Bananas are a staple fruit all around the world, but are originally from Southeast Asia. They are grown in warm climates, and are an excellent source of fiber, potassium, vitamin C, and plant compounds.
There are many varieties of bananas, so you’ll find them in different colors, tastes, shapes, and sizes. They are also a very versatile fruit, as you can enjoy them alone, make a delicious banana bread (recipe later), or banana pudding, not to mention that they make an excellent first baby food.
Not only do bananas make a tasty and filling snack, but they also contain powerful antioxidants that can help to prevent disease. Read on to learn all about bananas, and why you should incorporate them into your diet (if you haven’t already).
5 Fun Facts About Bananas
Before we dive further into the nutrition facts and health benefits, check out these fun facts you probably didn’t know about one of your favorite fruits:
- There are over 1,000 varieties of bananas, but most are not palatable. The ubiquitous yellow bananas we see in stores all over the United States are the Cavendish variety.
- Every year over 100 billion bananas are consumed!
- Technically, bananas are actually berries.
- One study found that the scent of bananas could suppress your appetite. Try adding this easy trick to your weight loss repertoire.
- Bananas make a great post- and during-exercise snack, as they are packed full of potassium and complex carbohydrates to replenish energy stores.
Bananas Nutrient Facts
Many people ask how many calories are in a banana, and the answer is that one regular (medium) banana contains roughly 100 calories. It is generally thought of as a high-carbohydrate fruit, and while this is true, it also offers a considerable amount of protein, coming in at about 1.5 grams.
Also, the carbohydrate content of bananas is largely comprised of a type of starch called resistant starch—which means it is not digestible by the body, and therefore is classified as fiber. This type of starch is very important to human health, as it passes through the large intestine where it is fermented and converted into a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate, which is important for supporting intestinal health.
Health Benefits of Bananas
Many people have the false impression that bananas are low in nutrients and high in carbohydrates, and best avoided. While bananas are a starchy fruit (but see above), they come with many important nutrients and fiber that slow down the absorption of their sugars. Eating them with healthy protein and fat is best to avoid a blood sugar spike, but bananas are a satiating (filling) fruit that can help you curb cravings for refined carbs and sugar.
Check out the following benefits of bananas:
Bananas are rich in (and best known for their) potassium content, which is critical for heart health and maintaining healthy blood pressure. One medium-sized banana offers 0.4 grams of potassium, and research shows that 1.4 grams of potassium each day will lower your risk of heart disease by a whopping 26 percent.
Packed Full of Nutrients and Fiber
Along with potassium, bananas also boast a good amount of vitamins C and B6. Vitamin C is widely known for its important role in immune health, and vitamin B6 plays a role in helping the body convert food to energy.
Bananas are very high in fiber, especially in pectin and resistant starch. Pectin has been shown to mitigate the blood sugar response after eating a carbohydrate food, and resistant starch has been proven to promote healthy gut bacteria (probiotics).
Support Digestive Health
Largely thanks to their fiber content, bananas make for an excellent food to promote healthy digestion. Both pectin and resistant starch are known as prebiotics, which support the growth of probiotics.
Is It True that I Should Avoid Bananas Because They are High in Sugar?
For diabetics or others with metabolic disorders, it is even more important to eat bananas, alongside a protein and healthy fat, as this will help to control the blood sugar elevation caused by carbohydrate and sugar-rich foods. Banana nutrient benefits are great, so there’s no reason to avoid them completely—just be sure to eat them alongside other foods.
Some great combinations could be a banana with a tablespoon of natural almond or peanut butter, a banana with plain yogurt—or Greek yogurt, which is even higher in protein—or a banana with a handful of nuts or seeds.
10 Ways to Use Bananas
Just eating them plain is great, but check out all of these other new (and more exciting) ways to incorporate bananas into your diet. Yum!
1. Impress Your Guests with Banana Pudding
This is a favorite in many households, but try making it even healthier by using honey instead of sugar, coconut milk instead of regular milk, and walnuts for healthy fats. Check out this recipe for more details on how to make your banana pudding far healthier, and impress your guests.
2. Bake Banana Bread
Banana bread is also a favorite of many, not to mention a perfect way to use up bananas that are just a bit overripe. There are many ways to make your banana bread healthier than the typical version that is loaded with white sugar, and see our recipe below for one idea.
3. Enjoy One-Ingredient Banana Ice Cream
This is the easiest ice cream recipe you’ll ever find, and it’s incredibly delicious. Using overripe bananas, stick them in the freezer (peeled) and leave them there until they’re totally frozen. Then remove them, cut them into chunks and add them to a food processor until they are smooth and creamy! Add your favorite toppings such as cinnamon (actually shown to support blood sugar), walnuts, shredded coconut, or dark chocolate chips.
4. Make Baby Food
Bananas are easy for your baby to digest, and have a naturally soft and creamy taste. Simply mash it with a fork for little ones, or (if you’re following more of a baby-led weaning approach) hand them the banana and let them go to town. Bath will likely need to follow.
5. Post-Workout Snack
Many commercial workout-related foods and beverages are packed full of artificial ingredients and added sugars. Bananas are a starchy fruit that naturally replenish your glycogen stores after a hard workout, giving you an instant energy boost without the refined sugar.
Furthermore, potassium is a major electrolyte that your body loses through sweating, so if you are sweating a lot during your workout, replenishing with electrolytes (like potassium) is important. Try pairing a banana with natural coconut water, no sugar added.
6. Freeze Bananas to Make a Smoothie
Frozen bananas make an excellent addition to your smoothie, and you are unlikely to have to add any other sort of sweetener. Peel and freeze ripe bananas and add them as-is to a smoothie with a high quality protein powder, a handful of greens and an unsweetened almond or coconut milk base (or raw regular milk), and ice as desired for consistency.
7. Dip Them in Dark Chocolate
What better way to satisfy that nagging sweet tooth but with fresh fruit and antioxidant-rich dark chocolate? Choose a 70% or higher chocolate and melt it gently over the stove or in a double boiler. Take frozen bananas and cut them into chunks, then dip those chunks into your melted chocolate and place them on a baking tray with parchment paper. Place them back into the freezer until solid, and enjoy!
8. Have Them with Peanut Butter
Bananas and peanut butter make a delightfully rich—and healthy—combination. Not only in terms of taste, but a natural peanut butter (no sugar added) is a perfect balance of healthy fats and a bit of protein to pair with the naturally occurring fruit sugars of a banana, and will help to mitigate the body’s blood sugar response.
9. Make Banana Pancakes
Instead of relying on sugary syrup to sweeten your pancakes, naturally sweeten them by mixing in one or two ripe bananas. Mash them up well and add them to your recipe, then top them with a thin spread of natural peanut or almond butter.
For extra healthy fats, protein and less simple carbohydrates, try searching for a banana pancake recipe that uses coconut or almond flour as a base, or simply substitute a whole wheat flour for white for extra fiber and some nutrients.
10. Bake Banana Cookies
These three ingredient, grain-free cookies are easy, tasty and healthy! There’s a good chance your kids will even like them too, and not a bad way to sneak some fruit into the diet of a picky eater. Instead of refined flour, this recipe calls for almond flour (or meal), any nut butter you’d like and chocolate (choose a dark chocolate for less sugar), along with trusty, ripe bananas for natural sweetness. Yum.
Banana Bread Recipe
It’s hard not to love banana bread, and it’s a great food to whip up and bring for dessert at a dinner party, or even have a healthy version on hand for your kids at snack time.
- 1/3 cup coconut oil or grass-fed butter, melted
- 1/4 cup Grade B maple syrup or raw honey (melt your honey if necessary)
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup ripe banana, mashed
- 1/4 cup unsweetened almond or coconut milk, or regular milk
- 1 tsp baking soda
- pinch of salt
- pinch of cinnamon
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
- Add in chopped walnuts and/or raisins if you’d like, or any other addition
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease a loaf pan (9 x 5 works well).
- Mix together your oil or butter, honey and eggs, then add in your milk and mashed banana.
- Next, add in the baking soda, vanilla, cinnamon and salt, and whisk thoroughly.
- Last, slowly add in your flour and any other additions you’re including.
- Pour your batter into the loaf pan and top with some cinnamon if you’d like. Bake it for anywhere from 50-60 minutes, depending on your oven, and check with a fork or toothpick for doneness.
- Allow your banana bread to cool, and serve! This bread also freezes well for snacks throughout the week, and you can easily reheat it in a toaster oven.
There you have it! If bananas aren’t already a regularly eaten fruit in your diet, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be. Choose organic whenever possible, and eat bananas alongside a bit of protein and healthy fat to minimize rises in blood sugar. All around, bananas are a fantastic source of fiber, potassium and other important nutrients, and work perfectly as a natural sweetener to healthy desserts.