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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 (overripe).
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. This banana Musa sapienta varies in size and colour and is 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.
An 80g serving (a small banana) provides:
65 Kcal / 278 KJ
An 80g serving that’s 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 5-a-day.
Top 5 health benefits
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 form of sucrose, fructose and glucose in combination with fibre, this 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.
If you are taking prescribed medication, always check with your GP before making any dietary changes.
This article was updated on 29th July 2021 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a Registered Nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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