- Food and Cooking
Eating Bananas for better health, longevity and endurance
The powerful benefits of bananas
Bananas are the leading fruit consumed in the world, and easily the top one in the U.S., beating out the combined total of apples and oranges.
There are numerous health benefits to bananas, including helping to lose weight, lowering blood pressure, reducing the risks of asthma and cancer, helping overcome depression, improving the digestive system, aiding the performance of athletes, benefiting the heart, protecting against type II diabetes and strokes, stengthening bones and vision, helping preserve memory, shrinking swelling, making the nervous system stronger, and improving the production of white blood cells, among other benefits.
Amazingly, studies increasingly show that consuming a significant amount of potassium cuts back on the risk of dying from all causes by 20 percent.
We'll get into these benefits associated with consuming bananas, as well as many of the reasons behind them.
Eating bananas for better health
Video highlighting many of the benefits of bananas
Potassium and bananas
One of the major benefits of a banana is the amount of potassium in them, with one whole banana representing about 10 percent of the recommended daily allowance.
The FDA recognizes bananas as a preventative against both heart attacks and strokes because of being high in potassium levels.
First we'll look at how the increase in potassium in a diet is one of the most important changes a person can make to reduce the risk of heart disease, according to doctors. Combined with a decrease in sodium, it can make a big difference in the heart health of most people.
One study where participants consumed different levels of potassium, found the risk of death from ischemic heart disease in those consuming more potassium plunged by 49 percent. The amount of potassium consumed per day was 4069 mg for those that reduced their risk, against those consuming approximately 1000 mg per day.
One banana of regular size has on average of 422 mgs of potassium in it. This is believed to help protect against atherosclerosis and high blood pressure. The recommended daily allowance for potassium is 4700 mg. Less than 2 percent of U.S. adults consume the rda of potassium.
Increasing the amount of potassium in a diet has a vasodilation effect, which means it widens the blood vessels. This is one reason it helps prevent heart attacks and strokes.
A study of more than 40,000 American male health professionals over a four-year period, found that reduced the risk of stroke significantly when consuming foods rich in potassium. Other nutrients included in the diet were magnesium and cereal fiber.
Numerous studies have confirmed potassium helps to meaningfully reduce blood pressure.
Concerning the kidneys, when they're healthy they help regulate the correct amount of potassium retained in the body, while helping prevent kidney stones as people age.
Other benefits of increased potassium consumption are maintaining bone mineral density, retaining muscle mass, and helps muscles to contract and generate a response from nerve cells.
In general, potassium helps regulate the movement of nutrients and waste in and out of the body's cells. It also helps to maintain fluid levels where they need to be.
More on heart benefits of bananas
Beyond potassium, there are other heart benefits from bananas.
Bananas have a type of fat in small amounts called sterols. Since they have a structure close to that of cholesterol, they can block dietary cholesterol from being absorbed. Since it blocks absorption, they can help keep blood cholesterol at healthy levels.
As fiber relates to the heart, it's important to understand the approximate 3 grams of fiber in an average sized banana is water soluble fiber. That means 3 grams represents about 1 gram of soluble fiber for each banana eaten.
The importance of that is soluble fiber from food is associated with decreased risk of heart disease.
Monkey eating banana
Vitamin B6 benefits from bananas
Vitamin B6 has a significant role in converting food into energy, while aiding the body in metabolizing fats and proteins.
Among the many things B6 helps with are losing weight, boosting the production of white blood cells, reducing swelling, and protecting against type II diabetes. It also helps with eyes, liver, skin and hair.
Along with cardiovascular, it also helps the nervous, muscular and immune system functions.
It's a vital part of healthy brain development and function. They are also a big part of making you feel better because it makes the hormones like serotonin It also helps the body produce melatonin, which regulates a person's internal clock.
Level of vitamin B6 needed
Women that are pregnant or breastfeeding need vitamin B6. Recommendations there are for 1.9 milligrams a day for pregnant women, and 2.0 milligrams per day for women that are breastfeeding.
Average adult men or women under 50 are recommended to consume 1.3 milligrams. It should be no problem reaching that level when eating regular, balanced and a variety of meals.
For people over 50 the recommended amount of vitamin B6 is 1.5 mg for women and 1.7 mg for men.
Research has shown vitamin B6 can help with Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, depression, strokes and seizures. It appears to have a preventative effect on most neurological conditions. The assumption is this is the result of the production of serotonin and dopamine, which is associated with nerve communication.
Vitamin B6 from bananas also helps maintain a healthy heart.
Studies also find B6 can help reduce the risk of macular degeneration, which is a cause of blindness. Vitamin A in bananas also helps.
According to the Mayo Clinic, fiber helps people prevent or relieve constipation, maintain healthy weight, and lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Soluble fiber is found in bananas, and helps lower cholesterol and glucose levels.
Insoluble fiber is what helps move food through the digestive system. It is the fiber type that helps those struggling with constipation or irregular stools. This is also found in bananas.
Bananas have 3.1 grams of fiber, with 1 gram of that being soluble fiber. Daily recommendations are for adults to consume 25 grams of fiber per day, with 8 grams of that being soluble fiber. 8 grams is what is needed to effectively lower cholesterol levels.
Fiber and Weight loss
Soluble fiber slows down digestion of foods, resulting in a person feeling full.
Foods high in fiber normally are more filling. That's why when you eat a banana you feel full. Most people will eat less as a result. Foods high in fiber also be less energy dense than other foods, which means there are less calories in the same volume of food.
Bananas have both types of fiber, and are very healthy when combined with other foods having fiber content.
Even though bananas has a lot of natural sugar, the level of soluble fiber still helps sugar to be absorbed more, which could improve the blood sugar levels. With insoluble fiber, it could help to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Nutrition facts bananas
Pectin and Fiber
Within their overall fiber content, bananas have pectin, which is a different type of fiber.
What's important to understand is as bananas go through the process of ripening, water-soluble pectin increases. It's one of the major reasons they get softer.
As this happens, the concentration of fructose, when compared to other sugars, increases.
What that does is help normalize the pace of carbohydrate digestion and moderates the effect of banana consumption on blood sugar.
In the end, bananas tend to be more friendly to digestion than expected, because of this. Some think the high level of sugar makes it harder on digestion. That isn't the case when eating bananas later in the ripening process.
Fiber and benefits to the digestive system
There's another reason bananas rank low in their glycemic index or (GI) value, even with 14-15 grams of overall sugar.
Along with the water-soluble pectins just mentioned, there are also fructooligosaccharides or (FOS) in bananas.
These are carbohydrates that contain fructose which are usually not broken down by enzymes located in the digestive tract.
Instead of breaking down, they travel along the digestive tract until they arrive at the lower intestine. There it gets metabolized by bacteria.
This helps the body maintain the balance of friendly bacteria in the lower intestine, providing better digestive health.
The bottom line is fiber in the banana helps to regulate digestion and the conversion of carbohydrates to sugars. The release of simple sugars from foods being digested also remains well-regulated.
One study including women only found that those eating two bananas a day over a two-month period had an increase in Bifidobacteria. They also had less gastrointestinal problems and more regular bowel functions than those not eating the bananas.
One group of athletes that benefit from bananas are endurance athletes.
A study of cyclists in 2012 concluded those eating approximately one half a banana every 15 minutes throughout a race that last three hours, helped them perform as well as eating a sports drink with similar carbohydrate and mineral levels
Other athletes use bananas as a means of preventing muscle cramps. The reason for this is, low potassium levels are known to add to risk of muscle cramps. Some researchers believe potassium isn't necessarily the major reason for muscles cramping, but most believe it is one of the reasons.
Recent studies have also proven when a banana or two are eaten before an hour of exercise, blood potassium levels were higher after working out.
At this time there is no doubt to the benefit of bananas for the performance of endurance athletes.
The issue of cramping, which has evidence of being reduced by bananas, still needs more research to be conclusive.
Endurance athletes and bananas
Tryptophan is an amino acid found in bananas. One of the uses of tryptophan in the body is to produce 5-HTP. 5-HTP is a compound used in the body to manufacture serotonin and melatonin.
Serotonin helps to make you feel in a better mood and sleep better. Melatonin also enhances your ability to sleep.
Tryptophan is also thought to help you preserve your memory.
The recommend daily requirement for tryptophan is 4mg per kilogram of body weight or 1.8mg per pound. That means a person weighing 154 pounds should consume approximately 280mg of tryptophan per day.
Without enough consumption of tryptophan people can suffer negative side effects, such as insomnia, depression and irritability.
Adding tryptophan to your diet can reverse those symptoms. Bananas are one effective way to do that.
Specific benefits for women and children
When pregnant, some women get relief from eating a banana between meals. It reduces nausea accompanying morning sickness. It can also reduce the effects of PMS symptoms, by the blood sugar being regulated and the relaxation as a result of serotonin and melatonin.
A study by the Imperial College of London concluded that children who ate just one banana a day reduced the chance of developing asthma by a third.
Eating bananas, as well as oranges in the first two years of life, may help reduce the risk of developing childhood leukemia.
Some risks from eating bananas
There are a number of precautions related to eating bananas, but the vast majority of them are associated with consuming an enormous number of them daily. Realistically, no one is going to eat that many, so those risks can be safely dismissed.
That said, there are some real risks to eating bananas, and most of those are in regard to people with heart disease using beta-blockers. What can happen is an increase in potassium that could cause problems. Bananas can still be eaten, but only in moderation for those taking beta-blockers.
Another health risk is for those that have kidneys no longer fully functional. If your kidneys can no longer remove excess potassium from your blood, it could kill you.
Check with your doctor to see if there is any risk to eating bananas because of the high amount of potassium in them.
Less risky, but still important to know, is some people are allergic to bananas. Symptoms are usually in the throat or mouth, and include things like wheezing, itching, swelling and hives.
Also, If you eat a lot of bananas a day, there is a chance it could lead to stomach cramps, gas and bloating.
There you have it. Bananas, for most people, should be a consistent part of their everyday diets.
It's loaded with potassium, vitamin B6, fiber, tryptophan, and numerous other vitamins and minerals that boost our health and energy, put us in a better mood, improve our digestive system, help prevent heart disease, some cancer types, diabetes, and help us to sleep.
What's not to like about them? They taste great, work well with a lot of other fruits to create a variety of health fruit dishes, and can be bought at different stages of ripening to allow us to buy them in significant amounts and eat them throughout the week.
And not insignificant, they can still be bought for a very low price.
No wonder this is the most popular fruit in the world. It has so many things going for it.