Bananas are one of the most universally loved foods. Their natural packaging and nutrient content make them an ideal snack and their sweet taste and creamy texture make them the perfect ingredient for desserts, cakes and ice cream.
Bananas are sweet and the carbohydrates they contain are a unique and healthy mix. So, if you’ve been avoiding bananas because of their sugar content, you can stop now!
A medium banana contains about three grams of fibre, 14 grams of sugar and six grams of starch. It means that sugars in the banana are digested relatively slowly, thanks to the fibre content. One type of banana fibre – pectin – is particularly good at this. Pectin is a water-soluble fibre that slows down sugar digestion and helps stabilise blood sugar levels. In other words, bananas offer slow-release healthy energy.
They also contain another healthy type of carbohydrate - fructooligosaccharides. These are not broken down during digestion but move through the intestine and provide ‘food’ for health-beneficial gut bacteria, which contribute to good digestive and overall health.
Perfect for potassium
Bananas are a good source of potassium – one medium banana covers about 12 per cent of your daily needs. Potassium is important for maintaining healthy blood pressure and overall cardiovascular health. Low levels of potassium can contribute to muscle cramps so bananas are a great snack for sportspeople as they can help prevent cramping and also provide healthy energy.
Valuable vitamin C and more
Perhaps surprisingly, bananas are a good source of vitamin C. One banana provides 17 per cent of your daily vitamin C needs but also vitamin B6, important for energy metabolism and red blood cells, and magnesium, essential for healthy metabolism and bone health.
Bananas are very low in fat but contain phytosterols – compounds similar in structure (but not function) to cholesterol. In fact, phytosterols can help lower your cholesterol levels as they block some cholesterol receptors in the intestine and reduce the amount of cholesterol your body can absorb.
Good mood food
You might have heard of the ‘happy hormone’ called serotonin. Your body needs a specific amino acid – tryptophan – to make it and bananas are an excellent source! Tryptophan, together with vitamin B6 from bananas, helps your body produce more serotonin, which makes you feel and sleep better. Bananas are not magic but their regular consumption can contribute to your overall wellbeing.
There are many claims about the benefits of eating banana peel but not all are true. There’s certainly no vitamin B12 in the peel! There are some useful nutrients, such as carbohydrates (including fibre – yes, fibre is a carbohydrate), a little protein, magnesium and some other vitamins and minerals but raw banana peel is bitter and chewy. Even monkeys peel their bananas! The only way to make the peel edible is by boiling it, which makes it softer and gets rid of the bitterness. Some people cut unpeeled bananas in chunks and cook them with other ingredients in stews and other savoury dishes but it’s certainly an acquired taste! If you fancy trying it, make sure you use organic bananas to avoid pesticides used to spray non-organic bananas.
What to look for
Bananas only grow in tropical and some subtropical climates and their cultivation brings along a host of environmental and human rights issues. Whenever possible, choose organic bananas to protect the environment and Fairtrade to ensure banana farmers and workers are paid a fair wage.
Rainforest Alliance certification (green frog logo) offers some reassurance about environmental, social and sustainable aspects but is not as strict as organic and fair trade.
How to store and use
Unripe (green) bananas should only be kept at room temperature as refrigeration interrupts their ripening process to such extent that they may be unable to resume it when taken out of the fridge. Ripe bananas can be stored at room temperature or in the fridge – their peel may darken in the cold but the flesh remains unaffected.
Green bananas can cause digestive trouble in some people so it’s best to use bananas when they’re a nice, bright yellow. Even if the peel is turning speckled and brown, they’re still absolutely fine to eat. If you want to speed up the ripening process, tear bananas apart, place near other fruit and/or put them in a paper bag. This helps to increase the production of ethylene, the ripening gas.
If, on the other hand, you have too many ripe bananas and need to store them, it’s best to peel them, cut into chunks and freeze in a plastic bag or container. You can then add them to smoothies or breakfast cereals or blend into a smooth banana ice cream. You don’t need to add anything else as this single-ingredient ice cream is delicious but if you throw in some other fruit, such as strawberries or raspberries, or pecan or other nuts, result may be even tastier – and healthier!