Bananas are one of the most common and popular fruits available worldwide.The most common type of banana is Cavendish which is soft and sweet, and often referred to as “dessert banana”. Larger and firmer bananas with a thicker peel are called plantains, which are cooked as a vegetable in parts of Africa, Central America and the Philippines. Other less common varieties of bananas include red banana, a shorter, plumper and often sweeter variety (when ripe) than Cavendish and the Lady finger, which are shorter and thinner and also sweeter than the Cavendish.
Bananas are the 5th largest agricultural crop in terms of world trade . They are either eaten as a sweet snack/dessert. The less sweet variant, plantain, is often used in cooking. Banana flour can also be used in nutritional supplements, in flour or paste form. There are wide-ranging health benefits of eating bananas, including increases in important vitamins and minerals, the prevention of diseases, and in treating the symptoms of certain illnesses. There are some differences between yellow (ripe) bananas and green (unripe) bananas in terms of their nutritional content and health benefits.
One medium banana (about 118g) is about 105 calories, consists of 27g carbohydrates, 13.5g as sugars, 3.1 g fibre, 422 mg potassium, 0.43 mg vitamin B6. Bananas have a low-medium glycemic index rating of 51.
Bananas are a good source of vitamins, particularly vitamin A and vitamin C. Vitamin C is important for the immune system and helps to prevent cancer . Vitamin A deficiency is a growing problem in developing countries and causes blindness, particularly in children, so there is a growing push to encourage people from those countries to eat more bananas and banana-fortified foods. Bananas are also rich in nutrients such as potassium, calcium, sodium, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, zinc, and manganese. Many people are aware of these nutrients being present in bananas, but somehow bananas don’t get the credit they deserve.
A review of the different studies into the nutritional value of bananas have found that bananas contain a wide range of compounds that have several health benefits. They contain flavonoids, which protect against the free radicals responsible for aging. Eating bananas, therefore, can help to slow down the aging process. Bananas also contain dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These are all neurotransmitters that are important in controlling mood, cognitive function, and emotions. Phytosterols are also present, which lower cholesterol levels and make it absorb more slowly in the gut. Bananas are high in antioxidants which also slow down aging, are preventative for coronary heart disease, as well as for some neurodegenerative disorders. They are made of resistant starch, which is absorbed more slowly than cereal starch, making it a better choice for those with diabetes and heart disease. In sum, the health benefits of eating bananas range from slowing down aging, improving mood and cognitive function, lowering cholesterol, boosting the immune system, and lowering the risk of heart disease and neurodegenerative disorders.
Bananas ripen once they are picked. When they are first picked their skin appears green but as they ripen, their skin becomes more yellow. Once they become overripe, their skin becomes black. Not only does their appearance change as they ripen, but their nutritional content does as well. Green bananas contain more complex carbohydrates and resistant starch, whereas yellow bananas contain more freely-available fructose, which is why they taste sweeter. Because of this difference in nutritional content, there has been a large amount of research into the particular health benefits of green bananas, above those of yellow bananas.
Most of the studies of green banana consumption use flour or paste because green bananas are not normally consumed as they are. A systematic review of the health benefits of green bananas found that green bananas are useful in the treatment of the symptoms of gastrointestinal disease. In particular, green bananas help with both diarrhea and constipation. Green bananas are also useful in weight control. They increase satiety (the feeling of “fullness”), which reduces the impulse to consume more food. Beyond that, they are also helpful in the treatment of diabetes. First, they release sugars slowly, which can help with glycaemic control. Second, they increase insulin metabolism and sensitivity. Other researchers have suggested, however, that there is no difference between yellow and green bananas in their usefulness for the treatment of diabetes, with yellow bananas being just as effective as green bananas. Green banana flour is also useful in the treatment of stomach ulcers, due to the action of flavonoids, and it decreases blood pressure. Some strains of banana (specifically Musa bananas) have antibacterial properties that are useful in treating viral infections. Green bananas, therefore, have particular health benefits when it comes to weight control, diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, ulcers, blood pressure, and viruses.
In conclusion, both yellow and green bananas contain a remarkable range of important nutrients and antioxidants which
- Bananas are an excellent source of energy since they contain a good amount of carbohydrates and potassium. Bananas are well-loved by endurance athletes for this reason (also the reason many people are sceptical of bananas). Bananas are a unique blend of carbohydrates, nutrients, and antioxidants that may help provide nutrition and support prolonged and intensive exercise.
- Bananas are a rich source of many carotenoids, phenolics, flavonoids and amines having antioxidant properties effective in protecting against oxidative stress.
- May help prevent cancer – Bananas contain lycopene, which is known to provide protection against prostate cancer among men. Most of the health benefits of flavonoids can be attributed to their antioxidant and chelating properties. These antioxidant and chelating properties makes flavonoids exhibit antimutagenic and antitumor activities.
- Bananas are rich in carotenoids such as α-carotene, β-carotene, and β-cryptoxanthin that have provitamin A activity, and others like lycopene and lutein have a strong antioxidant capacity. Consumption of foods rich in carotenoids. Consumption of fruits rich in carotenoids is reported to boost immunity and reduce the risk of various diseases, such as cancer, diseases of the eyes, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular problems.
- Rich in phenolic compounds – The flavonoids detected in banana are as follows: quercetin, myricetin, cyanidin and kaempferol, which provide health benefits mainly because they act as scavengers for free radical and oxidative stress that can cause many diseases. Most of these phenolics also exhibit antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiallergenic, antithrombotic, and vasodilatory activities.
- May help stomach ulcers – A flavonoid, leucocyanidin found in unripe banana pulp, may help protect against stomach ulcers.
- Protect against eye disease. Lutein helps protect against age-related macular degeneration.
- Good source of neurotransmitters. Bananas are a good source of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter which creates a feeling of happiness and wellbeing is present in banana pulp (although some studies say it may not cross the blood-brain barrier). The dopamine in bananas also acts as an antioxidant. Bananas are also a good source of the amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine, two essential amino acids that are precursors to dopamine and serotonin.
- Gut health – Bananas contain resistant starch and inulin, which acts as prebiotic for healthy gut bacteria.
- Lower cholesterol. Bananas are a good source of phytosterols which are naturally occurring plant sterols that compete with cholesterol for absorption in the intestine, hence lowering cholesterol levels in the blood.
Green or unripe bananas too have a lot of nutrients including high amounts of fibre, resistant start, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. A green banana diet (with cooked green bananas) has also been shown to improve diarrhea in children. Rats with colitis and treated with green banana flour showed an improvement in colonic oxidative status and anti-inflammatory activity. Flavonoids present in green bananas have been shown to significantly reduce cholesterol, phospholipids, triglycerides and free fatty acids in the blood, liver and kidneys of test animals. The consumption of green banana flour has been shown to benefit heart health in rats, and reduce blood pressure in humans.
It is completely understandable, therefore, why there has been such a push in recent years to encourage the consumption of bananas in populations where there are currently deficiencies in these nutrients. Bananas are cheap, easy to prepare, and have such a wide range of health benefits that they should be encouraged as part of healthy people’s diets, as well as to help treat illnesses and diseases.