Banana’s…The debate is over.
Have you ever wondered if a banana is a figure friendly fruit? If you’re like me then you have heard several heated debates about whether bananas are in fact a super healthy treat that wont destroy your diet. So I decided to lay aside all I’ve heard about this popular fruit and get to the bottom of it once and for all.
So the big question is…are banana’s actually a positive addition to a healthy diet & will they help or hinder your weight loss goals?
Here’s the 411 on what I learned about the almighty banana…
Banana’s = one happy belly
Fiber- Did you know that on average a single banana contains 3g of fiber? That’s 12% of the fiber you need on a daily basis. Fiber is kind of a really big deal because it’s super helpful in regulating your blood sugar, nutrient absorption, and overall movement of your food through your digestive system.
Pectins- What some people don’t know is that there are several types of fiber with varying degrees of benefits. Banana’s just so happen to have a lot of the good stuff when it comes to it’s fiber content. It contains a type of fiber called pectins. Pectins are a super helpful type of fiber that increases the banana’s ripeness, water content, soluble fiber, and softness as the banana ages. Pectins also contribute to the increase in fructose as it ripens which actually helps normalize the rate of it’s sugar digestion.
Low Glycemic Index- This might all sound very technical, but what it really translates into is that banana’s have specific properties in them that allow the body to digest them easily and evenly without a spike in blood sugar. This is also referred to as the Glycemix Index (GI) aka the rate at which carbs/sugars are broken down and enter into the bloodstream.
The GI of foods are really important because it effects your risk of developing diabetes or being able to control it if you are already diagnosed. That being said banana’s are surprisingly considered a low to medium glycemic index food when fully ripened! Thanks to it’s fiber and fructose! So how does all of this effect whether it’s a diet friendly fruit?
Insulin- The banana is considered a diet friendly fruit because the low GI helps your body to not over produce insulin because it does not spike your blood sugar. Insulin likes to convert the extra sugars in your body into fat for energy storage. It’s important to eat a diet that does not often spike your blood sugar levels since this results in gaining weight in the form of fat. So basically eating a banana does not result in unhealthy blood sugar levels which leads to fat storage.
Fructose- Now there’s an interesting debate about fructose that I need to address. There have been studies that have shown that fructose is liver toxic and can cause metabolic issues as well as weight gain at certain levels. This is evidently clear with consumption of consumer products that contain refined high fructose corn syrup (such as sodas).
Many people hate on bananas because of their fructose content and argue that they are not diet friendly. Fructose is a fruit sugar and is found naturally in fruit. So is there a difference between fructose in fruit and fructose in a soda? The answer is no. Fructose is fructose. But where there is a difference is what else is paired with the fructose (such as fiber) and what quantities are being metabolized/available at once.
Nature doesn’t naturally have fructose without also having a lot of fiber, and it also doesn’t concentrate fructose at the levels that 20 oz Pepsi would. In fact you would have to eat 5 banana’s to consume the same amount of fructose that a 20 oz Pepsi has. Even more, the availability of fructose in those 5 bananas would be taken up and metabolized much slower/over a longer period of time than that of the refined concentration of pure fructose with no fiber found in a Pepsi.
Bottom line…fructose can be harmful when consumed in a isolated form and without fiber and other nutrients to regulate its metabolism/uptake in the body. Banana’s on the other hand have lots of fiber and nutrients to keep fructose levels safe & healthy.
Alkaline pH- You might have heard of the alkaline diet. It has been gaining popularity of late and for good reason. Research has shown that diseases like cancer thrive in a acidic/low pH environments, but not in alkalinity/high pH. It’s a pretty well researched and technical science, but in lamans terms your bodies pH can make a huge difference in your chances of getting or fighting off serious diseases like cancer. Banana’s just so happen to have a alkaline digestive pH thus contributing to a healthy weight and body. That’s one more reason why banana’s are a super healthy addition to your diet.
Good Sugar or Bad Sugar?
Banana’s have a sliding scale when it comes to their sugar content as various degrees of ripeness.
Green Bananas- If you are looking to burn fat, lose weight, and cut back on sugars then you might want to give green banana’s a shot. They contain a high level of a special type of starch called resistant starch that acts a lot like fiber in the body because you can not digest it. Resistant starch aids in weight loss by helping you to feel full longer, burn fat faster and maintain a lower blood sugar than ripe bananas. In fact green bananas contain about 40% starch vs the 8% found in fully ripe bananas.
Ripe Yellow Bananas- As I mentioned earlier, ripe bananas contain more sugar but do not have a high GI. They may not be the best choice for a Type 2 diabetic, but they certainly are still a healthy treat because their sugars are paired with fiber and some resistant starch. Another interesting fact about ripe bananas is that the more ripe they get the higher percentage of antioxidants and Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) they develop. TNF and antioxidants are super important in fighting against cancer and disease.
Green or ripe, bananas are not a over burdensome source of sugar if eaten raw and in moderation.
Organic vs Conventional
Have you ever wondered about whether to buy organic or conventional bananas because they have a peel to protect their fruit? I decided to do a little digging and get to the bottom of it. According to the FDA peeled bananas are generally tainted with very few pesticide residues. In fact the USDA did a study in 2012 and found just four fungicides on bananas they analyzed, compared to 10 on plums (USDA 2012b).
However, industrial banana farming is pesticide-intensive because bananas are grown in massive monocultures, without crop rotation. These methods leave the plants vulnerable to insect, pests, and fungal diseases. Experts estimate that banana cultivators use a whopping 35 pounds of pesticide per acre (van Wendel de Joode 2012, citing Wesseling 2001 and Ramírez 2009), significantly more than for other crops.
Each bunch of bananas on a tree is enclosed in a large plastic bag into which pesticides are sprayed. Supposedly very few of these applications reach the edible tissue of the fruit, but they still pose a risk to consumers, workers and the surrounding environment.
Chlorpyrifos- One super nasty and toxic insecticide widely used in banana production is Chlorpyrifos, a potent neurotoxicant member of the organophosphate insecticide family. Chlorpyrifos is not generally detected on peeled bananas but it definitely raised my eyebrows and suspicions about conventional banana farming. I also found out that children are especially sensitive to chlorpyrifos toxicity. This nasty chemical can disrupt brain development and impair cognitive functions, measured by intelligence tests, when the child is exposed during pregnancy and early childhood (Rauh 2011).
For these reasons, bananas bearing either an organic and Fair Trade certification are preferable to fruit grown with socially- and environmentally-destructive processes. I wanted to find more about what pesticides are used and their effects on our health and environment so I put together a table (below) to break it down.
Regardless of what the FDA says about a questionably low pesticide content found in the bananas fruit, I think its safe to say that organic bananas are definitely the best choice.
Fructooligosaccharides- Similar to the importance of their water-soluble pectins is the digestive importance of fructooligosaccharides (FOS) in bananas. FOS are unique fructose-containing carbohydrates that are typically not broken down by enzymes in our digestive tract. Instead, they move along through the digestive tract until they reach our lower intestine and get metabolized by bacteria. This process helps maintain the balance of “friendly” bacteria (for example, Bifidobacteria) in our lower intestine, and as a consequence, it also supports our overall digestive health.
In one study involving female participants, eating two bananas each day for two months led to significant increases in Bifidobacteria. Along with these increased levels of Bifidobacteria, participants also experienced fewer gastrointestinal problems and more regular bowel function when compared to other women in the study who drank a banana-flavored beverage that did not contain any actual banana.
That’s why banana’s are a awesome addition to your diet when you need a digestive aide. Green bananas are the best for prebiotic stimulation.
Considering heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. it’s relevant to mention bananas heart healthy properties.
Potassium- As you probably know already, bananas are a good source of potassium (400mg in each banana on average). Potassium is important in keeping your blood pressure low. In fact a person has a 27% lower risk of heart disease when they eat plenty of potassium. Bananas also contain decent amounts of magnesium which is also important in maintaining your tickers health.
Sterol- While less than 4% of a bananas calories come from fat, one type of fat that they do contain are sterols like sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol. These sterols can block the absorption of dietary cholesterol keeping our blood cholesterol levels in check.
Fiber- About 1g of the 3g of fiber found in a medium banana comes from water soluble fiber. Soluble fiber in food is a type of fiber especially associated with decreased risk of heart disease, making regular intake of bananas a potentially helpful approach to lowering your heart disease risk.
Athlete’s Favorite Treat
Because bananas have a good mix of vitamins, minerals, and low glycemic carbohydrates such as: vitamin B6, manganese, vitamin C, potassium, dietary fiber, potassium, biotin, and copper they are a favored fruit among endurance athletes.
A 2012 study of cyclists found that eating the equivalent of one half a banana every 15 minutes of a three-hour race was just as good at keeping energy levels steady as drinking an equivalent amount of carbohydrate and minerals from a sports beverage. Most likely due to its awesome potassium levels.
So when it comes down to the bottom line about bananas I would give them the thumbs up as a healthy addition to your diet.