You guys see my shopping. Does it even warrant saying that bananas are a staple in our house? Not only are they a must have for smoothies, but they’re regularly consumed as snacks and used in baking as well.
We love bananas because they’re incredibly cheap – 19 cents for a perfectly ripe yellow crescent at Trader Joes. They can be found for even less if your grocery store is looking to move some aging produce.
We love bananas because they’re easy to eat. Start the peel and the kids can do the rest. Heck, The Boy is almost 5 and he’s on the verge of doing it himself (and Mommy gets double the reward since he can then peel his sister’s too. )
We love bananas because they’re so versatile. Eat them plain, with peanut butter, with ice cream, in yogurt, in oatmeal, blended with milk… I really don’t think there’s a wrong way to eat a banana. They don’t need to be refrigerated and can easily be frozen if you’re not able to eat them in time.
A light bulb went off inside my brain this past weekend when it hit me – I’m always buying bananas. Nearly every trip to Costco or Trader Joe’s includes a bunch (or two) of these yellow fruits. I started to wonder if they were doing my family any good. I mean, I knew they were high in potassium, but what exactly does that mean? They are a fruit, and all fruits are good right? Are they still good for you when they’re consumed in mass quantities? (We went through 74 bananas last month!) Can you overdose on potassium?!
I figured it’s time I educated myself. Even more so if we decide to invest in banana stocks and make a return on our grocery shopping.
What is a banana?
Did you know that banana plant is not a tree, rather it’s the world’s largest herb? (How’s that for a water cooler topic?) The plant behaves like a perennial by dying after each fruiting and producing new growth for the next generation of fruit. Bananas require warm temperatures and consistent rainfall to survive, and oddly enough, appear to grow upside down with the stems connecting at the bottom attached to the tree and the tips pointed upwards.
Bananas also come in various colors – green, red and purple are not uncommon.
Since the ripening process of bananas does not have to occur on the tree, most fruits are picked while unripe. When buying bananas, choose a bunch based on when you plan to eat them. If you want to eat them now, aim for bright yellow. If you need them in a few days, aim for greenish barely yellow.
Green bananas offer just as much nutrition as their fully ripened yellow counterparts so there’s no reason to avoid them. That is, unless you need a very soft banana for a particular purpose.
We know bananas are impressive when it comes to potassium. Why is this important? Potassium is required for heart activity and muscle contraction, and not just our biceps. Normal bodily functions, like digestion toxin filtering, use muscles too. Potassium maintains the pH balance and acts like electrolytes by transmitting electrical activity between cells.
The average baked potato, with the skin, contains more potassium than a banana, as does 1/2 cup of prunes, but since most people turn their noses up at prunes and are on some sort of diet that eliminates the potato, we’re back to the banana at 422 mg of potassium. To give perspective, the average person needs 4700 mg per day.
While it’s possible to “overdose” on potassium, it’s extremely uncommon. So uncommon that no maximum on potassium intake has been set. However, just for the sake of knowledge, consuming an excessive amount of potassium can overwhelm the kidneys and cause hyperkalemia (simply a high concentration of potassium in the blood). Symptoms include tingling extremities, muscle weakness or cardiac arrest caused by heart arrhythmia. To be clear, there isn’t a direct correlation between bananas and hyperkalemia. Potassium is found in a variety of other foods too (tomatoes, raisins, artichokes, broccoli, peas, apricots, cantaloupe, kiwis, lima beans, spinach, acorn squash, sunflower seeds, almonds, salmon, cod and sardines just to name a few) and hyperkalemia can be caused with just a minor intake of 18 mg a day (the equivalent of 1/4 of a brussels sprout).
Bascially, if you’re going to have hyperkalemia, it’s not because of the banana.
There’s more to a banana than potassium too; they’re a decent source of protein (when it comes to fruits) and there’s a good bit of fiber (3g for a medium piece of fruit).
The list of vitamins and minerals in the banana is huge: Vitamin A, Vitamins B1 (Thaimine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B6 and B9 (Folic Acid), Vitamin C, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron and Zinc.
Another cool reason to eat bananas? They contain tryptophan. Yep, once again, this make-you-sleepy amino acid helps keep our central nervous system (and my lack of patience) in check.
As if keeping our heart beating and muscles moving wasn’t reason enough to enjoy bananas, this list identifies nineteen other reasons why we should consider this wonder fruit.
- Have high blood pressure? Eat bananas.
- Have morning sickness? Eat bananas.
- Got PMS? Eat bananas.
- Trying to quit smoking? Eat bananas.
Whether the banana truly is the miracle fruit this site claims it to be, I don’t know, but a diet filled with a variety of fruits and vegetables – including the banana – certainly is a good thing.
Busting the Myths
It was (and possibly still is) believed that consuming bananas causes weight gain because of the caloric content. While bananas are higher in calories than most fruit, they contain a certain type of fiber than makes you feel full temporarily thus eating less. This same type of fiber is not readily absorbed by your body, so your body creates butyrate. As it turns out, butyrate may prevent our bodies from burning carbohydrates, which means our body must burn fat instead!
Another common myth is that bananas cause diarrhea. Bananas actually do the opposite – the electrolyte-effect of potassium helps to regulate fluid balance and restore normal bowel movements. Keep in mind though that the banana is high in fiber and the more fiber you consume, the more you.. um, go.
All in all, bananas are a pretty darn good thing. I try to vary the types of fruit the kids eat, but now that I know bananas won’t cause a mad dash to the toilet amidst digging holes in the backyard, having two in one day won’t hurt.