The humble banana: it's said to be the most consumed fruit on the planet! Isn't that bananas? But if we're eating so many of them, we should know their effect on our health. Because the yellow fruit has some pretty surprising impacts on our bodies — way beyond what most people realize.
Did you know that the average American eats more than 11 pounds of bananas in a year? But not only is the fruit extremely popular, it’s also full of surprises. In fact, Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World, labels it “one of the most intriguing organisms on Earth.” And there are plenty of reasons why..
Considering that it’s America’s favorite fresh fruit, most people aren’t very clued-up on the banana. It’s a shame, really, because there are plenty of intriguing yet little-known facts about this incredible food.
For starters, are you aware of where that banana in your fruit bowl has actually come from? And we don’t just mean literally. Do you know anything about the historical journey that’s brought it in such abundance to grocery stores around the world?
No? Well, that little yellow fruit actually originated in Southeast Asia thousands of years ago. It’s widely believed that the fruit first grew in an area that now incorporates the modern-day states of Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Myanmar, Singapore, and the Philippines.
And explorers and merchants subsequently spread the fruit to Africa, India, and beyond. So they've been on quite a journey!
The regions that are most associated with bananas these days are perhaps Latin America and the Caribbean. In fact, according to the United Nations, Ecuador is now the planet’s primary exporter of the fruit.
The country’s Institute of Export & Investment Promotion says that bananas currently constitute one-tenth of the country’s exports, which equates to $110 million in value. And many of those bananas end up in fruit bowls across the U.S.
Incredibly, though, the very first bananas were brought to the country’s shores as recently as 1870. The man responsible was Captain Lorenzo Baker, who’d picked up some of the fruit during a stop-off in Jamaica.
He arrived with his stock in Jersey City, where the items were met with enthusiasm. And Baker soon went into partnership with Andrew Preston to set up the Boston Fruit Company. But the bananas that they sold are not the same as those we know and love today…
Back then, the dominant banana in terms of exports was a variety known as the Gros Michel. The fact that this particular type of banana is rarely seen nowadays is down to the intriguing evolution of the banana industry.
As Daniel Bebber from the University of Exeter in the U.K. explained to Time in November 2019, “The story of the banana is really the story of modern agriculture exemplified in a single fruit.”
Bebber, who’s an Associate Professor in the Department of Biosciences, went on to say, “[The banana] has all of the ingredients of equitability and sustainability issues, disease pressure and climate change impact all in one. It’s a very good lesson for us.” Crikey.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on one little fruit.
And the important lesson Bebber was referring to can be summed up in one word: monoculture. You see, almost all of the bananas sold for our consumption these days, including in the U.S., are a type known as the Cavendish.
That’s the one we think of when someone says “banana.” So, what exactly happened to the Gros Michel?
In the 1950s, the Gros Michel was hit by Panama disease, also known as “banana wilt.” This meant that an alternative variety of banana was required. Something less prone to disease.
Something with a healthy yield. That’s where the Cavendish came in. And consequently, that’s what nearly all producers focused on. We were suddenly all eating the same type of banana, when once there’d been more options.
Some of those options are actually still available; you’re just not likely to see them on your supermarket’s shelves. The banana industry is far from perfect, then.
But while we may rue the lack of variety that we once enjoyed, the humble banana is still an incredible fruit. Because when it comes to individual health benefits, there are very few foodstuffs to rival it.
Over the years, the banana has frequently been a victim of fake news. Many people believe, for example, that bananas are little more than a candy bar in disguise, due to confusion about how much sugar bananas contain.
Granted, the average banana may be a little high in sugar – 14 grams of it to be precise – but it’s all relative.
Let’s compare bananas to another popular food item: chocolate. Dr.
Fabio Almeida, an oncologist and nutritionist, makes the point well about the quantity of sugar in bananas. Almeida writes on his website, “Sure, this is not a small amount [of sugar]. The difference, however, is that a banana’s sugar is entirely natural, while the sugar in chocolate is all added sugars.”
You’re much better off eating a banana, then. And that applies to vulnerable people, too.
“If you have been diagnosed with diabetes or have been told that your blood sugar is a little high, you can still enjoy bananas,” Almeida adds. Those concerned about their weight should also rest easy. “At around 100 calories, a banana contains less than half a gram of fat,” the doctor explains.
100 calories is still 100 calories, though, surely? “It is true that when excess sugar is digested and absorbed it can be stored as fat, but if you’re eating when you’re hungry and not overeating, this will not happen from eating a 100-calorie banana,” Almeida states. So the yellow fruits are a good option for a snack – despite what some banana-haters may believe..
But could you be better off with an apple, for example? Well, that’s another one of the problems bananas are faced with: they’re sometimes seen as a second-class fruit in terms of health. Again, though, Almeida is firm in his support of the common yellow fruit.
“Why bananas get a bad rap in the fruit world is something that I have not been able to figure out,” he writes. “Who started this rumor anyway? Their nutritional stats are pretty similar to many other popular fruits.”
And in comparison to an apple, the numbers don’t lie. “Like a banana, a medium apple contains around 100 calories and less than 0.5 grams fat.
But the apple contains more sugar (19 grams) and less protein (0.5 grams) than a banana,” Almeida confirms. So a banana is a relatively guilt-free snack!
But did you know that eating six bananas at a time can kill you? Gotcha! It can’t. It is a common misconception, though.
The idea comes from the fact that bananas contain potassium. The assumption here is that too much potassium can cause you irreparable damage. While this is true, it’s extremely unlikely that a person can overdose on bananas.
Catherine Collins, a nutrition expert for the NHS in the U.K., has explained exactly why gorging on bananas is unlikely to result in premature death. “It would be impossible to overdose on bananas.
You would probably need around 400 bananas a day to build up the kind of potassium levels that would cause your heart to stop beating,” Collins told the BBC in 2015. “Bananas are not dangerous.”
So, despite the wrong ideas some may have about bananas, this humble fruit is good for you. Really good for you, in fact.
But what are the health benefits, exactly? Well, they’re numerous and wide-ranging, from the physical to the psychological. And when combined with the fruit’s ready availability, tastiness and affordable price, it’s easy to see why the banana is such a popular choice.
As we’ve seen, the potassium in bananas can’t kill you. In fact, it can help you! Potassium is vital for the body because it’s a mineral electrolyte that maintains heart rate.
And even better, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the high rate of potassium combined with the low occurrence of sodium found in bananas ward off high blood pressure to boot.
Recent research found there to be additional benefits of potassium. A University of Alabama project discovered that the potassium found in bananas can help prevent the stiffening of arteries.
Indeed, the investigation found that mice taking in less potassium were more prone to stiff arteries, which contributes to cardiac problems.
So bananas are great for the heart – and they may also help influence your mood, too. How so? Well, nutritionist Laura Flores told the Live Science website in 2017 that it seems bananas can help combat depression “due to high levels of tryptophan, which the body converts to serotonin, the mood-elevating brain neurotransmitter.” Plus, the tryptophan and vitamin B6 found in bananas can both aid sleep..
A good night’s sleep, of course, is vitally important when it comes to mental health. Bananas also contain magnesium, which is known to assist with the loosening of muscles.
And this in turn results in better sleep. So, as part of a balanced diet, bananas are great for your heart and your head!
Surprisingly, considering bananas are great for inducing proper rest, they also replenish energy better than some famous sports drinks. For example, a 2012 research project compared male cyclists who replenished energy levels with bananas and water to those consuming Gatorade.
It found that the tryptophan in bananas actually aided overall performance by increasing the antioxidant levels of the cyclists.
Of course, the benefits that bananas bring to athletes are no secret. Indeed, when tuning into a professional tennis match, for example, the sight of a player munching on a banana between games is a familiar one.
The fruit is also well-regarded by sports nutritionists, but you don’t have to be on their books to reap the rewards of this energizing snack.
It’s not just sports nutritionists who wax lyrical about the benefits of bananas, though. Dieticians are enthusiastic, too.
And that’s because the high levels of fiber in bananas aid regular, healthy bowel movements. In fact, a single banana may contain as much as one-tenth of the recommended daily intake of fiber. As well as aiding trips to the toilet, fiber helps you maintain a healthy weight, too.
The levels of B6 vitamins in bananas also assist in losing weight, as well as helping stave off type 2 diabetes. Basically, bananas are really great for those hoping to lose or regulate weight, because they’re a sweet treat that will also make us feel full.
The result is that you should be less hungry, especially if you tuck into a banana between meals instead of going for something a little more laden with sugar or fat.
Bananas have also been found to help control the level of blood sugar in the body. A 2017 Nutrition Bulletin study concluded that a starch that’s present in high levels in bananas works to create increased amounts of short chain fatty acids.
And these acids are important for maintaining the condition of our guts. The banana, it appears, is the fruit that just keeps on giving.
And guess what? Bananas can actually help your eyes, too, because they have a good amount of vitamin A present. This vitamin brings all sorts of eye-related benefits, such as the preservation of eye membranes and better night vision.
We usually think of carrots as the food that will most help our peepers, but bananas have their part to play as well.
In terms of your bones, bananas may not be laden with calcium, but there are still benefits. In 2009, a Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry piece talked about fructooligosaccharides that occur in bananas in high amounts.
These are actually carbohydrates that, in an indirect way, help the body to process that all-important calcium. Hence, better bone health.
But clearly scientists weren’t satisfied with all these benefits, because there have been a plethora of other studies about bananas. One such example, conducted in Sweden in 2005, discovered that bananas are especially effective in reducing the chance of developing kidney cancer.
In fact, the study found that women who consumed between four and six bananas per week actually decreased the likelihood by 50 percent.
And that still isn’t all! Another investigation found that there’s a possibility that bananas can assist in staving off diabetes in pregnant women. This comes back to the magnesium and tryptophan in the fruit adding to a good night’s rest, which is important for averting this particular form of diabetes..
Every one of these incredible health benefits is associated with the ripe, yellow banana. Surprisingly, though, a green, unripe specimen can also have a positive effect, including better intestinal health.
Unripe bananas can lower levels of cholesterol and blood pressure as well, while the lectins found within this young fruit can also be beneficial for those who have HIV.
And even when a banana’s natural life is coming to an end, overripe forms of the fruit can bring benefits. Indeed, according to research that appeared in Food Science and Technology Research, bananas that are starting to spot increase white blood cell power to a tune of 800 percent in comparison to green bananas.
So let those bananas ripen.
In case you hadn’t guessed it already, you probably should be eating a banana a day. But if you believe that nothing can be all good, you may be pleased to learn that even the downsides of bananas are pretty harmless.
For instance, according to nutritionist Laura Flores, the price you could pay for eating too many bananas is head pains and tiredness. You should obviously also avoid eating hundreds a day because then the potassium may start to be an issue.
And because they’re sugary, bananas can also lead to dental issues if teeth aren’t properly looked after. But as long as you stick to one or two a day and brush those teeth, there’s really no reason not to tuck in! Except, of course, for one little thing: this beloved fruit might not be around forever..
It all comes back to this concept of monoculture. Because besides creating a lack of choice – there are in fact nearly 1,000 varieties of banana, but most Americans only ever really eat one – monoculture means bananas can easily be wiped out.
First the Gros Michel was struck by Panama disease. Now, the Cavendish is at risk. And author Dan Koeppel says we should be worried.
“[Every] single banana scientist I spoke to – and that was quite a few – says it’s not an ‘if,’ it’s a ‘when,’ and 10 to 30 years,” Koeppel told NPR in 2011 with regards to the Cavendish being struck down by Panama disease. “The situation is very urgent,” University of Exeter Daniel Bebber informed Time.
“A lot of people would agree that we need to move to a more diverse, more sustainable system for bananas and agriculture in general where we don’t put all our hope into a single, genetically identical crop.”
The situation, it seems, is perilous. So, the next time you’re at the market, take a look around to see if there are any alternative banana varieties on offer.
Our desire to consume at least one banana a day long into the future, may depend on it. For now, though, take advantage of those numerous health benefits and get stuck in to the fruit that has so much to offer.
In fact, one of the best things about the banana is its versatility. We all know that eating the same thing every day is super dull, but the banana is the perfect fruit for mixing things up.
You can put it on oatmeal (or pancakes!), blitz it into a smoothie, crush it to make sugar-free cookies or simply slice one up and top each bit with peanut butter. And, actually, that last suggestion can offer even more health benefits than just eating the banana alone.
If you’re a peanut butter lover, then you’ll know how incredibly versatile the spread is. Slathered over apple slices or just a piece of toast, it can totally transform relatively plain foods into mouthwatering morsels.
But do you know what your peanut butter addiction is doing to your health?
Peanut butter isn’t for everyone, though – not least because of its unusual consistency. And regardless of whether you pick the creamy or crunchy variety of the paste, it’s often so thick that it can become glued to the top of your mouth – which doesn’t always work in its favor..
Yet peanut butter also has the uncanny ability to go with practically anything. The nutty spread also adds a new layer of taste to tried-and-tested snacks; while a helping of chocolate is already delicious, smoothing over a portion of peanut butter can take things to another level..
And, of course, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a staple of lunchboxes across the land. So, you may already be eating your fair share of peanut butter throughout the week; if you’re not, though, a group of experts have explained just why you should consider the idea..
But for now, let’s explore peanut butter’s enduring popularity. And it’s fair to say that the paste doesn’t seem to be falling out of favor in the U.S.
According to Statista, in 2017 American consumers splashed out around $1.85 billion on the foodstuff. That amounts to well over 500 million jars of peanut butter leaving store shelves.
In 2018 Statista also revealed that, apparently, close to 290 million citizens of the United States – or almost 90 percent of the population – ate peanut butter. That’s obviously a huge number, and it seems to prove just how beloved the tasty spread really is across the country..
The Texas Peanuts website also has some interesting statistics about peanut butter consumption in the United States. According to the site, hungry Americans each consume an average of about three pounds of the stuff annually.
In total, then, around 700 million pounds of the delicious spread is eaten in the U.S. per year.
But while you may think that the U.S. leads the way when it comes to eating peanut butter, you’d be mistaken.
In a 2012 interview with Columbia University Press, author and journalist Jon Krampner explained, “Americans aren’t the only people who like [peanut butter], but almost no one likes it more than we do. The two exceptions are Canadians and the Dutch, who eat more peanut butter on a per capita basis than we do.”
But what exactly is this peanut butter consumption really doing for us all? Well, it depends in part on the type of spread you choose. That’s according to nutrition expert Kris Gunnars, who delved into the subject while writing for the Healthline website in April 2018..
Gunnars explained, “Peanut butter is a relatively unprocessed food. It’s basically just peanuts, often roasted, that are ground until they turn into a paste.
However, this doesn’t apply to many commercial brands of peanut butter that contain various added ingredients such as sugar, vegetable oils and even trans fat.”
“Eating too much added sugar and trans fat has been linked to various health problems, such as heart disease,” Gunnars went on. “Rather than buying junk food, [then], choose real peanut butter.
It should contain nothing but peanuts and maybe a bit of salt.” And that should give you plenty of food for thought on your next trip to the store.
Even so, the labeling on a jar of peanut butter may confuse you. For example, what’s the difference between a “natural” product and a “regular” item? And is the “unsweetened” option really better for you than an alternative with added sugar? Let’s clear things up a little..
Regular peanut butter, for example, must contain only hydrogenated oils, salt and sweeteners as well as a minimum of 90 percent of peanuts. And as you may already have guessed, the unsweetened options possess no supplementary sugar – making them typically one of the more healthy choices..
Natural peanut butter products, on the other hand, often have a very distinctive look. You see, while natural peanut butter may be free from stabilizers, there’s usually still a layer of oil sitting on the surface of the jar.
So, before slapping the paste on to your snacks, you need to mix it up.
Then, after a certain amount of time, the oils will naturally rise up out of the peanut butter – meaning you’ll have to stir the jar again ahead of your next meal. In 2017 writer Max Bonem explained the difference between natural and regular peanut butters in a piece for Food & Wine..
Bonem revealed, “Natural peanut butter tends to be a bit grainier than its conventional counterpart – even if it’s ‘creamy.’ The natural separation [between the spread and the oil] is more likely to occur if you store peanut butter at room temperature. However, if you refrigerate it, natural peanut butter becomes much more difficult to work with.”.
Bonem added, however, “Conventional peanut butter is a cohesive spread that remains as is – regardless of temperature or where it’s stored. [So], if you’re someone who enjoys the occasional spoonful of peanut butter to snack on, conventional is undoubtedly the way to go.”.
As Gunnars previously highlighted, though, regular peanut butter products typically possess trans fats. So, while regular peanut butter may be easier to use than its natural counterpart, eating it in excess could pose a risk to your long-term health.
And a professor from the University of Missouri has broken things down even further.
Speaking to Infegy in 2013, Dr. Dale Brigham said, “Trans fats do the ‘double whammy’ of increasing heart disease risk by lowering HDL [high-density lipoprotein] – the good cholesterol – and raising LDL [low-density lipoprotein], the bad cholesterol.
Even if regular peanut butter has a label that states ‘zero grams trans fat,’ it can contain up to 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving.”
However, while there are clearly some downsides to eating certain types of peanut butter, you shouldn’t forget about the potential health benefits. Yes, while steering clear of excess trans fats is a must, a daily serving of the spread could still do wonders for your body..
For instance, did you know that peanuts can actually help you to shed a few pounds? Yes, although nuts contain substantial amounts of fat, both this and their high levels of protein should help curb your hunger after only a few bites. In turn, that can stop you from overindulging.
A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition in 2018 has even hinted that the snack could lessen your chances of becoming obese.
And that extends to peanut butter as well, according to Gunnars. “Since peanut butter is very high in fat, a 100-gram portion contains a hefty dose of 588 calories,” he wrote on the Healthline website.
“[However], despite [this] high calorie content, eating moderate amounts of pure peanut butter or whole peanuts is perfectly fine on a weight-loss diet.”
Gunnars continued, “Half of the fat in peanut butter is made up of oleic acid – a healthy type of monounsaturated fat also found in high amounts in olive oil. Oleic acid has been linked to several health benefits, such as improved insulin sensitivity.
Peanut butter also contains some linoleic acid – an essential omega-6 fatty acid abundant in most vegetable oils.”
Peanut butter additionally features a number of different vitamins, such as vitamin B6 and vitamin E – all of which we need in order to keep functioning in tip-top condition. The foodstuff is similarly packed with beneficial minerals including copper, magnesium, zinc and iron..
And purer versions of peanut butter could be especially helpful if you’ve been diagnosed with a particular condition. Gunnars has claimed, you see, that those with type 2 diabetes could benefit from incorporating the cleaner and healthier varieties of the spread into their diets..
Gunnars divulged, “[Peanut butter] also causes a very low rise in blood sugar, and [so it] is a perfect option for people with type 2 diabetes. One observational study showed that women who ate peanut butter five times per week or more were at a 21 percent reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
These benefits have been partly attributed to oleic acid.”
Elsewhere, peanut butter has the potential to help mental health. This may sound a little strange at first, but hear us out.
Specifically, the nutty treat harbors monounsaturated fatty acids – otherwise known as MUFAs – that can actually protect the functionality of your brain.
And this is especially helpful if you’re susceptible to stress, as that feeling usually has a negative impact on your brain’s activities. Simply put, a boost in MUFAs should help shield the organ from some of the more detrimental effects that stress creates in our day-to-day lives..
Thanks to the beta-sitosterol found in peanut butter, you may also be able to keep your anxiety in check. How? Well, it appears that, crucially, this handy substance has the power to considerably lower the amount of cortisol in your body – which can be naturally high if you’re worrying..
During periods of strain, the human body may slip into a state known as “fight or flight mode” and, as a consequence, churn out cortisol. But when the beta-sitosterol enters your system and brings these quantities of the hormone down, you should begin to feel a lot calmer than you were before..
Expectant mothers may want to think about adding peanut butter to their diets, too. Back in 2015 a group from Vanderbilt University helmed a project that looked into the health benefits of the spread.
And over the course of their research, the team made a stunning discovery about peanut butter’s effects on unborn babies.
According to the researchers, if a pregnant woman has three to five servings of peanuts each week, her fetus will be less likely to be allergic to the foodstuff after it’s born. The belief is that the contents of the snack will filter down to the womb, thus allowing the fetus to “acclimatize” to peanuts and their effects..
And if that wasn’t enough, a different project outlined in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment in 2013 has seemingly found that young women could lessen their chances of acquiring so-called “benign breast disease” by consuming more peanut butter. Foods such as soy, beans and vegetables were also said to help..
However, among all of these positives, there’s another thing to keep in mind. In his post for Healthline, Gunnars revealed that peanut butter could be harboring a potentially dangerous and even cancer-provoking component – although the risks to health are seemingly slim if you typically consume processed versions of the product..
Gunnars revealed, “Even though peanut butter is quite nutritious, it may also contain substances that can be harmful. At the top of the list are the so-called aflatoxins.
Peanuts grow underground, where they tend to be colonized by a ubiquitous mold called Aspergillus. This mold is a source of aflatoxins, which are highly carcinogenic.”
“While humans are fairly resistant to the short-term effects of aflatoxins, what happens down the line is not fully known at this point,” Gunnars continued. “Some human studies have linked aflatoxin exposure to liver cancer and stunted growth in children.” Despite those concerns, though, the nutrition expert did have some positive news to share..
Gunnars cited a source, you see, that claimed the risks posed by aflatoxins were cut by 89 percent in peanut butter. This is apparently down to the production process that sees peanuts get ground into a paste.
The United States Department of Agriculture has kept watch over the substance, too.
So, does Gunnars believe that we should be adding more peanut butter to our diets? Well, in his mind, the health benefits are certainly worth it. But that doesn’t mean we should be going overboard – especially if peanut butter is a component of an otherwise unhealthy snack..
“There are a lot of good things about peanut butter,” Gunnars wrote. “It’s fairly rich in nutrients and a decent protein source.
It’s also loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals. Even though you shouldn’t use peanut butter as a dominant food source in your diet, it’s probably fine to eat every now and then in small amounts.”
Gunnars then concluded, “Moderate consumption of peanut butter is unlikely to have any major negative effects as long as you are avoiding truly awful foods like sugary soda, trans fats and other highly processed junk foods.” And given what we’ve learned here about the health benefits of peanut butter, that’s some good advice to follow..