Bananas are REALLY popular for a reason. They are delicious, portable, sweet, and satisfying. Banana facts for health are also surprising and vast. Bananas are a rich source of antioxidants, including gallocatechins, dopamine, and anthyocyanins.
Banana Fun Facts
- Humans share 50% of their DNA with bananas
- Bananas are a berry, while strawberries are not!
- Along with apples, bananas are one of the most commonly eaten fruits.
- Bananas float in water.
- Monkeys peel bananas upside down, or is it right side up?
- Banana skins have oils that can reduce inflammation from bug bites.
I eat bananas because each and every time I do, I feel a small dose of tropical. A song in my head has some steel drums. What a delight; bananas!
I live in the cold north, and just about every day of my life I eat a banana. It’s cheap, it’s easy to find, it’s fast food. Bananas are a little dose of tropical in my otherwise chilly days. It’s June and my hands are chilly, I’m wearing fleece. Don’t laugh, it’s true.
We all have deep reasons for why we eat what we do beyond taste, but I simply love bananas. Green ones, ripe ones, dark-brown ones and everything in between. They are great mixed up with other fruits.
My kids aren’t as enthusiastic about them as me. Oh well, all the more bananas for me! I wanted to learn more about them so I can share that with you. From banana’s origins to the biochemistry, here we go!
Banana’s Deep Roots
Native to Asia, and Australia, they are thought to be first domesticated in Papua New Guinea and Africa as early as 5000-8000 BC based on archaeological data [R].
Banana plants are the largest herb. That’s right, the banana plant is technically an herb.
The type of bananas most commonly eaten in the United States are the sweet Cavendish bananas.
1) Bananas are Antioxidant-Rich Foods
Not that long ago, bananas didn’t get the nutritional respect they deserved. Scientists believed they had a sprinkling of minerals, vitamins and fiber. We now know this isn’t true; they are complex and rich in antioxidants!
Bananas have an antioxidant called gallocatechin. This is highest in the peel. Yes, the peel is edible [R].
Read on to learn more about the effects of these fascinating substances and other antioxidants in bananas.
2) Bananas have Gallocatechins
Gallocatechins, also present in green tea, gives green tea a lot of its notoriety for its health benefits. A little known fact is that bananas are also rich in this substance.
- Reducing inflammation
- Improving blood glucose
- Reducing bone breakdown
- Reducing cancer spread
- Anti-cancer effects against skin cancer, including melanoma
3) Bananas Have Natural Dopamine and L-dopa
Dopamine is a reward neurotransmitter, but also is an antioxidant. Dopamine motivates you into action and gives you pleasure from your daily activities, such as exercise, hobbies, social activities and sexual interactions.
Dopamine makes some people more resilient to stress and depression as well. While dopamine is just one of many substances playing a role in mood and pleasure, it may be a reason to reach for a banana instead of an energy drink! Some people supplement L-dopa from Mucuna pruriens for a mood-enhancing benefit. Personally, I recommend trying bananas!
Little is known about the effects of dopamine and L-dopa from foods, but we do know that dopamine in the brain plays a critical role in a healthy mood and in reward from daily life.
3) Bananas have Skin-Protecting and Anti-obesity Hydroxycinnamic Acid
Additional antioxidants rich in bananas are hydroxycinnamic acid [R].
Hydroxycinnamic acid may have anti-obesity effects by reducing inflammation in the body [R].
Hydroxycinnamic acid may also protect the skin by [R]:
- Providing UV protection
- Maintaining collagen
- Reducing inflammation
- Providing antioxidants
4) Bananas have Proanthycyanins
Bananas also contain proanthocyanins, a type of polyphenol. Proanthocyanins first got a lot of attention due their health benefits discovered in grapes.
Proanthocyanins may [R];
- Protect nerve function
- Reduce UV damage
- Improve blood pressure
- Reduce retinal damage
- Help improve vein function
5) Bananas are a Great Source of Nutrients
Banana Nutrition Information per 100 gram [R]
Bananas are 78% water! Water is an important nutrient and most fruits have high water content.
The carbohydrate type for a green banana and a ripe banana vary considerably.
Green Bananas: Green bananas contain a high amount of resistant starch. This makes them a prebiotic. Green bananas have less overall absorb-able carbohydrate than ripe bananas. This makes them more suitable for people with diabetes.
Prebiotics feed the healthy bacteria in our gut to help them thrive.
Ripe Bananas: As the banana ripens, the resistant starch turns into a sweeter, simple sugar.
Green bananas have a low glycemic load.
Nothing is straightforward; as a banana ripens, its antioxidant content increases! Good reasons to eat bananas in both stages.
Bananas are one of the best food sources of vitamin B6, a nutrient that is important in protein metabolism, mood regulation and so much more. Over 10 percent of the population may have inadequate B6 blood levels [R].
Banana Harvesting Considerations
Bananas, however, carry a dark side for the individuals growing these crops and also for the environment due to clear-cutting practices and chemical use.
Because banana’s market prices are stagnant, the farmers continue to live in poverty in developing regions.
Profits are almost exclusively given to monopoly-type companies that dictate farming practices. The growers are exposed to threatening chemical toxins and unfair wages.
While these chemicals are banned in the United States, they are widely used in banana production in other countries where the majority of bananas are produced. This puts the farmer at risk due to exposures. Child labor is also a reality in banana farming [R].
Chemical pesticides also leach into the soil and make their way into the soil and run off into water sources.
Finding Fair Trade Bananas
Seeking Fair Trade and organic bananas supports a more fair income of farmers and also supports their safety. Fair Trade bananas can be challenging to find. Here is a link I found for sourcing Fair Trade bananas: Coliman.com.
You can also click here to find out which markets in your area sell Equal Exchange bananas.
At as little as ten cents more per pound, it seems worth the extra price. You, the consumer, hold the key to change in farming practices!
Cavendish bananas are very susceptible to fungal, pests, and viral diseases; these diseases are linked to warming climate temperatures. Efforts are being made to strengthen the banana plant through growing new varieties of Cavendish bananas [R].
Additional Banana Considerations
While I eat bananas at all stages, I understand that doesn’t suit everyone’s palate.
Simply peel your ripe bananas and toss them in a freezer storage bag or bowl. Take them out of the freezer whenever you want to make a smoothie or bake a nutritious snack.
- Choose Fair Trade and organic when possible
- For a low glycemic index snack, enjoy while green
- To get more antioxidants, enjoy when ripe
- Choose a banana post-workout for a great potassium replacement
- Make sure to factor in the carbohydrate content if taking medication for diabetes
Here is a simple way to use up those extra bananas!
Baked Banana Chip Recipe
- 4 cups bananas, ripe
- 2 lemons
- 1-2 drops CPTG cinnamon oil (I use Doterra), optional
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper, optional
Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Slice the bananas as thin as you possibly can. Place the bananas on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Combine the juice of the lemons, the cinnamon oil and cayenne in a bowl. Brush the banana slices with the combination. Bake for 1 to 1.5 hours, checking every 20 minutes to make sure they don’t burn. The slices should be firm and leathery but will be bendable.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 20 years, has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. Has researched supplements and plants as medicine throughout her career. Loves helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.