The health benefits of bananas

Are bananas healthy?

A patient from Langley sent me an email recently asking whether or not bananas were healthy to consume.

A “nutritional expert” told him bananas were bad and he should stop eating them. The patient consumed one banana per day in a green drink that contained a variety of different healthy green foods and protein powder. He had no known reactions to bananas and generally enjoyed eating them.

Like all foods we consume, there is always a possibility of allergy or food intolerance. The actual rate of banana reactions is estimated to be less than 1% and may be connected to a latex sensitivity. Barring that, bananas are considered to be a healthy fruit and nutritious snack.

Bananas are the most popular fruit consumed in the world. More than 100 billion bananas are consumed yearly throughout the world. India, China and other countries in southeast Asia, as well as parts of Africa and Central and South America produce bananas. The average North American consumes approximately 26 pounds per year.

Bananas are technically classified as a berry and an herb. There are more than 50 groups of different bananas and over 1,000 different types. The plantain is considered to be a cooking banana, while the yellow Cavendish variety most commonly consumed from the supermarket is considered to be a dessert banana.

A cluster of bananas is called a “hand” and a single banana is called a “finger.” An average banana is 75% water. A banana usually floats in water owing to its low density. One medium banana contains about 11 milligrams of tryptophan, which is used to make the mood elevating hormone serotonin. Bananas also contains trace amounts of vitamin B6, vitamin C, manganese, melatonin, other antioxidants and phytonutrients.

One medium-sized banana weighs about 100 grams. The nutritional content of one banana translates to 90 calories, 1.1 gram of protein, 0.3 grams of fat and 23 grams of carbohydrates. It also includes 2.6 grams of fibre, 12 grams of sugars and no cholesterol. It is a myth perpetuated by some in the nutritional industry that bananas are extremely high in potassium. They contain average amounts of potassium compared to other fruits and vegetables. An average banana contains about 450 milligrams or potassium.

Other foods higher in potassium include 840 milligrams in one cup of cooked spinach, 710 milligrams in one avocado, 610 milligrams in one potato with its skin still on, 550 milligrams in one cup of plain yogurt, 520 milligrams in one beet, 510 milligrams in one cup of cooked Brussel sprouts and 460 milligrams in one cup of cooked broccoli. A medium sized banana also contains 27 milligrams of magnesium, 22 milligrams of phosphorus, five milligrams of calcium, 0.26 milligrams of iron and 0.15 milligrams of zinc.

Some people claim bananas are very high in sugar. Others claim bananas can make you fat. Neither is true. Up to 16% of the weight of a banana is made up of sugars. One medium sized banana contains about 23 grams of carbohydrates mainly as starch and simple sugars. It includes 12 grams of simple sugars as glucose, fructose and sucrose. Bananas have a moderate glycemic index between 42 to 58 making them suitable for consumption by diabetics in moderation. The sucrose content in an unripe banana was measured to be about one gram. In a ripe banana the sugar content increases to 2.5 grams but decreases back to about 1 gram when it is overripe. In the ripening process some of the starch gets converted to glucose increasing the sugar content of this fruit. Also, as one banana contains less than 100 calories and less than one gram of fat, they do not make you fat. Bananas are a healthy snack and are included in the main course in many tropical countries.

Bananas share about 50% of the same DNA as humans. While there are many different species the monoculture of the common yellow Cavendish banana has limited its genetic diversity. This has made this banana species very susceptible to fungal, bacterial and viral infections. The Gros Michel species was considered to be creamier and tastier than the Cavendish banana, but the species was rendered to extinction in the 19th century by a fungal infection called Panama disease.

Bananas are a wonderful addition to a healthy diet for most people. They can help you lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes, improve insulin sensitivity in Type 2 diabetics, aid in weight loss, satisfy a craving for sugar, decrease heartburn and stomach problems, aid in proper bowel function and relieve constipation, support a healthy intestinal microflora, provide electrolytes and energy for athletic recovery and anecdotal reports suggest that the inner banana peel may treat warts on the skin.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Doug Lobay is a practicing naturopathic physician in Kelowna, British Columbia.

He graduated with a bachelor of science degree from the University of British Columbia in 1987 and then attended Bastyr College of Natural Health Sciences in Seattle, Washington, where graduated with a doctorate in naturopathic medicine degree in 1991. While attending Bastyr College, he began to research the scientific basis of naturopathic medicine. 

He was surprised to find many of the current major medical journals abounded with scientific information on the use of diet, vitamins, nutritional supplements and herbal medicines.

Doug is a member of the College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia and has practiced as naturopathic family physician for more than 30 years.  He maintains a busy practice in Kelowna where he sees a wide age range of patients with various ailments.

He focuses on dietary modification, allergy testing, nutritional assessments, supplement recommendation for optimal health, various physical therapy modalities, various intravenous therapies including chelation therapy.

An avid writer, he has written seven books on various aspects of naturopathic medicine that are available on Amazon and was also a long-time medical contributor to the Townsend Letter journal for doctors and patients, where many of his articles are available to view on-line. He has also given numerous lectures, talks and has taught various courses on natural medicine.

Doug enjoys research, writing and teaching others about the virtues of natural health and good nutrition. When not working, he enjoys cycling, hiking, hockey, skiing, swimming, tennis and playing guitar.

If you have any further questions or comments, you can contact Dr. Lobay at 250-860-7622 or [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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