10 evidence-based benefits of bananas

Lawrence Lefcort, SATI STAFF

Besides being healthy and delicious, bananas are rich in nutrients, minerals, and vitamins that promote better health and digestion, help to prevent certain diseases and provide a plethora of proven benefits for both mind and body.

Grown in over 150 countries in almost a thousand different varieties, bananas are one of the most loved fruits on the planet and a staple food for over 450 million people living in tropical climates. Globally, bananas make up the fourth most consumed food crop, and in America, our consumption of bananas is greater than that of apples and oranges combined.

Our love affair with the sumptuous yellow fruit may date back more than ten thousand years, and in fact, bananas may have been the first fruits ever grown. Archaeologists have found evidence of banana cultivation originating in Southeast Asia from around 8000 BCE.

You might be surprised to find out that bananas, in spite of their size, are berries like raspberries and blueberries. And the much-heralded banana tree isn’t a tree at all, but a gigantic shrub.

Convenient, cost-effective, and versatile, bananas are great anytime of the day: at breakfast, as a delicious, energizing snack, or as part of a yummy dessert. Below we’ll describe the top 10 evidence-based benefits of bananas and why you’d be well-advised to buy a hand of them at your local grocery store.

1. Bananas are great for the heart

Quite simply: our heart and cardiovascular system adore bananas.

Bananas are abundant in potassium, with one medium-sized banana able to provide almost 10% of our daily required intake. Potassium is a vital nutrient that preserves fluid equilibrium in the body and regulates heart activity, in addition to offsetting the detrimental effects of sodium on blood pressure. And bananas have the science to back them up: medical sources (1) have extolled the impact potassium-rich diets have on lowering the risk of stroke (2), limiting hypertension (3), and preventing cardiovascular disease (4) such as atherosclerosis (the hardening of the arteries).

Bananas contain a unique form of plant fat called sterols whose structure allows them to block the absorption of cholesterol, keeping blood cholesterol levels at bay. Plant sterol as part of a healthy diet has been shown to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or harmful cholesterol, a significant risk factor in the progression of heart disease, and improve levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or health-giving cholesterol.

A third cardiovascular perk comes from bananas’ high fiber content. Bananas contain roughly three grams of fiber, one-third of which represents water-soluble fiber. Doctors have identified water-soluble fiber as a major factor in cutting cholesterol and defending against the risk of heart disease.

Banana lovers can revel in the fact that the US Food and Drug Administration recently gave the banana industry the green light to make official claims about the fruit’s capacity to decrease the risk of blood pressure and stroke. What better reason to join the banana-eating club?

2. Bananas may reduce the risk of asthma

Could bananas be good for your lungs? Absolutely, declare some scientists. Asthma is an inflammatory lung disease that impacts roughly twenty-five million Americans. In an innovative study (5) out of England, researchers from Imperial College London compiled dietary statistics from over 2,600 children aged five to ten years and documented the evolution of their asthmatic symptoms.

They discovered that children who ate one banana a day reduced their risk of cultivating asthmatic symptoms or breathing difficulties such as wheezing by 34%. The fiber content in bananas may also play a role in preventing respiratory ailments like asthma from taking root.

Bananas are an excellent source of kaempferol and quercetin, natural shielding compounds known to protect cells and alleviate inflammation. The bottom line: adding a banana or two to your child’s bowl of cereal or oatmeal in the morning could start to pay immediate dividends. And if your kids are a tad finicky about bananas, not to worry: mix a couple of bananas into a fruit smoothie and your little ones won’t know the difference!

3. Bananas enhance digestive health

Digestive problems and irregularities can be a pain, but when they reach chronic proportions, they can hamper our ability to enjoy life to its fullest. The basic structure of bananas helps to prevent constipation, diarrhea, and irritable bowel conditions before they arise.

As the soft, smooth fibrous texture of bananas moves through our digestive tract, it not only unleashes powerful revitalizing nutrients, but it also provides a five-star massage to our gastrointestinal tract.

Fiber is essential for converting carbohydrates into simple sugars and maintaining proper digestion and elimination, yet many Americans display a chronic lack of fiber in their diets. Known for their richness in natural fiber, bananas can make up for this shortfall, providing almost 10 percent of our daily fiber requirement.

Bananas are rich in fructose-containing carbohydrates known as fructooligosaccharides (FOS) which feed and encourage the growth of valuable probiotic bacteria in the lower intestine, namely Bifidobacteria. Probiotics help neutralize potential gastrointestinal threats and keeping our digestive systems happy and healthy.

A recent medical investigation (6) found that women who ate two bananas daily for two months obtained increased levels of Bifidobacteria, experienced fewer gastrointestinal problems, and had better bowel function compared to a second group in the study who consumed a banana-flavored beverage containing no real bananas.

Bananas have long been known for their ability to reverse the effects of diarrhea, where significant amounts of potassium are lost, leaving us feeling weak and tired. Bananas replenish the body’s potassium stocks, restore normal bowel function, and boost energy levels.

4. The benefits of vitamin C

Bananas provide a great source of vitamin C, which contributes to optimal skin health and protects us from immune system weaknesses.

Ages ago pirates and sailors roamed the open seas. Their travels would take them for months, even years, on end. Many seafarers at the time would run out of fresh fruits and vegetables while on board and due to the lack of vitamin C in their diets, many would contract scurvy. Symptoms would start out with bleeding gums and then evolve into anemia, edema, ulcers, exhaustion, and eventual death.

Many Buccaneers close to death were fortunate to land on tropical shores where the consumption of bananas was a boon greater than any treasure they could discover. The vitamin C content in bananas helps keep gums and teeth healthy, aids in the production of collagen fibers for healthy skin and fights off free radicals to boost the immune system.

As far as bananas are concerned, one a day really can keep your friendly neighborhood doctor away.

5. Bananas can play a role in fighting colon cancer

Bananas possess some powerful elements that can help prevent certain types of cancer; these include dietary fiber, butyrate, and pectin. Dietary fiber is a proven cancer-fighting substance found uniquely in the cellular lining of plant foods. Doctors recommend high-fiber diets for a reason: studies abound (7) that demonstrate that as fiber intake goes up, the risk of colorectal cancer drops.

Bananas contain both digestible and digestant-resistant fiber that help in cancer protection and waste removal. The digestible fiber in bananas adds bulk to the digestive system, speeding up the process of waste moving through the intestines, meaning carcinogenic toxins make themselves scarce as soon as possible.

When indigestible fiber interacts with the bacteria present in the large intestine, it ferments creating healthy by-products including a substance known as butyrate. Butyrate nourishes the intestine cells (8) and inhibits carcinogenesis, thereby preventing the evolution of colorectal tumors.

Bananas also contain pectin, a particular type of soluble fiber that can contribute to blocking tumor development in the colon. Pectin takes water from your intestines to create a viscous gel, slowing digestion while sweeping toxins out of your intestinal tract.

6. Bananas can help cheer you up and get a good night’s rest

Having a tough day at the office? Eat a banana, and your mood just may change. Bananas are the only fruits on Earth loaded with vitamins B6, A and C, iron, carbohydrates, and fundamental amino acids, most notably tryptophan.

The amino acids present in bananas work together to produce serotonin, a natural mood enhancer that eases the symptoms of depression. Vitamin B6 helps transform tryptophan into serotonin, soothes the nervous system and plays a role in relieving irritability and sleeplessness.

Dopamine is another vital brain chemical that drives our emotions and allows us to feel bliss, euphoria, motivation, and pleasure. When our dopamine levels are depleted, it can affect primary brain functioning associated with behavior, mood, focus, movement, and sleep. Bananas are highly-concentrated in tyrosine, and therefore, are exceptional dopamine regulators.

And on those nights when your mind spins or you just can’t get that song out of your head, eating a banana shortly before bedtime can help you get the much-needed rest you need. Bananas naturally enhance melatonin levels to help us sleep, and the fruit’s tryptophan content digests easily while you drift off to dreamland.

7. Bananas contain high levels of antioxidants

Although blueberries, acai, and other fruits largely bask in the antioxidant spotlight, bananas are brimming with the same wonder-working compounds. The antioxidants in bananas help to curtail premature aging of the body’s cells. The presence of alpha-linolenic acid reduces inflammation, boosts the immune system, improves blood circulation, and inhibits cancerous cellular activity.

Bananas contain catechin, another distinguished antioxidant that contributes to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and weight loss. Catechin is a plant-based chemical that defends the body from environmental toxins and oxidative stress. Catechin eliminates free radicals to impede the development of cancerous substances originating from harmful bacteria and metals such as cadmium, chrome, and mercury.

8. Bananas: breakfast of champions

Energy drinks and sugary snacks are a popular choice for people with active lifestyles. But did you know that more and more professional and endurance athletes are eating bananas before, during, and after workouts, competitions, and matches?

A 2012 study (9) of racing cyclists found that bananas were as good as sports drinks for replenishing carbohydrates, potassium, and other nutrients lost during exercise. Eating roughly one-half a banana every fifteen minutes over a three-hour race gave the cyclists the same sustained energy levels as consuming the equivalent amount of a processed sports drink. The researchers pointed out that bananas contain added benefits in the form of antioxidants and a healthier mix of sugars that are absent in sports beverages.

Bananas’ bountiful blend of vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates make them an exceptional wellspring of energy. After eating a banana, its fructose content will give your body a quick boost while its dietary fiber will provide you with sustaining energy, preventing a blood sugar spike and an ensuing nosedive in energy and mood.

The body absorbs bananas’ simple sugars and electrolytes in an ideal way. When banana sugars combine with dietary fiber, the sugars release into the bloodstream at an optimal rate. This is perhaps why bananas are widely used by athletes to prevent muscle cramping. Low potassium levels are one of the key causes of muscles cramps, and bananas’ rich potassium can help to offset the deficiency.

Want to be the best you can be on or off the court, track or field? Grab a bunch of bananas the next time you head out to practice. They’re convenient and a snap to carry with you — just make sure to pack them on top.

9. Bananas improve kidney health

The kidneys are critical to our wellbeing. These two powerhouse organs filter and purify the blood, eliminate toxins from the body, and regulate blood pressure. And by giving them some banana love, we can reap some significant rewards.

A 2005 Swedish study documented the eating habits of 61,000 women over a thirteen-year period. The conclusion? Women who consumed 75 or more servings of fruits and vegetables per month reduced their risk of kidney cancer by 40 percent, and researchers cited bananas as having the most substantial impact. Women who ate bananas four to six times per week cut their risk of acquiring the disease by half.

A footnote here: adults already suffering from chronic kidney disease should avoid eating bananas and other fruits and vegetables high in potassium as they may aggravate (10) damage to kidneys that are already under duress.

Kidney stones are the most common urinary tract ailment in America, impacting more than one million people annually. High concentrations of minerals in the urine, especially calcium, cause painful masses to develop in the kidneys gradually.

Many medical studies (11) have confirmed that potassium intake is a key factor in limiting how much calcium you expel and in reducing the risk of kidney stones. Eating bananas helps to boost potassium in your diet, minimizing the calcium you excrete.

Diets high in calcium (milk, cheese, and fish) and low in magnesium can encourage the creation of kidney stones. Magnesium discourages calcium from reacting with oxalate, thereby limiting crystals from forming in the kidneys. Bananas prove to be a loyal soldier in the battle against kidney stones because they contain magnesium but have tiny amounts of calcium.

10. Bananas are good for your eyes

Vision loss is one of the most prevalent disabilities in the United States with some 21 million Americans experiencing vision problems or eye conditions. Incorporating bananas into your diet can buffer your eyes against vision difficulties. Bananas are abundant in vitamin A, which plays a role in protecting eye membranes and providing light to the cornea.

Studies published in the Archives (12) of Ophthalmology of the USA and the British Journal of Ophthalmology have stated that eating at least three bananas a day reduce one’s chances of contracting age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) by 36 percent compared to those who eat less than one and a half portions of fruit per day.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that almost 18 million people will have ARMD by the year 2050. Incorporating fresh fruits such as bananas into one’s diet may help curtail the prediction. Try slicing bananas on oatmeal, freezing them to make banana ice-cream in the blender, or pop them in a shake.

The Sati line

We’ve all heard about the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables, yet so many of us fail to take advantage of the healing properties these vital foods have to offer. Bananas present us with a unique opportunity to boost our bodies and minds with an incredible cocktail of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals.

Besides being delicious, cheap, and so easy to consume, they replenish our skin, boost our cardiovascular system and our mood, and help protect us from a myriad of illnesses. You wouldn’t be wrong if you claimed that bananas are one of the most perfect foods.

Back in the 4th century BCE, Hippocrates, the Father of Western Medicine so famously said: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” And with bananas, the proof is in the porridge and the smoothie.