Medicine

Health benefits of bananas

This post originally appeared on Medical News Bulletin.

There are thousands of varieties of this tasty treat, grown in 150 different countries. Bananas are a diet staple for much of the world. Thought to be the first fruit on earth, bananas are a good source of potassium, fiber, and vitamin C.

Here are the top health benefits of bananas:

Heart health

Heart disease is the number one killer in the world. There are many ways to get your heart in good shape, such as eating a nutritious diet and getting at least two and a half hours of exercise a week.

Dieting can sometimes feel like a chore and planning a diet is time consuming. The expense of buying healthy foods compared to the low-cost, highly-processed alternatives can be a concern.

Enter the humble, low-cost banana! Usually priced at less than 60 cents a pound, bananas are an affordable whole food. Bananas are also a good source of heart healthy nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, iron, and calcium.

Bananas contain phytochemicals, compounds made by plants to protect themselves. Phytochemicals can work as antioxidants, hormones, enzyme stimulants, and antibacterials. 

The antioxidants in bananas work to counteract free radicals, specifically reactive oxygen species (ROS), which lead to disease. Banana antioxidants stabilize the free radicals. 

The high potassium content in bananas helps maintain heart function and may prevent hardening of the arteries. Bananas are high in vitamin B6, which also improves heart health.

Type 2 diabetes

Another in the top ten list of deadly killers, type 2 diabetes is caused by too much sugar circulating in the blood. Normally, the body uses sugar for fuel, and the pancreas produces insulin. Insulin transfers the sugar from the blood to the parts of the body that need it. Insulin keeps blood sugar levels in a healthy range. 

However, when you have type 2 diabetes insulin is no longer able to keep blood sugar within a healthy range. The body develops insulin resistance, and the pancreas is not able to make enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels adequately.

Because of insulin resistance, diabetics must be careful about what foods they eat. Starchy and sugary foods have a high glycemic index, which means they will cause blood sugar levels to rise to dangerous levels. The most dangerous spikes happen right after eating. 

Studies have shown that the starch in bananas is resistant starch. Resistant starch acts like a dietary fiber that does not get digested in the small intestine but reaches the colon. There it ferments and produces short chain fatty acids, which help to effectively metabolize sugar.

Ripe bananas have a low glycemic index and raise blood sugar level to a low level. Green bananas have an even lower glycemic index. Type 2 diabetics can safely eat bananas but should seek medical advice for their diet. 

Digestive health

Bananas are good for digestive health. They help neutralize stomach acid, protect against heartburn, and fight ulcers. They can also be used to treat intestinal lesions. Ripe or cooked bananas are quite easy to digest and are often one of the first solid foods given to babies. 

The nondigestible fibers in the banana bring bowel activity into line. The fibers and pectin help the colon absorb water, which helps aid regular bowel movements. This can help either constipation or diarrhea.

Bananas also contain a prebiotic, which when fermented by good bacteria increases the number of probiotic (good) bacteria in the colon. This aids the body in absorbing nutrients.

Additional benefits

Here are several other ways bananas can improve your health.

Blood pressure

Because bananas are high in potassium, they are effective in lowering high blood pressure. One study showed the compounds in bananas were as effective as blood pressure medication. Patients that ate two bananas a day for a week experienced a ten percent drop in blood pressure.

Weight loss

The dietary fiber in bananas is not just useful in helping diabetics maintain healthy blood sugar, it also can help with weight loss. While ripe bananas can be included in a weight loss plan, green bananas are increasingly being used to make products that could aid in weight loss. Products such as banana flour, green banana pulp, or cooked green bananas have been studied and show multiple health benefits.

Neurological health

Banana phytochemicals protect against toxins that destroy nerve tissue, known as neurotoxins. They may also help prevent neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Bananas may play an important role in lifting your mood, fighting depression, PMS, improving alertness, and calming the nervous system.

Home remedies

Bananas have traditionally been used to treat a variety of minor illnesses such as:

Morning sickness – bananas can help prevent morning sickness by keeping blood sugar levels even.

Hangover – banana milkshakes do double duty by soothing the stomach and hydrating your body.

Burns – mashed banana covered with a cloth bandage relieves pain from minor burns.

The inside of the banana is not the only useful bit. The banana peel also has healing properties and have been used to treat insect bites, warts, poison ivy, and bruises.

They may not be a miracle cure for all that ails you, but research suggests eating a medium sized banana every day may improve your health in more ways than one.

References

  1. All About Bananas: Producers, Where They’re Grown & Why They Matter. Banana Link. https://www.bananalink.org.uk/all-about-bananas/.
  2. Amy Campbell MS. Is Banana Good for Diabetes? – Diabetes Self. Management. https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/healthy-living/nutrition-exercise/is-banana-good-for-diabetes/. Published March 11, 2020.
  3. Banana. Have A Plant. https://fruitsandveggies.org/fruits-and-veggies/banana/.
  4. Coppola Pby D, 30 N. U.S. retail price of bananas. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/236880/retail-price-of-bananas-in-the-united-states/. Published November 30, 2020.
  5. Falcomer AL, Riquette RFR, Lima BRD, Ginani VC, Zandonadi RP. Health Benefits of Green Banana Consumption: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2019;11(6):1222. doi:10.3390/nu11061222
  6. Glossary. Diabetes Education Online. https://dtc.ucsf.edu/types-of-diabetes/type2/understanding-type-2-diabetes/what-is-type-2-diabetes/.
  7. How much physical activity do adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm. Published October 7, 2020.
  8. Jiménez-Domínguez G, Ble-Castillo J, Aparicio-Trápala M, et al. Effects of Acute Ingestion of Native Banana Starch on Glycemic Response Evaluated by Continuous Glucose Monitoring in Obese and Lean Subjects. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2015;12(7):7491-7505. doi:10.3390/ijerph120707491
  9. Kanazawa K, Sakakibara H. High Content of Dopamine, a Strong Antioxidant, in Cavendish Banana. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2000;48(3):844-848. doi:10.1021/jf9909860
  10. Phytochemicals. phytochemical structures. https://www.phytochemicals.info/.
  11. Sampath Kumar KP, Bhowmik D, Duraivel S, Umadevi M. Traditional and Medicinal Uses of Banana. Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry. 2012;1(3):51-63.
  12. Sidhu JS, Zafar TA. Bioactive compounds in banana fruits and their health benefits. Food Quality and Safety. 2018;2(4):183-188. doi:10.1093/fqsafe/fyy019
  13. The Surprising Science Behind the World’s Most Popular Fruit. National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/urban-expeditions/food/food-journeys-graphic/. Published October 24, 2017.
  14. The top 10 causes of death. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death.

Image by Juan Zelaya from Pixabay 

This post originally appeared on Medical News Bulletin.

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