With every diet-related internet search, you are likely finding yourself more confused than ever.
The American food system seems to operate as one large pendulum, drifting towards an appreciation of a food group one week (“Load Up that Butter: Healthy Fats are the Key to Heart Health!”) to completely opposite view the next (“If You Want to Live Past Sixty, You'd Better Prevent Any Saturated Fats From Penetrating Your Arteries”).
Eating A Healthy Diet?
In a food culture this bipolar, what's a novice nutritionist to do?
Recently, the simple banana has become the newest food item to be placed under the microscope of public scrutiny.
While some people are touting its benefits by eating over fifty bananas a day like Freelee the Banana Girl, others are finger-wagging that the starch and carbohydrate content of this tropical fruit will lead to bloating and belly fat.
Let that sink in for a moment...
So who's right? Should you dig into this controversial fruit or ditch it from your diet entirely?
Don't worry. We've done the tricky research for you. Read on to learn the real truth about the health effects of eating bananas and their impact on weight loss.
Where Did The Banana Even Come From?
With a history that had kept them confined to the jungles of Southeast Asia for a thousands of years, the fact that bananas have come to dominate modern supermarket shelves is nothing short of a miracle.
Even a century ago, bananas were largely unknown throughout the United States and Europe, but an increasingly globalized food system quickly brought them to American shores, and the modern banana craze soon began.
Now, bananas are so common on supermarket shelves they almost blend right in. Yet their popularity has only been increasing.
There are many reasons why bananas are one of the most popular foods in the world.
Having grown in their own personal protective wrapper, bananas are perfectly proportioned for a light snack.
Delicious chopped, baked, frozen, dehydrated or simply eaten straight from the peel, bananas are the perfect pick me up in the middle of a long day.
And because they are so cheap, they are an affordable way to stretch your fruit budget; the banana's light, creamy taste causes them to mix well with other produce, making your fruit salad go farther.
They Also Have Medicinal Properties...
Over the centuries, bananas have been used to settle upset stomachs, reduce heartburn, ease stress, relieve constipation, soothe the symptoms of PMS, stimulate brain power and even cure warts.
Eating a banana gives you sweet, chewy goodness all within a small, easily transported package, kind of like a candy bar.
But, does the natural sugar in a banana make it a little too much like a candy bar? Keep reading to see what we found out.
So, Are Bananas Actually Good Or Bad For Me?
We all know that processed foods like soft drinks and sugary snacks need to be avoided, but bananas fall far from this category.
In truth, bananas are a nutritious, low-energy-density food that is far from its current reputation as a diet-wrecking fruit that should be avoided.
The natural nutrition profile of a banana reveals that it is a nutrient-packed fruit that can be easily incorporated into the diet of anyone seeking to live a more healthy lifestyle.
One medium banana contains between 110 to 150 calories and provides 477 milligrams of potassium, or about ten percent of the daily recommended intake for adults.
Research has shown that potassium is essential for lowering blood pressure, sustaining muscle mass and maintaining bone mass density.
That same banana contains between 19 to 30 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams of dietary fibers, 1 gram protein, and 15 percent of the daily value of Vitamin C. T
he high levels of vitamin A and vitamin C within a banana makes it a great anti-wrinkle snack food.
The amount of copper in one banana is enough to keep the body at a healthy enough level to continue producing red blood cells, and the magnesium works to strengthen your bones and protect your heart, while also activating the enzyme that makes antioxidants accessible for the body.
Other natural benefits to bananas include flavanoid and poly-phenolics like lutein, zeaxanthin, beta and alpha carotenes that act as antioxidants that gobble up free radicals throughout your body.
There are many benefits to vitamin B in the body which include preventing anemia, keeping the nervous system running smoothly, and maintaining healthy skin, eyes, and hair.
One banana contains enough Vitamin B6 to provide over a third of the daily recommended level, which is crucial for vegans and vegetarians that may struggle to find enough of this rare mineral in non-animal products.
Even more exciting, research has shown that bananas are among the best fruits to eat to reduce your risk of renal cell carcinoma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many other types of cancer.
A banana in the morning will also keep you fuller, longer. Unlike the isolated fiber found in cereal or a granola bar, bananas contain naturally-occurring fibers like inulin, maltodextrin, and polydextrose that take longer for the body to break down and stay with you for hours longer in your day.
Fiber is also critically important for keeping your digestive system regular.
Bananas have also been found to contain high levels of tryptophan, a mood influencing amino acid that helps fight low levels of depression.
If you struggle to be cheerful in the mornings or suffer from bouts of seasonal depression, a banana mixed into your breakfast oatmeal will provide you with a positive mood boost to start your day.
Alternatively, bananas also contain trace amounts of the hormone melatonin, which is responsible for creating a level of drowsiness in the evenings.
Eating a small banana two hours before going to sleep may help you fight chronic insomnia.
Addressing Banana Controversies
Recent news reports and articles in magazines have been circulating about some of the sinister toxic health effects on many types of fruits.
We've addressed two of the most common concerns below.
The global produce market has been under intense scrutiny for the use of toxic pesticides for growing crops that people will be eating.
Anti-pesticide advocates have been spreading information about the “dirty dozen” produce items that are most likely to be contaminated with unsafe amounts of pesticides.
Notably, bananas are not on this list.
Thanks to their thick peel, banana fruits contain fewer pesticide residues by the time they get to the grocery store than most other fruits, according to the USDA.
When eaten, pesticides are stored in the body's fat cells and prevent them from being burned properly, which can cause weight gain over time.
By switching out a dirty dozen fruit and eating a banana instead, you might be helping out your waistline.
Crossing international borders has given some people a new reason to be fearful of bananas: they are radioactive.
Border security has found that common objects like bananas and kitty litter were tripping sensors due to low levels of radiation.
Is this something you need to worry about? Hardly.
Bananas trip radiation sensors because of their relatively high potassium content, a naturally occurring radioactive material you already have in your body.
Not only is potassium essential for proper nutrition, there is absolutely no risk that the amounts found in a banana- even a truckload of bananas- could do you any harm.
To put it simply, radiation is all around you, from the bricks your house is made of to your very skin. The perception that all radiation is dangerous is completely false.
Will Bananas Make Me Fat?
In a word, no.
There are plenty of nasty foods responsible for those unhealthy pounds around your middle, but bananas are not to blame.
In contrast, bananas are a natural source of healthy nutrition and sustaining energy that are beneficial to your weight loss program, not a liability.
The measly 150 calories in your average banana won't pack enough punch to pile on the pounds.
“But wait!” You might be thinking. “Don't bananas have a lot of sugar?”
True, bananas contain a large number of carbohydrates, or natural sugars, that the body breaks down into the glucose it needs to function.
There are some health professionals that will go on the record claiming that all sugar in your body is bad news.
These experts believe that while fruit sugar is less processed than, say, table sugar, it's still sugar and an unnecessary part of a healthy diet.
In their minds, your nutrition goal should be to feed your body inefficient sources of fuel so that your body needs to process its own fat for a food source, causing you to lose weight.
Therefore, they claim that the best way to lose weight is to cut out all sugars, even those naturally found in fruit.
Let's address this argument that bananas are a sugar-laden diet trap. It's common knowledge that the more processed a food is the higher the sugar content is likely to be and the more nutrients it loses in the creation process.
This is why whole wheat flour is superior to white flour, and why you should always choose whole, natural foods over anything assembled in a food factory.
Though bananas contain about 14 grams of sugar, this is a natural form of sugar that isn't as readily absorbed as processed sugars. The sugar content in bananas won't leave you feeling bloated or overweight.
Viewing glucose as the enemy is the wrong idea. Your brain can't even function without glucose, so next time someone critiques your banana eating habits you can respond that you're eating brain food.
Moreover, bananas have a moderately low glycemic index, which means that they control the blood sugar levels in your body by preventing spikes that occur when you eat sugary foods.
In fact, research has shown that bananas can actually be the perfect addition to your weight loss plan because the naturally sweet fruity taste will satisfy your sweet tooth and stop you from reaching for more calorie-laden snack options.
The Truth About Weight Gain
Weight gain is actually more simple than most people make it out to be. Essentially, in order to gain weight you need to be eating more calories than you burn on any given day.
Yes, eating hundreds of extra calories-worth of bananas may start to add up if you aren't getting enough exercise to burn them off.
If you aren't getting proper exercise, the carbohydrate-turned glucose content within a banana will turn into body fat.
Therefore, bananas, like all other foods, have the potential to cause you to gain weight when eaten to excess. However, bananas are no more likely to pile on the pounds than any other starchy fruit.
Ways To Eat A Banana
Though a whole, raw banana is filled with total-body benefits, you need to be careful about eating them in other ways.
For instance, a frozen banana slathered in chocolate will be getting the majority of its calory content from a very unnatural source, high fructose corn syrup.
Another potentially dangerous food choice are banana chips. Though they come off as diet-friendly, banana chips are usually fried in vats of oil.
This means a single serving can contain eight grams of saturated fats (a full 40% of your daily value) and 145 calories.
A regular banana has no saturated fat and will keep you feeling full longer, so ditch the tropical trail mix in favor of the real thing.
Are Bananas Good For Weight Loss?
You now know that bananas are an important part of a healthy diet, but are they actually good for weight loss? That's a trickier question.
If you've been following along, you know that our bodies need glucose (the sugars found in bananas) to survive.
Eating a diet with an appropriate amount of glucose in it provides enough fuel for the body to move and function without requiring that the excess to be stored as fat. To not gain weight from eating bananas, just make sure to move around enough to burn it off.
But what if you plan to lose weight, not maintain it? Are carbohydrate-laden bananas too much of a liability for you?
To answer this question well, we will need to look three main components of the overall health of bananas: dietary fiber, resistant starch, and glycemic index.
About Dietary Fibers In Bananas
As the parts of food that your body can't digest, dietary fiber is essential for keeping you regular, lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease, and even helping you maintain a healthy weight.
Sometimes called roughage or bulk, dietary fiber comes from seeds, skins, and other cellulose-like materials that don't break down enough for your body to absorb.
The role that dietary fiber plays in weight loss is critical. Because fiber slows down your digestive system, you feel full longer and resist the urge to snack, which would raise your blood sugar levels up.
Avoiding spikes in blood sugar causes your body to seek other fuel sources and burn fat for energy, which causes you to lose weight.
A large banana has about 5 grams of dietary fiber, making it a good source for getting your recommended daily requirements: 25 grams daily for women and 38 grams for men.
About Resistant Starch In Bananas
The majority of starches found in your food are a type of complex carbohydrate that turns into glucose. This type of starch is bad for weight loss because they cause a spike in blood sugar levels.
In the past, bananas have been villanized more than other fruits because they have higher levels of carbohydrates than comparable fruits.
This means that the body pulls out fewer calories per gram of resistant starch than for other carbohydrates, which keeps you feeling full without you having to absorb every calorie from the food you've eaten.
One of the best natural sources of resistant starches are green bananas, which contain 8.5 grams.
The levels go down as the banana ripens, meaning a fully ripe one has about 3 grams. To reap the benefits, substitute a green banana for your regular yellow snack and you will be absorbing fewer calories that would be piled on as extra pounds.
Initial research has suggested that resistant starches might even help the body to break down stored fat.
One study found that replacing just 5 percent of your day’s carbohydrates with a source of resistant starch caused participants to increase their post-meal fat burn by over 30 percent.
That's a big metabolic change just from eating under ripe fruit, but more research is needed to test these results.
If you don't like the bitterness of green bananas, try adding them to a fruit smoothie or yogurt where you can mix the flavor with other, sweeter fruits.
What Is The Glycemic Index Of A Banana?
A good way to understand whether a specific food's carbohydrates will help you with weight loss or not is to look at the glycemic index (GI). According to its founders, the GI;
"... is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels.
Low-GI foods, by virtue of their slow digestion and absorption, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, and have proven benefits for health." (SITE)
Because all carbohydrate-laden foods are ranked from 1 to 100 on the GI system, any food from 1 to 55 is considered to have a low GI, and having one from 56-100 is high. As a standard, pure sugar has a GI rating of 100.
Bananas have a higher ranking than most fruits, but are relatively moderate when compared to other GI foods.
Depending on how ripe a banana is (green bananas get a lower index score), its ranking can range from 42 to 62.
Keep in mind that the GI only looks at one piece of the total health picture and completely ignores factors like the nutritional content of the food in question.
Here are some examples of GI scores that show how bananas compare to other starchy foods in a typical American diet.
42 - 62
53 - 63
White Bread (1 slice)
70 - 75
White Potato (baked, without skin)
From this data, you can see that bananas are fairly average when it comes to GI levels, especially when compared to far less “natural” food choices.
This makes it difficult to blame bananas for weight gain caused by spikes in blood sugar levels, especially when you factor in the dietary fiber and resistance starches they provide right along with their sugar content.
Proponents of the GI system agree with us. They don't recommend restricting fruits from low carbohydrate diets because the fiber content helps counteract the starch content and can actually help with losing weight.
Dietary Conclusions: To Eat Or Not To Eat That Banana?
The evidence is clear; eating a banana a day may well melt those excess pounds away.
Not only are bananas an excellent health food, a new study published in The Journal of Proteome Research found that bananas can improve athletic performance as well as athletic recovery
To properly lose weight, regular exercise is important, and bananas are a great source of workout fuel both before and after you hit the gym.
A banana's glucose gives you quick energy to burn off at the start of your workout, and when you finish your body will be craving its rich source of potassium.
Acting as an electrolyte, potassium wards off post exercise muscle cramps and dizziness. When eaten with a protein source like peanut butter, your body will be given the nutrients to recover that it desperately needs.
The best way to enjoy the benefits of bananas in your diet plan is to practice moderation. Just one or two bananas a day is perfectly healthy; any more is considered excessive by most health experts.
Shoving down bananas like a giant gorilla may cause you to gain weight if you don't have a plan to burn off the extra calories.
Eating in moderation is the key to any healthy diet plan, and your daily fruit intake is no exception.
A Note About Bananas And Your Belly Fat
Stories have been circulating around the internet recently about the dangers of eating bananas for the flatness of your belly.
More specifically, these articles claim that a diet involving bananas will cause you to put on belly fat, fast.
Bananas, when eaten in moderation, are no more likely to increase your belly fat level than any other food.
In fact, the opposite may be true. If you find yourself feeling like a blimp, grab a banana and start chowing down.
Because bananas are full of dietary fiber and potassium, they are good for belly fat and bloating.
Dietary fiber will keep your intestines operating normally, and a diet high in potassium will both diminish water retention while also diluting and regulating the salt you eat, which results in less swelling around your belly.
One study found that women who ate a small banana twice a day as a pre-meal snack for two months reduced their belly-bloat by 50 percent.
If you decide to follow suit, just be sure to cut back on sugar and carbohydrates elsewhere in your diet.
If you suffer from belly fat, odds are that your problem isn't eating too many bananas.
Simply cut out 250 calories from foods that don't have valuable nutritional content, and your excess weight will begin to melt away- all without you having to blame a single banana.
To put it simply, bananas are a powerhouse of a fruit. Full of dietary fiber, potassium, and critically important trace vitamins and minerals, a diet rich in bananas will keep you at your best, no matter if you are an endurance athlete or simply trying to eat healthier.
Unless you are going through bananas like King Kong, there is no reason to be concerned that they will cause you to gain weight.
The health benefits in every banana far outweigh their calories, making them the perfect choice for a daily snack; whether you are on your way to the gym or simple looking for a pick me up in the middle of your work day.
Now it's time for you to talk to us. Have you been incorporating bananas into your daily diet? Have you noticed a difference in your belly fat? And finally, what are some of your favorite recipes for using bananas?