Everything You Have Ever Wanted to Know About Bananas (& Recipes!)
The only guide to bananas you will ever need! Everything from nutritional information to health benefits to recipes and more, we've got all your banana needs covered.
Bananas—the world's most perfect fruit, right? But is it really? How much do you really know about bananas? Things like which ones should you pick and what's the best way to store them? What about some ideas for yummy recipes for cooking with and eating bananas? This guide to everything bananas can help you on your quest to get the most out of this popular fruit.
Bananas are an amazing food. Ubiquitous with "power foods"—perfect for kids and adults alike. It might have been one of the first foods you introduced to your baby, it might be your go-to when you get home from a workout or need a quick, nutritious breakfast.
There's a reason more than 100 billion bananas are eaten worldwide every year. American banana consumption alone accounts for 27 pounds per person per year. They are high in potassium and other amazing nutrients. They are easy on the digestive system, and they are portable—no need to pack a snack, just grab a banana on your way out the door. They come in their own little package after all. Plus, if they start to get brown or too old for you to eat, then you can turn them into other yummy foods easily.
Is there more to the banana though? Is it really the world's most perfect food? Well, just about—with a few caveats. For all intents and purposes, the banana we'll be discussing is the Cavendish banana, the most common banana type you'll find at the grocery and wherever bananas are sold.
The Nutritional Makeup of Bananas
One medium, ripe banana contains 105 calories, 1 gram of protein, nearly half a gram of fat, 27 grams of carbs, 3 grams of fiber, and 14.5 grams of sugar. However, in that same serving you'll also be getting calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, sodium, and zinc. Plus, bananas contain a host of other vitamins, fatty acids, and zero cholesterol.
The Health Benefits of Eating Bananas
As stated above, the health benefits of eating bananas are many. Green bananas aside, though, let's discuss the healthy goodness of yellow bananas more in-depth.
- Bananas are low in fat. With not even one whole tiny gram of fat, bananas definitely fall within the low-fat category of foods. If you are watching your fat intake, then these little yellow goodies are good to add to your diet. Plus, they have a creamy texture which makes them blend well in smoothies and delivers a great texture for cookies, pancakes, and other baked goods. So they kind of masquerade as a fat-full food when they are, in fact, the opposite.
- They can help with PMS symptoms. I feel like this is one of those things everyone knows. Cramps? Eat more bananas. (And not just pre-menstrual cramps, any kind of cramps.) The B6 and potassium found in bananas can keep you from retaining water, feeling bloated, and yes, keep your muscles from cramping. Plus, one banana can replace as much potassium as you can lose from exercising for one to two hours. No wonder they're found everywhere after races.
- Bananas are great for your heart. Here's that "P" word again--potassium. This mineral is also essential for your heart health and blood pressure moderation. Studies have shown that people who get adequate potassium in their diets lower their risk of heart disease by up to 27%. In addition, the magnesium in bananas is also attributed to keeping your heart healthy and strong.
- They keep you feeling fuller, longer. You can thank the fiber in bananas for that. Fiber is also good for your digestive tract, and can keep your bowel movements regular. It can also keep constipation at bay. Of course, everything in moderation. Too much fiber and you could be finding yourself spending entirely too much time in the bathroom, if you know what I mean.
- Bananas are a good source of antioxidants. Containing the fabulous antioxidants otherwise known as dopamine and catechins, these babies have been shown to reduce your risk for degenerative diseases and heart disease. The dopamine in bananas isn't the feel-good kind, however. The dopamine in bananas acts as an antioxidant that helps undo all the free radical damage done to our cells from everyday living.
- They are easy on your stomach. Bananas are a great food to eat if you have an upset stomach because they are an easily digestible source of carbs. They are also a good source of potassium, which you may lose if you are getting sick or running to the bathroom too often.
- They improve your sleep and mood. It turns out bananas and turkeys have something in common—that fun little chemical called tryptophan. The body takes tryptophan and converts it into serotonin, which, when at normal levels, can help elevate your mood. Tryptophan on its own is also known for its sleep-inducing properties. Bananas also have enough B6 to help you get some sleep and of course, magnesium to help you relax.
Are Bananas Good for Weight Loss?
On one hand, yes. They have plenty of fiber to keep you full and regular. One banana can fill you up with nearly 10% of your needed fiber requirement for the day. Plus, bananas are low calorie for the amount of fiber they contain. They also taste sweet, which, while not double-stuffed Oreos, can help to curb your sweet tooth.
The resistant starch I discussed earlier found in greener bananas has been found to support gut health and control blood sugar. This kind of starch also increases the production of short-chain fatty acids in the gut, which keep your gut healthy, which in turn can keep your weight steady.
On the other hand, bananas are not recommended as part of a low-carb diet. In fact, they are on the "avoid" list of most popular low-carb diets, like Keto. One medium banana contains 27 grams of carbs. Too much sugar in any form is also a no-no for many diabetics. As with anything else, check with your doctor if you're not sure whether or not a food is good for your particular diet or lifestyle. And make sure to not overdo it. Everything in moderation.
How Many Bananas Should You Eat in A Day?
While there is no real regulation for how much potassium a person should eat in a day (since it depends on your own, personal health) the World Health Organization recommends about 3,500 mg per day.
One medium banana contains 422 mg of potassium, so that means you'd have to eat about eight bananas in one day to go over your potassium recommendations, and even then, there doesn't seem to be any positive benefit to eating too much potassium. Although rare, you can have too much potassium in your diet and mess with your kidneys and heart.
Can Bananas Make You Poop or Constipated?
Ah there it is, the literal flip side of eating too many bananas. Although some people report eating bananas can make them constipated, typically, the reverse is true. Bananas have long been heralded for their kindness to the digestive system, with enough fiber and other nutrients to keep things running smoothly.
Now, of course if you overdo it and eat too much fiber from anything, even bananas, you can experience other digestive issues, like diarrhea, gas, bloating, or constipation. Long story short, maybe stick to just one or two bananas a day.
Are Bananas High in Sugar?
Bananas do have more sugar than most fruits—about 14.5 grams per serving, to be exact. So that's more sugar than some fruits (like apples) and less than others (like pineapple). It's definitely on the higher end of the scale for a high-sugar fruit. If you are watching your sugar intake, have diabetes, or are on a low-carb diet, it's probably best to skip the bananas and find other sources of fiber and potassium, like pears or avocados.
What Do Bananas Taste Like?
Bananas' flavor depends largely on its ripeness. Too green and it's going to taste bitter and leave a kind of waxy film on your teeth and tongue. Green bananas are higher in starch. When they ripen, these starches turn into sugars, thus accounting for the sweeter taste of a ripe banana. Eventually though, bananas turn brown and mushy and, though still sweet, will have a slimy, mushy texture. These are best for cooking with or blending up into a smoothie. I know for some people this texture is a no-go.
The Good in Green Bananas
Green bananas are made up of 78-80% starch. This starch is resistant starch that can't be digested by the small intestine. Therefore, it's treated by your body as more of a digestive fiber. Once a banana is ripe, only 1% of it will be considered a starch. The simple sugars ripe bananas contain are made up of sucrose, glucose, and fructose.
Green bananas are a great source of the dietary fiber called pectin. Pectin can help to improve your blood sugar and aid in digestion. They are made mostly of carbs, but have very little fat or protein. Green bananas can also help control your appetite, due to the large amount of dietary fiber that keeps you feeling fuller, longer.
Green bananas may also have a prebiotic effect—which can help keep your gut full of healthy bacteria. However, some people report bloating, gas, and constipation after eating green bananas.
The Good in Yellow Bananas
While yellow bananas have the same micronutrient content as green bananas, they also have more sugar. Yellow bananas have a good amount of fiber, potassium, antioxidants, magnesium, and a lot of other good-for-you vitamins and minerals. They are a good food to eat if you have an upset or sensitive stomach. They are low calorie, nearly fat-free, and are made up almost entirely of water and carbs. Whether you eat green or yellow bananas, both have a fairly low glycemic index, which means they won't cause major spikes in the blood sugar of typically healthy people.
How to Choose Bananas
Typically, I choose bananas that are just yellow or with a little bit of green on the tips yet. What color of banana you choose largely depends on how you like 'em. The greener, the more they will need to ripen at home before you can eat them.
I do like to stay away from ones that are turning brown as they will not keep nearly as long. Of course, if you like your bananas with spots, or plan on eating them or baking with them (or even freezing them) right away, then snag up those brown bunches. I figure, the more of those that are purchased, the less that end up in the trash.
How to Store Bananas
Keep bananas right on the countertop to ripen. They should always be kept at room temperature (unless you are freezing them). If you need to ripen them quickly, you can put them in an open paper bag. Once they are ripened, you can refrigerate them if you prefer. Don't be surprised if the peels brown in the fridge—the banana itself will remain the same as when you put it in.
If you want to freeze bananas for future use, you can put the entire banana (skin and all) into the freezer once it's ripened. You can also peel, slice, then freeze the banana pieces in individual Ziplock baggies for easy measuring when parsing out ingredients for smoothies, breads, etc.
To prevent browning on bananas (whether fresh or frozen) once peeled, add a teaspoon of lemon juice per banana.
How to Cook With Bananas
And now for the best part—cooking with, and eating the banana! Below, in no particular order, are some of my favorite ways to incorporate bananas into my meals and snacks.
What do you get when you make a banana cookie? Why, a Bananakie of course! Made of rolled oats, bananas, a little cinnamon, almonds, coconut, applesauce, chocolate chips, and more goodies—this is one recipe you'll make over and over.
Banana Chia Quinoa Muffins are a great make-ahead breakfast item for when you're in a hurry. Choc full of lots of nutritional goodness and nothing artificial, and coming in at only 195 calories per muffin, this is one baked good you can feel good about having first thing in the morning.
Now that it's back-to-school time, it's easy to get back into the snacking routine. A granola bar here, five cheese sticks there, a handful of chocolate chip cookies...you get the picture. If you want to try a sweet snack that you know your kids will enjoy but won't have the sugar equivalent of a king-size Snickers, try these Chocolate Banana Muffins.
I've not tried to hide my love for pancakes, and for good reason—they're delicious! And it doesn't get much easier than these Three Ingredient Banana and Egg Pancakes. Flour, eggs, banana. So simple, and what a great way to start your morning.
Healthy Cinnamon Banana Bread — I know, it kind of seems like those words don't all belong together, but I promise they do in this recipe! I've swapped out the bad (oil, sugar, white flour) for the good (coconut oil, applesauce, maple syrup, honey, wheat flour) and what you're left with is a banana bread that is as delicious as it is nutritious.
Another great breakfast make-ahead meal that I like to whip up at the beginning of the week then eat some of every morning is this Strawberry Banana Baked Oatmeal. The bananas act as a natural sweetener so you don't really have to add much additional sugar. Around my house, this baked oatmeal goes fast!
And, because what banana recipe round-up would be complete without at least one smoothie on there, you must make one of my favs. This Banana, Kale, Ginger Smoothie is perfect when you need a little bit of a cleansing from the previous day's indulgences. It's also great for a little midday pick-me-up to help you refresh and recharge.