Top 5 health benefits of bananas
The banana is a nutritional powerhouse, packed with energy-giving carbohydrate and heart-healthy potassium. Nutritionist Jo Lewin explains what makes them so good for you.
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What are bananas?
Bananas are the UK’s most popular fruit. On average we each eat 10kg of bananas every year (about 100 bananas). There are hundreds of edible varieties that fall into two distinct species: the banana and the plantain.
Bananas have a distinct shape and a firm but creamy flesh inside a thick, inedible peel. While people think of bananas as having yellow skin, their colour changes from green (under-ripe) to yellow (ripe) to brown (over-ripe).
Bananas grow in clusters of 50-150, with individual bananas grouped in bunches known as ‘hands’ of 10-20 at a time.
The most popular type of banana is the large, yellow, smooth-skinned variety of sweet banana. They vary in size and colour, and are usually eaten raw. The larger, green bananas are known as plantains. Plantain bananas are prepared in a similar way to vegetables, being typically baked or fried.
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Banana benefits may include...
1. They're high-fibre, so support a healthy gut
2. Contain potassium, which regulates heart function
3. Neutralise stomach acid and relieve heartburn
4. Provide instant yet sustained energy
5. Contain tryptophan which converts to serotonin
Nutritional profile of banana
An 80g serving (a small banana) provides:
- 65 Kcal / 278 KJ
- 1g Protein
- 0.1g Fat
- 16.2g Carbohydrate
- 1.1g Fibre
- 264mg Potassium
An 80g serving, one small banana, counts as one of your five-a-day. Take a look at our infographic to find out more about what counts as five-a-day.
How many bananas a day should you eat?
While there's no strict rule, it's best not to eat more than one or two bananas a day. Eating more could lead to weight gain, as they contain both carbohydrates and sugar. Ensure you're eating a balanced diet by including a range of fresh fruits and vegetables.
What are the health benefits of bananas?
1. Supports gut health
Bananas have a soothing effect on the gut thanks to their high content of pectin, a soluble fibre which not only helps lower cholesterol but normalises bowel function. The high fibre content of bananas helps to promote feelings of fullness and appears to reduce bloating.
2. May support heart health
Bananas are loaded with valuable micronutrients, especially potassium, which is one of the most important electrolytes in the body. Potassium helps to regulate heart function as well as fluid balance which is a key factor in managing blood pressure. The effectiveness of potassium-rich foods such as bananas, in lowering blood pressure and protecting against heart disease and strokes is well accepted and bolstered by considerable scientific evidence.
3. May help in the management of heartburn
Unripe bananas help to neutralise stomach acid and a plant compound they contain, leucocyanidin, appears to promote the thickness of the mucous membrane of the stomach. This means bananas, as long as they are under-ripe, may be a useful dietary addition for those with heartburn.
4. Are an energy booster
Since they have a low water content, bananas typically have more calories as well as a higher sugar content compared to other fruits. They contain sugar in the forms of sucrose, fructose and glucose in combination with fibre, which allows them to supply an instant yet sustained boost of energy. Being rich in potassium they support muscle contraction during exercise and may reduce the risk of cramping. As such bananas make a valuable inclusion both before and during a prolonged form of intensive exercise.
5. May support mood
Bananas contain tryptophan, an amino acid which the body converts to the feel-good brain chemical serotonin. This brain chemical is known to help relaxation, improve mood, lessen anxiety and generally makes you feel happier. However, it is very difficult to raise blood levels of tryptophan through diet alone, and although animal studies suggest a possible link between the consumption of banana and improvements in anxiety and depression, it is likely to be more to do with the banana’s antioxidant content rather than their tryptophan contribution.
Are bananas safe for everyone?
Bananas are not suitable for everyone, for example, they may trigger migraine in people who are susceptible to them.
Bananas may initiate an allergic reaction in some people. Allergy symptoms normally develop within minutes, and you should see your GP if you experience an adverse reaction. However, if this develops into a severe reaction, known as anaphylaxis, it is a medical emergency and you should call for an ambulance immediately.
Certain medication works by raising the potassium levels in the blood, if you are prescribed medication of this nature you should take care when eating foods rich in potassium, such as bananas.
Are bananas good for you?
The bottom line is yes, bananas are good for you. They provide an impressive hit of potassium, fibre and tryptophan, meaning they can support your gut, heart and mood. What's more, bananas contain carbohydrates and natural sugars, making them an energising choice for before a workout. However, as with most other foods, they should be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet.
If you are taking prescribed medication, always check with your GP before making any dietary changes.
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