Coming prepackaged in their own yellow wrappers, bananas are wonderfully sweet and easy snacks that can go anywhere with you and are available throughout the year.
Bananas are the fruit of the genus Musa, and grow on trees in large clusters containing anywhere from 50 to 150 bananas. Individual bunches of bananas are called “hands”. The fruit comes in many varieties, the most common of which are Cavendish bananas—the sweet, green or yellow bananas that you see in the supermarket.
Bananas have many health benefits, most notably for the heart, kidneys, blood sugar, and digestive system, and can be easily added to other foods, such as smoothies, quite easily. Just as importantly, they are rarely contaminated with pesticides or pollutants due to their protective peel.
Don’t overlook this wonderful, yellow fruit the next time you’re preparing breakfast or a snacking on the go—you may be surprised to learn the benefits of eating bananas. Read on to find out what 8 of these benefits are.
One of the primary benefits of bananas is to aid in digestion. This may seem common sense with the large amount of fiber in bananas, but did you know that it also benefits digestion through increases in beneficial bacteria?
We all have populations of “friendly” bacteria in our digestive systems, and certain foods affect these populations in different ways. Bananas contain fructooligosaccharides—try saying that five times fast—which are fructose-containing carbohydrates that the body is not good at breaking down. These carbohydrates travel along the digestive tract until they reach the lower intestine, at which point they are digested by bacteria—the good varieties of bacteria that help us stay healthy by aiding in digestion and crowding out harmful bacteria.
Eating bananas, and the consequent rise in beneficial digestive bacteria, can lead to fewer gastrointestinal problems and better bowel function, so be sure to add a few bananas to your daily diet for good digestive health. Your bacteria will thank you.
Bananas have a great mixture of minerals, vitamins, and good carbohydrates that are a favorite of endurance athletes. The portability, taste, and relatively low expense make them a great snack to take along with you on long runs or bicycle rides.
Bananas are also valued by athletes for a unique ability—the prevention of muscle cramps. Low potassium levels are known to cause cramps in active people, and recent research shows that eating a banana prior to an hour of exercise keeps blood potassium levels higher throughout the training.
Bananas are also simply great sources of energy. With plenty of fiber to regulate the speed of digestion, the conversion of carbohydrates to simple sugars is slowed, giving you a nice, steady source of energy that lasts, rather than a sharp burst of energy that elevates blood sugar and results in a crash soon after eating.
If you’re an athlete, bring a banana along with you on your next training session for a long-lasting energy boost!
Easier Weight Loss
When attempting to lose weight, controlling hunger is vital. Foods that are high in fiber and low in calories are perfect—they leave you feeling full without giving your body extra calories that will be stored as fat.
A single banana has just a little over 100 calories, but is full of fiber—usually around 3.1 grams or so, or roughly 12 percent of your needed daily intake. Fiber not only expands in the presence of liquids, but also takes much longer to digest than other substances, bequeathing a feeling of fullness.
Loading up on fiber at the beginning of the day—at breakfast—is a great way to encourage weight loss and make a calorie-restricted diet easier to swallow. That full feeling will stick with you, prompting you to eat less for several hours. A banana or two at breakfast can go a long way toward a healthier day.
A Healthier Heart
Do you remember how we talked about potassium earlier? The mineral has more benefits than cramp prevention!
Potassium is essential for heart health and the control of blood pressure, and is a mineral that very few Americans get enough of in their diets. Thousands of times a day, potassium helps trigger your heart to beat, pumping blood throughout your body.
In recent studies, people with high blood pressure, who took potassium supplements, lowered systolic blood pressure—the pressure in your arteries during a heartbeat—by about 8 points. Those with mild heart rhythm problems, such as the occasional irregular heartbeat, can benefit greatly from an increase in potassium—doctors recommend about 4,700 milligrams per day, of which, a single banana can supply up to 422 milligrams.
Combined with the possible weight loss benefits, bananas are one of the most cardiovascular health-friendly foods around. The next time you want to open that bag of chips, eat a banana instead and reap the benefits of a healthier heart.
Insulin resistance is a factor in the development of type 2 diabetes. Insulin is a hormone, secreted by the pancreas, that helps to regulate the amount of nutrients circulating in the bloodstream. When we eat carbohydrates, in particular, our amount of blood sugar increases, which is sensed by the pancreas, prompting it to release insulin into the blood. Insulin then travels throughout the body, telling the body’s cells to pull sugar from the blood in order to use it for energy or storage.
High amounts of sugar in the blood is toxic, and when cells stop responding to insulin, levels can grow out of control, leading to damaging symptoms and full diabetes. Resistance occurs when our cells stop responding to its presence.
However, recent studies show that consuming 15-30 grams of resistant starch every day can improve insulin sensitivity by around 33-50 percent in 4 weeks. Unripe bananas are loaded with resistant starch, and so may help protect against diabetes as part of an overall healthy diet and exercise program.
Unless you’re already diabetic—in which case, you should follow your doctor’s dietary instructions—add bananas to your diet to potentially avoid developing insulin resistance in the future.
Improve Kidney Health
Remember potassium and its blood pressure controlling properties? Well, it’s good for more than your heart.
Your kidneys filter between 120 and 150 quarts of blood a day, producing 1 to 2 quarts of urine as it removes waste and excess fluid.They have an extremely high density of blood vessels, and so high blood pressure has an especially severe impact on them. When the force of blood is too high, the vessels stretch and scar within the kidneys, reducing their ability to remove wastes and extra fluid. This, in turn, can raise blood pressure even more, creating a deadly cycle.
Bananas, with their dual effect on both weight and potassium levels, serve as a fantastic junk food replacement. Rather than ingesting lots of salts and sugars, both of which can contribute to kidney damage, have a banana. As part of a healthy diet, this can make all the difference for your kidneys.
A Pre-packaged Snack
Bananas are one of the best snacks around, and their portability allows them to replace a variety of junk foods in your diet. Going for a jog? Put one in your bag. Long car ride? Bring a few! Self-contained, delicious, and brimming with health benefits, bananas are oft-overlooked gems. Pick up a few the next time you’re at the supermarket, and enjoy the surprising benefits of bananas.