08 July, 2011
Banana Nutrition Guide and Health Benefits
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, bananas are America’s favorite fresh fruit. Not surprising since they provide many vitamins and minerals in addition to being a good source of fiber.
Benefits of Bananas
Bananas are a good source of potassium, fiber and vitamin C. They are also an excellent source of vitamin B6. Dietary potassium is important for cardiovascular health, as it seems to be linked to lower blood pressure. Potassium also plays a role in protecting against muscle wasting, osteoporosis and kidney stones. Dietitians agree that the preferred source of potassium is from potassium-rich foods such as bananas as opposed to high-dose potassium supplements. Fiber is essential for protection against certain diseases and aids in intestinal health, helping to relieve and prevent constipation. Vitamin C helps to control infections and is an antioxidant, warding off free radicals in the body. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is involved in converting food into energy in the body. It is needed for the nervous system to function correctly, and it is needed for healthy skin, hair, eyes and liver.
Bananas for Indigestion
Bananas are found on a variety of natural and home remedy sites as a natural cure for indigestion and acid reflux. However, The British Society of Gastroenterology reports that some individuals blame bananas as being responsible for indigestion. The natural remedy sites claim that bananas act as an antacid in the body, therefore relieving heartburn.
Bananas for Constipation and Diarrhea
Due to their soluble fiber and potassium content, bananas are recommended for constipation and diarrhea. Fiber is a carbohydrate that the human body does not break down into smaller components therefore it is not digestible. It seems to be that for constipation, the fiber adds bulk to the stool so that it will move on through the intestines. For mild-to-moderate diarrhea, soluble fiber can help by soaking up the water in the intestines, creating a firmer stool that will take longer to pass. In fact, bananas are the B in BRAT diet recommended for diarrhea, along with rice, applesauce and toast.
Bananas for Heart Health
Electrolytes are vital to the heart’s functioning, if there is an imbalance, there can be arrhythmias and other cardiac complications. Of the electrolytes, potassium is most crucial for electrolyte stabilization. There are many different potassium ion channels involved around the heart, so potassium regulation is critical, making sure to not have hypokalemia (low level of potassium) or hyperkalemia (high level of potassium). Bananas provide potassium to the body, contributing to heart health. Potassium-rich foods are also important for controlling blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. Additionally, fiber contributes to heart health because it aids in lowering cholesterol, especially LDL, which is associated with lower rates of heart disease and stroke.
Bananas for Weight Loss
Fiber present in bananas may also be helpful to weight loss because fiber helps you to feel fuller for longer. This function comes from its ability to absorb water. Which is why eating fruits fully in tact with their fiber is more filling than drinking only their juice. If you feel more satisfied by high-fiber foods, you will most likely eat less food and may lose weight by decreasing your intake. Weight loss may also be achieved due to consuming a banana instead of a less-than-optimal alternative.
Using a Banana for Acne
There does not appear to be any peer-reviewed research about the use of bananas for acne, but alternative medicine and popular culture websites report that the banana peel can be used for skin care to reduce the occurrence of acne. Bustle reports that rubbing the inside of the banana peel onto the acne for five to ten minutes and leaving the banana peel remnants on the skin will decrease the inflammation after a few days.
Eating a Banana for Mood
Bananas contain the amino acid, tryptophan, which is used in the creation of the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Serotonin is involved in the regulation of mood and sleep. Due to this relationship between bananas and serotonin, the belief that bananas directly influence serotonin can be found in many articles on the internet, including an article on sleep-promoting foods by the U.S. News & World Report. However, one researcher in a 2007 article in the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, states that it is a myth that bananas can improve mood this way due to the blood-brain barrier. That said, vitamin B6 aids in converting tryptophan to niacin and serotonin, so perhaps bananas in one way or another aid with sleep.
Eating a Banana for Insomnia
In addition to the claim that bananas can influence serotonin levels, there is another argument that bananas can help with sleeplessness because they contain magnesium and potassium. A study by the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences in 2012 found that magnesium supplementation on an elderly population that struggled with insomnia did appear to improve the subjective scores of their sleep. Magnesium deficiency is known to produce a handful of symptoms, including sleep disorders and insomnia, however the amount of magnesium in a banana will not necessarily move the needle significantly on the deficiency. Regardless of the debate about the influence of bananas on mood and sleep, consumption of bananas in most diets is encouraged, whether or not they directly influence these problems.
Other Benefits of Bananas
As might be expected, a banana is good source of energy for athletes because they contain electrolytes like potassium. One study conducted by Appalachian State University in 2012 found that there were no differences in performance in the group that received bananas as their energy source during cycling.
Effects of Eating Too Many Bananas
Eating too many bananas would be concerning if one was to consume too much of certain components in a banana such as potassium, vitamin B6, and fiber. However, it would be challenging to eat enough bananas to get to an unsafe level for any of these. Potassium does not have a Tolerable Upper Intake Level set because toxicity is not found often in healthy individuals. The body excretes extra potassium, protecting it from toxicity. Hyperkalemia, the condition of having too much potassium in the blood, occurs most often in people that have kidney disease. Vitamin B6 neuropathy occurs when 1000 mg or more per day is ingested, which would take close to 3,000 bananas to achieve. Too much fiber can block the proper absorption of certain minerals, but foods that are high in fiber also tend to be high in these minerals, so there usually is not much concern. Regardless of the toxicity levels for these nutrients, eating too many bananas may cause a stomachache, just as consuming too much of any food would.
- United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database: Bananas, Raw
- USDA: Bananas and Apples Remain America’s Favorite Fresh Fruits
- Today’s Dietitian: Increasing Dietary Potassium
- Nutrition ATC: Bananas Need No Hype to Be Considered
- Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience: How to Increase Serotonin in the Human Brain Without Drugs
- Bustle: A Banana Face Mask, Hair Mask, and Acne Treatment That Will Make You Think Twice Before Tossing Overripe Ones into the Trash
- MedlinePlus: When You Have Diarrhea
- Stanford Health Care: Nutrition Tips for Diarrhea
- Acute Cardiac Care: The Heart and Potassium: A Banana Republic
- American Heart Association: Potassium and High Blood Pressure
- Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images