Bananas are one of nature’s great snack foods, but did you know that they’re also packed with health benefits? Most of us know they’re a great source of potassium but I’m going to share some of the more surprising banana health benefits – my favourite is hangover cure! Read on for 10 banana health benefits that will give you more energy, improved digestion and even improve the way you look and feel.
Top 10 Banana Health Benefits
Potassium is an essential mineral which maintains proper heart function and regulates your blood pressure. Potassium-rich foods such as bananas actually offset the effect of sodium (salt) in raising your blood pressure. This, along with a healthy diet and lifestyle, lowers your risk of heart attack and stroke. (source)
This isn’t pseudoscience. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows the banana industry to make official claims, much like they would a pharmaceutical drug, with respect to the reduction in risk of high blood pressure and stroke. Research published in the American Heart Association’s journal suggests eating bananas regularly can cut your risk of having a stroke by up to 20%. (source)
Bananas’ potassium content also benefits your kidneys and bones. Increased potassium intake suppresses calcium excretion in the urine, preventing painful kidney stones. (source)
Decreased calcium excretion means more calcium to preserve your bones. This means a banana or two a day can reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis and brittle bones. (source)
2. Increased Energy
Sports drinks, energy bars and electrolyte gels are extremely popular nowadays, however you often see professional athletes eating bananas just before and even during their sports.
Watching tennis for instance, it’s not uncommon to see the players snacking on a piece of banana in between games. If a banana can keep a professional tennis player going, it must rank highly as a healthy energy source.
I’ve experimented with this myself – working out with, or without a banana – and seem to consistently do better when I have one before training. Bananas’ natural sugars balanced with soluble fiber give me a slow, stable energy release when eaten half an hour before I hit the gym.
Some people are worried about bananas spiking blood sugar, but tests show they actually have a glycemic index of around 52, with 24 g of available carbs (lower the less ripe they are). That’s a glycemic load in the vicinity of 12 which isn’t considered that high. These figures will obviously vary depending on variety and ripeness. (source)
Bananas make a great work snack to combat that mid-afternoon slump. They’re a good choice for weight loss too – a small banana contains about 100 calories and will satisfy your sweet cravings.
If you can replace candy bars and other junk foods with bananas, it’s a helpful step towards losing weight. Not only will your body thank you for the vitamin and mineral boost but the energy release will be much more consistent.
3. Improved Digestion
Most of us don’t get nearly enough fiber in our diets. Fiber is needed to help food travel smoothly through the digestive tract. It also improves your bowel movements. Bananas are a great source of dietary fiber.
A couple of bananas is a better choice than taking a laxative to treat occasional constipation.
Turning to another important element of digestion, bananas are rich in fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS). FOS is a prebiotic – i.e. it feeds the important “friendly” bacteria that live in your digestive tract. These bacteria help us absorb nutrients more efficiently. (source)
4. Cure for Ulcers & Heartburn
Bananas are a known cure for heartburn. They help balance your stomach’s pH and enhance the protective mucus layer, relieving pain. The fiber content also moves food through your digestive tract faster – preventing reflux. (source)
Eating bananas regularly may help protect against stomach ulcers. Over the long term, bananas thicken the protective mucus barrier in the stomach, preventing damage from hydrochloric acid. Bananas also contain protease inhibitors that help eliminate stomach bacteria which can cause stomach ulcers. (source)
5. Vitamin B6
Bananas are particularly high in vitamin B6. This vitamin is important for creating hemoglobin for healthy blood.
B6 is also involved in maintaining proper blood sugar levels, synthesizing and breaking down amino acids and producing antibodies for a stronger immune response in your body.
Just one banana has a full fifth of your recommended daily intake of vitamin B6. And they taste much better than vitamin pills too! (source)
6. Skin Conditions
Even the banana’s skin has its uses. It is great for treating skin conditions like psoriasis and acne.
Rub the freshly peeled inside of the banana skin gently over the affected area and leave the residue to be absorbed. The fatty acid content of the banana skin helps relieve a variety of skin conditions, as well as having a strong moisturising effect. (source)
In the case of psoriasis you may notice some further reddening initially, but this should improve after a few days of use. Patch test on a small area if you have any concerns. It usually takes several weeks to see the full benefit from this treatment.
Banana peel treatments are a traditional remedy to heal warts. Rub a small piece of banana peel over the wart and then tightly tape it in place. Leave it overnight and repeat this process for at least a week or until the wart disappears. (source)
Many testimonials online have reported good results with these simple treatments, though results with natural cures can be varied. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who’s tried any of these techniques for themselves.
7. Other Vitamins & Minerals
In addition to the high levels of potassium and vitamin B6 mentioned above, bananas also have high levels of vitamin C, magnesium and manganese.
They are also a source of most of the other B vitamins and smaller amounts of trace minerals like iodine, iron, selenium and zinc. (source)
8. A Cancer Fighter?
Recent Japanese animal research linked bananas that are fully ripe (with dark spots) to production of a compound called TNF–a. This is a cytokine believed to have the potential to increase white blood cell count, thus enhancing your immunity and combating cancerous cell changes. (source)
Personally, I don’t put too much stock in animal studies. Regardless, increasing overall fruit consumption in your diet has been consistently linked to a lower risk of developing various cancers.
9. Improves Mood and Reduces Stress
Bananas are a good source of the amino acid tryptophan which your body converts to serotonin.
Amongst many other things, proper serotonin levels help improve your mood, reduce stress and enhance your general outlook and happiness levels. It also helps regulate your sleep patterns.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid because the only way your body gets it is through your diet. Bananas, while certainly not the highest source out there, are one of the easiest ways to get a little more tryptophan. Another reason why bananas make such a great snack for when you’re feeling stressed out at work. (source)
10. Hangover Cure
Bananas are a great choice for mornings when you’ve overdone it a bit the night before. A couple of bananas blended with ice, berries and coconut milk or cow’s milk makes a really good hangover recovery drink.
Just about all of the health benefits we’ve discussed come into play here. Of course the better solution is not to drink so much the night before. But just in case, it’s good to have some bananas around for the next morning.
As I tend to get mine in bulk and don’t always finish them before they get too ripe, I like to chop up any excess ones on their last legs and put them in a container in the freezer. These are great to drop straight from the freezer into the blender instead of ice cubes for brilliant creamy smoothies.
And here’s a tasty recipe with banana, strawberries and pear for anxiety!
So there you have it – 10 great reasons to pick up a bunch of bananas the next time you’re out getting groceries. While pesticides aren’t considered a significant problem with bananas, fair trade fruits are worth looking for if you can find them.
How do you like to eat your bananas? Alone or mixed with other foods – on top of a healthy muesli or blended up in a smoothie? I’m very interested to hear any ideas or suggestions you might have for more beneficial ways to enjoy bananas.