What’s So Great About Bananas?

What’s So Great About Bananas?

Are you like me, a food “rut” eater? I crave oatmeal for three months and then can’t look at it for the next six. Same goes for yogurt, salads, baked sweet potatoes and pretty much every other staple of my diet. They make the rotation for a while and then they’re benched when I can’t stand the look of them. But two foods never seem to go out of favour; peanut butter and bananas (together, alone, makes no difference to me). It is an upside down day to be sure if I haven’t had those two foods and while I could wax poetic about peanut butter, let’s stick to the subject at hand. The banana is nature’s most perfectly portable food coming as it does in its own handy carrying case. But this would be meagre praise if that was all it had to offer. Good thing it shines in so many other ways.

We probably all know the banana’s major nutrition claim to fame; potassium. If you’re active you know the need for potassium in your diet. A key nutrient in balancing the body’s fluids, potassium helps in the regulation of the heartbeat and blood pressure. Potassium is lost during exercise and bananas can help to quickly replenish it, aiding in the maintenance of proper electrolyte balance in the muscles and preventing cramping and dehydration.  Potassium has also been found to have a potentially bone-protecting affect since it can counteract some of the calcium leaching out of bones caused by the excessive sodium content of the average North American diet.

Okay, so beyond the potassium, what does the banana have to offer? Well, you know that advice you often hear about bananas and their, um, “binding” affect in case of gastrointestinal “issues”? Old wives tale it turns out (sorry, old wives!) Bananas can actually relieve constipation and promote bowel regularity. This is due to their fibre which is of a specific type called “resistant starch”. Resistant starch acts similarly to insoluble fibre in the body, moving through the digestive tract undigested and it can contribute to overall gut health (not just in urgent situations!) According to a Louisiana State University study published in the journal Obesity, “foods high in resistant starch may help with weight loss too.” The study showed that rats whose diets were supplemented with resistant starch lost weight because “the starch stimulated genes that contain the blueprint for two hormones, PYY and GLP-1, that make us feel full and send signals to stop eating.” In another study, conducted at the University of Colorado and published in 2004 in Nutrition & Metabolism, researchers “looked at the effects of resistant starch on fat metabolism in people after eating a single meal.  Fat burning was 23% higher in those who ate 5 grams of resistant starch in the meal than in those who didn’t: More fat was burned for fuel and less was available to store away.” Plus bananas contain prebiotics which help stimulate the growth of probiotics (good bacteria) in the gut.

Athletes have long known the power of the banana to fuel workouts. In fact, studies have shown that 2 bananas eaten before or during exercise provide enough readily accessible energy to power a full 90 minute workout. And while your kids may not be logging 90 minute workouts on a regular basis (unless they play hockey…what is UP with that schedule??), they could probably benefit from another of the bananas hidden talents….boosting brainpower!  One study conducted in the UK followed 200 students who ate 3 bananas a day (for breakfast, lunch and dinner).  Findings showed the students were more alert in class on the regimen and performed better on exams (not to mention their ridiculously healthy colons!)

Tips and Tidbits

Store at room temperature to allow bananas to ripen as refrigerating stops the ripening process

Jonesing for banana bread and all your bananas are green? Speed up ripening by placing them in a paper bag with an apple

And one final, weird fact: A Globe and Mail article earlier this year reported that scientists in Brazil have “found a way to use fruit fibres to product durable, light-weight plastics that can be used in car parts. They expect the new plastics could be used in dashboards, bumpers and side panels within two years.”  Largely derived from banana fibres, these plastics are “30 per cent lighter and three to four times stronger than regular plastics”. Hope they don’t smell like that time a banana peel got forgotten under the passenger seat!

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