Whether you enjoy them blended into smoothies, sliced on top of cereal, or as a quick on-the-go snack, it’s easy to go bananas for bananas.
With tons of fiber, muscle-boosting potassium, and an incredibly sweet taste, bananas are an easy way to help meet the recommended 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables every day—especially since they work well in so many recipes.
Bananas are the most widely purchased and most consumed fresh fruit in the country—and are an incredibly popular pick globally, particularly in the tropical regions where they are grown and harvested. While technically a berry (they’re grown from a single flower and contain several, albeit very small, seeds), bananas are believed to have been first cultivated on the island of New Guinea, and today are primarily sourced from countries within South America, the Caribbean, and Africa.
Over the years, bananas have changed greatly into the fruit that we’re now familiar with: Careful cross pollination has helped to soften the solid seeds and hard outer shells, two common aspects of the wild banana from centuries ago.
A closer look at the nutritive value of bananas
The numerous health benefits that bananas can offer is relative to the incredible amount of vitamins and minerals hiding inside each peel. In reviewing the nutrition facts, it’s clear to see what makes this fruit so special:
- One of the most potassium-rich foods—this mineral helps manage blood pressure and build more durable muscles. Noticing leg and foot cramping? Try eating a banana each day; the potassium provides more oxygen to the muscles, making them less tense and more flexible.
- Rich source of fiber—Bananas also have tons of dietary fiber (with 14 percent of the daily recommended value in one large banana alone). Fiber is the fibrous plant material that helps improve digestion and gut health and promotes better nutritient absorption.
- Good concentrations of vitamin C—While citrus is the most obvious source of vitamin C, bananas are another option. One large banana offers 20 percent of the daily recommended value, which is important because the vitamin helps to improve immune system function and promotes better overall health.
- Strong levels of folate—this B vitamin is a must for pregnant women since it contributes to the health of developing fetuses and cuts down on the risk of birth defects.
- Loads of B vitamins—The family known as B vitamins is important because they help to convert food into energy, therefore helping you get the most out of what you eat and making metabolism kick into high gear. These vitamins also influence the nerve receptors in the brain and are linked to better mental health. In one large banana, you’ll receive 25 percent of the daily recommended value of B6, 6 percent of the value of B2 (also known as riboflavin), and 5 percent of the value of B3 (also called niacin).
The caveat to this is that bananas are high in sugar and carbohydrate content—one large banana has 121 calories, 17 grams of sugar, and 31 grams of carbs (or 10 percent of the daily recommended amount). While the complex carbohydrates and naturally occurring sugars (aka fructose) inside bananas are much better for the body than the refined and processed white sugars and simple carbs found in other foods, it’s still important to monitor how much you consume overall on a daily basis.
The health benefits of bananas
Regularly eating bananas throughout the week can lead to a wide range of health benefits—some of which may be surprising.
The carbohydrates and sugars in bananas makes the fruit a good way to receive a quick boost of energy. This is why they are great in morning smoothies and cereal. You might also eat one before or after a workout, or during a midday slump at work when you need a jolt.
Lower blood pressure
Of any fruit or vegetable available in nature, bananas provide one of the highest levels of potassium. This nutrient is key to managing blood pressure because it improves circulation and also reduces the effects of sodium on the body.
Reduced risk of kidney stones
The potassium content in bananas also helps to decrease the frequency of kidney stones and appearance of gout because it works to decrease the amount of uric acid in the body.
Better gut health
A single banana delivers roughly 14 percent of the total fiber content needed by the body every day. A diet high in fiber makes it easier to digest food, can help prevent constipation, and also lead to reduced inflammation in the digestive tract.
One banana also provides 16 percent of your total manganese content for the day. Manganese plays a major role in keeping skin healthy and looking its best by improving the production of collagen, which encourages cell turnover, prevents lines and wrinkles, and makes skin appear overall more youthful.
Manganese also supports better bone health, reducing the risk for developing osteoporosis as you age and cutting down on bone fractures and breaks.
Weight loss partner
Adding bananas to your diet not only curbs a craving for sweets, but the pectin and starches can help to control blood sugar levels and quell appetite so you won’t need to eat as much to stay full.
Bananas contain tryptophan, the compound that is found turkey and often associated with feelings of sleepiness. In fact, tryptophan increases the levels of serotonin in the brain, a hormone that has been linked to feelings of happiness and less issues with depression and anxiety.
In addition to all these health benefits, bananas are also practical—they are one of the most affordable, low-cost fruits on the market, and also portable, making them a great snack for any time of the day.
How to choose the best bananas
Not all bananas are created equal, though. Picking the right ones can determine that you get the most out of the fruit, including better taste. Here are some points to remember:
- Ripeness: Generally speaking, fruit gains more nutritive value as it ripens. So wait to consume the green kind (you can also place in a tight paper bag to make them ripen quicker) and avoid overripe, soft bananas that won’t be as edible since they have a mushier texture and compromised taste. Instead, aim for something in the middle and eat as soon as they ripen.
- Color: The hue of the banana is also a strong indicator of its ripeness and greater nutritional benefit. You’ll want to choose bananas that are evenly yellow throughout. A few dark spots are okay, but avoid bananas that are more brown in color.
- Girth: Bananas that are thicker in the middle section provide a clue that they have been on the tree longer, which means more growing time, and therefore better taste and nutrition.
The key to picking the best bananas really hinges on your eventual plans for the fruit. If you’re just resupplying the fruit bowl, and won’t necessarily use them right away, buy greener options and let them ripen over time. Ripe bananas, however, are better to purchase when you plan on eating them within a day or two.
When they are overripe, you don’t have to throw them away, either—use them for smoothies, banana bread or banana muffins, or even making healthier ice cream.
To store, keep bananas away from the refrigerator since they can be damaged by cold temperatures. Instead, let them rest on the counter in a dry spot where they will keep for about a week.
Adding more bananas to your diet
The easiest way to eat bananas, and get the most from them, is simply to eat the fruit raw. But if you’re looking for more variety, here are some creative (and tasty!) options that will have you eating a whole bunch.
Caramelized bananas give this classic treat an impressive, high-end twist. They’re placed on top of chocolate-covered grahams alongside some homemade marshmallow fluff and then sprinkled with sea salt for extra bite.
In case you couldn’t tell, we love caramelized bananas. In this version, they are cooked in coconut sugar and then topped on toasted slices of your favorite bread along with almond butter, chia seeds, and coconut chips for the ultimate mix of flavor and texture.
If you love chocolate-covered bananas, try this indulgent treat that also mixes in peanut butter and chopped peanuts for some extra protein (or go ahead and add whatever other toppings you prefer). Making them is easy and fun, especially when you get the kids involved.
Gluten-free and Paleo-friendly, this banana bread recipe provides a great way to get the taste and texture of banana bread no matter your dietary preference. It uses wheat-free almond flour, raw honey instead of sugar, and a bunch of hearty spices like cinnamon and cardamom.
These delectable muffins combine three favorite tastes: banana bread, crumb cake, and chai lattes. Use sprouted white wheat flour to keep things healthy as well as extra ripe bananas to keep the batter moist.
Photo by Alicia Cho