6 Reasons to Reach for a Banana
Bananas are tasty, highly portable and high in potassium—but they also boast several other potential health benefits.
Bananas have been the go-to food for fueling workouts for a long time—but do they have health benefits?
Bananas give us a lot to smile about. For starters, they're inexpensive. A pound of bananas (about four pieces of fruit) averages just 60 cents. Also, they're perfectly packaged for an on-the-go snack to grab on the way out the door to school, work or the gym. And finally: they're delicious, with a sweet and creamy taste that is equally enjoyable as a topping for oatmeal, sliced into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or just eaten straight out of the peel.
Related: Healthy Banana Recipes
All of the above likely factor into why bananas are America's favorite fresh fruit. We eat 14 pounds of bananas per person each year on average. That's the same amount of fresh apples and oranges we eat in a year—combined! Clearly we're fans of this peel-and-go fruit—but bananas also have a bunch of health benefits too. Read on for more about what makes bananas a healthy choice for everything from fueling a workout to naturally satisfying a sweet tooth.
Pictured Recipe: Spinach, Peanut Butter & Banana Smoothie
Nutrition Information for Bananas
A medium banana contains:
Total fat: 0 g
Protein: 1 g
Carbohydrate: 27 g
Sugars: 14 g
Fiber: 3 g
Bananas are perhaps best known for being a good source of potassium, but here's something that may surprise you: bananas only contain about 9% of your potassium needs for the day—and several other foods contain far more of this mineral. But don't let that deter you, as the fruit also provides numerous other health benefits, including about one-quarter of your vitamin B6 needs for the day, as well as 11% of your daily needs of vitamin C. Bananas are a good source of the minerals copper and manganese, and contain other healthy compounds including phytosterols, resistant starch and prebiotics.
They're also a good fix for a sugar craving—particularly if you reach for an overripe banana. If you let a banana overripen (think: brown-speckled, cheetah-like spots), the natural sugar content will increase to about 20 grams, depending on the ripeness of the fruit. And yes, even though bananas contain sugar, you should still eat them for their beneficial nutrient profile.
"As a banana ripens, the starch found in an unripe, green banana converts into sugar, producing the yellow banana, a much sweeter fruit," Amanda Kirpitch, M.A., RDN, CDCES, founder of Nutrition Perspective LLC, says. "The total carbohydrate content remains the same throughout the stages of ripening, but the ratio of sugar to starch changes."
Much of the starch in a green banana is resistant starch, which is not metabolized in the small intestine and therefore does not produce a significant rise in glucose. As the fruit ripens, the conversion to sugar eliminates virtually all of the resistant starch.
Resistant starch has benefits ranging from gut health to blood sugar control and weight management. But green bananas are tough and bitter, not exactly the taste you're going for when it comes to fruit. That's why companies have started producing green banana flour, which is a more palatable way to reap the benefits of resistant starch.
The many health benefits of bananas
Bananas are delicious—and they're also good for you. Here are six benefits you'll enjoy.
Lower risk of heart disease
Bananas are good for the ticker in more ways than one. First, they're high in fiber, with 3 grams per medium banana. Studies show fiber lowers LDL cholesterol, which when high is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Additionally, bananas contain phytosterols, a plant compound that helps block the absorption of cholesterol in our body. Lastly, bananas are a prebiotic (which is food for the good gut bacteria in our systems). Limited (but growing) research suggests prebiotics lower some risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Decrease blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke
Bananas provide potassium, and potassium helps lower blood pressure. It does this in part by lessening the effects of sodium by flushing it from the body. Yet the research shows that many Americans don't get enough potassium in their diets. A great way to help fix that is to grab a banana! (Just check with your doc before going too crazy with your potassium consumption, as it can interfere with some medications.)
Pictured Recipe: Baked Banana-Nut Oatmeal Cups
A healthy fuel source for workouts
Bananas are a go-to food for many athletes, eaten before, during or after a workout.
"A banana has 400 milligrams of potassium and 32 milligrams of magnesium, as well as calcium and some other micronutrients," Kirpitch says. "The combination of potassium and magnesium, along with carbs, make bananas a preferred choice for athletes. They provide essential energy while also helping to reduce risk for muscle cramps."
If you've ever trained for an endurance event, you know sports drinks and gels aren't for everyone, whether you object to the taste or the way they settle in your stomach. Chomping on a banana may be a better solution: A 2018 study found that when compared to sugar water and regular water, consuming bananas during a cycling time trial led to improved metabolic recovery and a decrease in inflammation, perhaps due to naturally occurring antioxidants.
Support weight management goals
Have you ever heard that bananas have "too many carbs," or "too much sugar" and that if you're trying to lose weight you should skip 'em? This just isn't true. In fact, in a 2015 study published in PLOS Medicine, Harvard researchers looked for a link between the intake of certain fruits and vegetables and changes in weight. Their analysis included more than 130,000 men and women and showed that eating fruit like bananas was not associated with weight gain. A medium banana has 105 calories along with 3 grams of fiber, which research shows increases satiety and reduces appetite. So go ahead and add bananas to your diet.
Improve mood and anxiety
One medium banana provides about 5% of your daily folate needs, and is good source of potassium. Low folate levels are linked to depression, while potassium has been shown to help temper anxiety. "When anxiety is high, the balance of sodium and potassium is often dis-regulated," Kirpitch says. "Choosing foods that are high in potassium can reset this balance and help with decreased stress and improved mood."
Promote a healthy gut
Bananas contain prebiotic fiber, which feeds probiotics, the healthy bacteria in our guts. The science on probiotics is building but their potential benefits include treating diarrhea after a course of antibiotics, and supporting your immune system and heart health. Additionally, eating bananas may help reduce bloating.
Pictured Recipe: 2-Ingredient Peanut Butter Banana Ice Cream
Ways to enjoy bananas
Of course, a plain banana is perfect on its own, or with a spoonful of nut butter for a more filling snack. But sometimes you need a little variety—or simply have to use up some bananas that ripened a little more quickly than you were expecting. Give yourself permission to indulge in the current banana bread craze, or whip up these Carrot & Banana Muffins for on-the-go breakfasts. Keep it simple by topping overnight oats with sliced bananas and a bit of chocolate hazelnut spread, or treat yourself to nice cream for a healthier frozen treat. The best part? Customize the base and mix-ins to please your crowd (or yourself!).