Bananas are the fourth most popular agricultural crop worldwide with 100 billion bananas eaten every year around the world. It is estimated in the United States every American eats about 27 pounds of bananas per year.
While bananas are a beloved choice for many, are there any health benefits of bananas? Bananas can often get overlooked as a nutrient powerhouse because they are white in color. Other fruits and vegetables that are the colors of the rainbow may be seen as a higher source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. However, bananas should not be overlooked as a good source of important nutrients.
Like all fruits, bananas are a natural source of carbohydrates. While carbohydrates can be construed as “fattening”, bananas are good for weight loss since they provide fiber and resistant starch.
An average banana provides about 100 calories, provides 3 grams of fiber and provides a source of many vitamins and minerals.
Here are seven unique benefits listed below for bananas.
Good source of Vitamin B6
Eating a medium banana provides about 20% DV vitamin B6. The body uses B6 to make protein, glycogen stores and hemoglobin for red blood cells. B6 has many other functions; it is a co-enzyme in over 100 reactions in the body.
Bananas are often associated as a source of potassium and rightly so; a medium banana provides about 12% DV potassium. However, bananas provide more minerals than just potassium. A medium banana can also provide about 8% DV magnesium.
Some research suggests a diet high in sodium and low in potassium may increase the risk for high blood pressure in some people. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t get the recommended daily intake of potassium.
On average, Americans get about 2,600 mg of the recommended 4,700 mg of potassium per day. Eat more bananas as part of a balanced diet to help boost your daily potassium intake. A diet higher in potassium may help lower blood pressure and can be beneficial for heart health.
WebMD suggests every cell in the body needs magnesium, and getting enough magnesium may also provide unique heart health benefits.
Some research suggests people with heart disease may have a higher need for magnesium. Magnesium may help body cells fight off stress which could translate to protecting against chronic diseases like heart disease.
High in antioxidants
Bananas can be a surprising source of antioxidants. A medium banana provides about 17% DV of antioxidant vitamin C. A 2002 study concluded bananas can be considered a good source of natural antioxidants. This study found bananas are a source of the particular antioxidant gallocatechin.
A 2000 study also concluded bananas are a good source of antioxidants. Besides gallocatechin, bananas are a source of dopamine. Dopamine is considered a neurotransmitter in the brain, but when it is found in food, it acts as an antioxidant when we consume it.
A medium banana provides about 3 grams (12% DV) of fiber. Bananas have a mix of pectin and resistant starch fibers. An unripe banana has higher amounts of resistant starch, and as the banana ripens the resistant starch turns to pectin. Regardless of the ripeness of the banana, these fibers from bananas can provide many health benefits.
Fiber can help increase satiety after eating, and soluble pectin fiber can help regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
A diet high in fiber has been associated with weight regulation and lowering risk for obesity. Like potassium, many Americans do not get the recommended intake of daily fiber. Eating more fruits and vegetables, like bananas, can help bump up your fiber intake.
Resistant starch in bananas
The resistant starch from unripe bananas may play a beneficial role in appetite regulation and as a result, may be helpful with weight management. A 2010 study found resistant starch may be useful in the management of metabolic syndrome and appetite regulation.
A 2014 review on resistant starch suggests some research has found resistant starch intake is associated with increased fat oxidation, preservation of lean body mass, reduced postprandial insulin and increased release of satiety hormones after eating.
More research is needed on resistant starch and weight regulation, but some studies suggest eating foods with resistant starch may be beneficial for weight loss.
Digestive health and bananas
Bananas can be a quick fuel source before exercise. They are also usually well tolerated as a food to turn to when your digestive system is not feeling well. Bananas are considered “easy” to digest and are usually well tolerated by most people.
One exception may be those following a low FODMAP diet for sensitivity to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Those following a low FODMAP diet may do better with unripe bananas compared to ripe bananas because unripe bananas have a higher amount of resistant starch.
On the other hand, those wanting to eat a light snack either before a workout or because of an upset stomach may do better choosing a ripe banana that has a higher amount of pectin fiber and lower resistant starch.
Promote kidney health
A 2005 study analyzed data from epidemiologic studies looking at the relationship between fruit, vegetable intake and kidney cancer risk.
Researchers gathered data for 13.4 years from about 61,000 women. Researchers found among fruits, bananas had the strongest inverse relationship with kidney cancer risk. Root vegetables, white cabbage and salad greens also showed an associated inverse relationship for kidney cancer risk.
These data suggest eating bananas may protect kidney cells from cancer and may offer kidneys additional health benefit.
A word of caution with bananas and kidney health: if you have kidney disease or are at risk for kidney disease, speak with your doctor before adding bananas to your diet.
Following a LOW potassium diet may be recommended for certain stages of kidney disease; therefore, limiting bananas in this instance may be advised by your healthcare team. Bananas may be beneficial for protecting kidneys from cancer risk but may not be recommended if there are health issues with your kidneys.