Hand of Bananas - © bimbingan.org

A Banana A Day Keeps The Doctor Away? Or Not?

Bananas. There’s no fruit that’s more familiar to more people around the world. Not even apples. But opinion is divided as to whether bananas are good or bad for you. A British food writer weighed the pros and cons…

Bananas on the tree - © lolitafruitA ‘stem’ of Bananas on the tree. You can discern the individual
‘hands’ which we see in the store. They’re harvested
green and ripen on the way to market…

Susanna Galton is a frequent contributor to the London Daily Telegraph. She writes on just about any topic that captures her fancy. If I was really, really curious as to why her fancy lit momentarily on bananas, I’d tap into her X (Twitter) account and ask. But I’m more interested in what she has to say about them.

Full of good things

Bananas are indisputably full of good things. And low on most bad things. The official Nutrition facts chart for ‘1 medium Banana’ shows the fruit packs only a little over 100 Calories, mostly made up of carbs and sugar. Bananas can boast virtually zero fat and zero cholesterol. And they contain less than 2 mg of demon sodium. Not much protein to speak of. But they provide up to 10 percent of your daily fibre requirement. And they also deliver 10 percent of your daily potassium requirement and 17 percent of the vitamin C you need.

“It’s fascinating to watch the different stages of the fruit develop and know it can make a difference to the health benefits reaped – or not,” Penny Weston, the nutrition expert behind wellness platform MADE, told Galton. “Barely ripe bananas have high fibre and low sugar. And while they can taste more bitter, high fibre is good for feeding gut bacteria and helping the process through the gut. Keeping your gut healthy is good for the rest of your body.”

The pros and cons…

Doctors have routinely been recommending, for years, that folks low in potassium – a common condition in older age – eat a banana a day, rather than taking pill or powder supplements.

If you find yourself dying of thirst and ripe bananas are available, take heart in the knowledge that they are 75 percent water.

Craving a sweet treat? You need look no farther, in nature, than the Banana. And one banana counts as one official serving of fruit/veggies under the official US national dietary recommendations.

But how do bananas stack up ‘under the microscope’?

On the plus side…
  • They’re packed with potassium
  • They’re packed with vitamin C
  • They’re low in Sodium
  • They’re a ‘clean’ energy source: “Bananas contain three natural sugars – sucrose, fructose and glucose – giving you a fat and cholesterol-free source of energy. The mix of carbs and potassium are useful for exercise performance and muscle growth,” Galton writes.
  • They can help with digestion: One medium banana provides around 10 to 12 per cent of your daily fibre needs. “Traditionally bananas have been found to ease constipation, stomach ulcers and heartburn,” Weston observes.
  • They can reduce your risk of cancer: “There is some research to suggest that the starch found in an unripe banana can reduce the risk of some cancers by 60 per cent,” says Weston.
On the minus side…
  • You can have too much potassium
  • Bananas may cause gas and bloating
  • They can spike your blood sugar
  • Too many will make you fat: An online Telegraph reader commented, “bananas are basically Mars bars in a yellow [wrapper].” All that sugar!
  • Avoid them at bedtime: Eating a banana just before bed can rob you of sleep as surely as a cup of coffee or a caffeinated soda. Bananas should be avoided before bed as they can cause restless sleep due to the high levels of melatonin (a sleep hormone) they contain, which can cause an imbalance,” says Weston. Some folks take melatonin supplements to help them sleep. But the implication is that you can OD on melatonin, with backlash effects. She does add, however, that if you don’t personally find it affects your sleep, it’s not a bad bedtime snack option since, “a banana can be digested quickly”.

My take

I humbly add, to what Granton had to say, that I personally know 2 people who can’t stand bananas. They are ‘too sweet’ for these folks, and the fruit gives them considerable digestive upset. They have adoped other go-to fruits and veggies, and occasional supplements, to get the stuff they would otherwise get easily and naturally from fruits like bananas.

But if you can tolerate bananas – like the vast majority of us – Granton suggests you follow the moderation rule: ‘moderation in all things’. Limit yourself to one or at most 2 bananas a day. Otherwise you, too, may be courting excess gas and bloating!

And don’t forget… bananas are also – in spite of rocketing produce prices – still one of the cheapest fresh fruits you can get!

~ Maggie J.