric Food Chem 2008;56:9520-4.
- Prabha P, Karpagam T, Varalakshmi B, et al. Indigenous anti-ulcer activity of Musa sapientum on peptic ulcer. Pharmacognosy Res 2011;3:232-8.