Bananas are nature’s idea of convenience food: self-contained, nutritious snacks in their very own to-go wrapper. Peel open a banana and you’ll get more than a sweet reward of creamy flesh. You’ll also get protection against a host of ailments, from heartburn to stroke to cancer.
Rich in Nutrients
The yellow-jacketed fruit is one of the best natural sources of potassium, a mineral that plays a crucial role in muscle contraction, water balance and the regulation of blood pressure. As a result, diets high in potassium-rich foods like bananas protect against cardiovascular disease. Banana consumption has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke, hypertension, and irregular heartbeat. Since potassium also prevents the loss of calcium from the body, eating bananas promotes healthy bones and lessens the risk of osteoporosis.
The high soluble fiber in bananas contributes to their heart-protective benefits as well as their benefits for healthy digestion. Pectin, a type of soluble fiber found in bananas, can relieve constipation without resulting in diarrhea. In fact, bananas are often recommended following diarrhea as a food that binds and replenishes lost electrolytes. Bananas also contribute to digestive health by improving the ability of the colon to absorb nutrients. Compounds in bananas nourish both probiotic (friendly) bacteria and the cells that make up the lining of the intestines, augmenting nutrient absorption. Heartburn sufferers will appreciate bananas’ natural antacid effects. Substances in bananas guard against ulcers by activating stomach cells to produce a thicker mucus barrier against acid and by eliminating ulcer-causing bacteria.
Bananas have also been shown to provide protection from certain cancers. In one study, women who ate bananas four to six times per week reduced their risk of developing kidney cancer by fifty percent as compared to non-banana eaters. In children, regular consumption of bananas and oranges before age two is associated with a lower likelihood of being diagnosed with childhood leukemia. While all bananas contain antioxidants, varieties whose flesh is more golden contain cancer-fighting provitamin A carotenoids.
Beyond promoting physical health, bananas can also give a boost to mood and energy. The fruit is a good source of vitamin B6 and tryptophan, which are crucial in forming serotonin—a neurotransmitter that regulates mood—in the brain. The carbohydrates, iron, and phosphorus in bananas offer an infusion of natural energy that helps keeps blood sugar levels steady between meals.
Clearly, the banana is a compact powerhouse of health benefits ripe for daily consumption. Fresh or frozen, sliced into sensible cereal or part of a decadent ice cream sundae, the versatile fruit confers advantages far beyond its sweet taste. The banana is believed to be the earth’s first fruit; make it first on your weekly grocery list.