Are Bananas Actually Bad for You?

Are Bananas Actually Bad for You?
Photo Credit: Cybernesco / iStockphoto.com
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Maybe you’ve heard at the gym or read online that bananas have no health benefits, or are even bad for you.

Banana opponents say the fruit contains excessive carbs, encouraging weight gain, and a high glycemic index, causing spikes in insulin levels that promote or aggravate diabetes.

But are these concerns valid? Are bananas bad for you? Let’s look at the evidence. Bananas are…

Rich in Vitamin B6

Your body needs vitamin B6 for more than one hundred enzyme reactions involved in metabolism. It supports a healthy immune system and healthy nerves. It is also needed for brain development in children and is important for cognitive function later on in life.

Studies have found that elderly people with higher levels of vitamin B6 in their blood have better memory than those with lower levels of this nutrient. Other studies have found that low levels of B6 are linked with an increased risk of certain cancers, heart diseases and some complications during pregnancy. Vitamin B6 is also helpful for managing PMS.

A Good Source of Manganese

Manganese, an essential trace mineral, is a constituent of various enzymes and activates many other enzymes involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, amino acids and cholesterol.

Manganese is particularly important for bone development and wound healing. The nutrient has also antioxidant qualities, thus fighting the free radicals involved in the aging process and development of many conditions – including heart diseases, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and cancers.

A Good Source of Vitamin C

Vitamin C has strong antioxidant qualities, boosting the immune system and protecting cells from damage caused by free radicals. It is also needed for collagen formation, and thus important for skin health and wound healing. Studies have found that people who consume foods rich in vitamin C are less likely to develop certain cancers (especially lung, breast, and colon cancers), heart diseases, cataracts, and are even less susceptible to viral infections like the common cold.

A Good Source of Potassium

Potassium is a mineral that plays a key role in your health. Studies have found that people who increased their intake of potassium had a lower risk of having a stroke, developing osteoporosis, and developing kidney stones. Other studies reveal that consuming more potassium rich food can help you better manage high blood pressure.

This nutrient is also important for the muscles and can help prevent cramps – muscle cramps have been linked with potassium deficiency. This mineral is also important for the health of the digestive tract.

A Good Source of Biotin

Biotin, also known as vitamin H, belongs to the group of B vitamins. It helps the body to convert food into energy, and is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. This nutrient is particularly important for healthy skin, hair, eyes, nerves and liver. Pregnant women should avoid biotin deficiency, as this nutrient is important for normal embryonic growth. Some studies suggest that increased biotin intake from foods or supplements can improve various conditions: hair and nail problems, cradle cap in infants, diabetes (when biotin is taken along with chromium), and peripheric neuropathy ( a condition characterized by nerve damage in the feet, hands, legs or arms)

A Good Source of Copper

Like manganese, copper is an essential trace mineral. It plays a key role in many areas of the body, including muscle function, the immune system, the nervous system, and forming connective tissue. Copper is necessary for the body’s growth, development and health.

A Good Source of Fiber

A medium banana contains about 3 grams of total fiber. Fiber regulates the digestion and supports blood sugar control and weight management. Fiber had also been found to reduce the risk of stroke, improve skin health, provide symptom relief for some IBS sufferers and decrease the risk of gallstones and kidney stones.

Full of Other Nutrients

There are many other nutrients in bananas, although in smaller quantities, including vitamins B1, B3, B12, B5, A, E, K, and D, folate, and minerals like calcium, boron, chromium, iodine, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium. They are low in salt, so can be safely consumed by people with high blood pressure or heart diseases.

If we look at the macronutrient content, bananas are low in fat, provide small amounts of protein, and are not much sweeter than other fruits. Contrary to the popular belief that banana have high glycemic index (thus causing spikes in insulin levels), bananas actually have a low glycemic index (below 55 is considered low GI) and thus is safe to be consumed by diabetics. A medium banana contains about 105 calories, just few more calories when compared with apples or pears.

Conclusions

There is no doubt that bananas are a healthy, nutritious food packed with plenty of vitamins, minerals and fibers, while being low in fat, and with a low GI.

However, like any other fruit it should be consumed in moderation. One portion is actually half of a banana, and this is the amount you should consume daily. A whole banana should be saved for days when you have an intense workout. Preferably eat it after you exercise, as the potassium can aid muscle recovery and prevent cramps.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the maturity of a banana can influence its glycemic index. Slightly under ripe bananas have a GI of about 42, compared with over ripe bananas that have a GI of 48. The GI also rises if you cook it, and therefore bananas are best fresh or frozen.

Resources

World’s Healthiest Foods: Nutrient Profile
National Institutes of Health: Vitamin B6
Oregon State University: Manganese
National Institutes of Health: Vitamin C
Oregon State University: Potassium
Medline Plus: Biotin
University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin H (Biotin)
Globe and Mail
World’s Healthiest Foods: Bananas
Dr. Weil: Supplements & Herbs – Copper
The Health Benefits of Fiber