On the screen, bananas are a menace. Just ask Charlie Chaplin, Bugs Bunny or anyone who’s played Mario Kart.
In your diet, though, bananas can be a boon. Experts have a bunch of reasons to like them and see only a few ways the elongated yellow fruit could cause your health to slip.
“They’re rich in nutrients and fiber,” says Colleen Spees, associate professor of medical dietetics at Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus. “They’re delicious. They’re inexpensive. They’re all the right things.”
They’re the world’s most popular fruit and have been cultivated for perhaps 10,000 years. Some scholars think the tempting fruit in the Biblical Garden of Eden sounds more like a banana than an apple. Bananas turn up in religious traditions from around the world.
Banana trees are actually herbs, and the fruit is technically a berry. A “bunch” refers to the cluster of bananas as harvested. A small cluster of bananas is a “hand,” and an individual banana is a “finger.”
Good source of potassium
Whatever you call them, bananas are noted for being a good source of potassium, Spees adds. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one medium banana provides 375 milligrams. That’s about 11% of the recommended daily potassium for a man and 16% for a woman.
“Potassium is a mineral that is vital for heart health, especially in terms of blood pressure management,” Spees shares. (It’s true other foods – including lima beans and beet greens – are higher in potassium, she says, “but how many people are eating the greens of beets?”) Bananas are also easy to digest and great for people with irritable bowel disorders, like ulcerative colitis, who are often deficient in potassium.
Whatsmore, bananas are also a source of magnesium (32 mg), beneficial phytochemicals and antioxidants.
Filling up on fiber
One medium banana, which contains 113 calories, also has about 5 grams of total dietary fiber, which helps people feel full. And the fiber in bananas has “really interesting” qualities, Spees notes.
Unripe and slightly unripe bananas contain resistant starch, which serves as prebiotic fiber. These indigestible prebiotics serve as food for probiotics, the “good” microbes that live in the gut. These beneficial gut bacteria are essential for digestion and have been linked to immunity, brain health and more.
As a banana ripens, the resistant starch is broken down into natural sugars, Spees shares. “That’s why a riper banana is a little bit