August is coming to a close, and with that comes back-to-school and back to school sports. It seems like a perfect time to talk about one of the most popular fruits eaten by athletes – bananas!
Americans eat, on average, >25 pounds of bananas per person, each year. With its popularity, it’s surprising how many misconceptions and little-known facts there are about them.
For example, did you know:
- They do not grow on trees. The banana plant is actually the world’s largest herb
- They’re actually berries (if we’re being technical, and going by the botanical definition.)
- The “stringy things” have a name: phloem. If you want to avoid them, peel the fruit from the bottom up (the way monkeys do)
Bananas, Body Weight, and Overall Health
Here’s a question that I’ve heard before: Do bananas make you fat?
Eating excessive amounts of bananas, therefore surpassing your calorie allowance (and not getting enough physical activity), can lead to weight gain. But trust me, it’s far easier to do that with a candy bar than a piece of fruit. Bananas are fat-free and ~75% water. Therefore, to answer the question: eating one, or even two a day, as part of a healthy eating plan, will not make you fat. Can we please put that rumor to rest!
Bananas naturally contain fiber, with the green ones possibly having an additional benefit. They have varying stages of ripeness (more about that below). In each stage, the fruit has a unique carbohydrate composition. As it ripens, starch breaks down into simple sugars. Therefore, green bananas have the most starch. Some of that starch is referred to as resistant starch, due to the fact that it resists digestion and absorption. In that way, it’s similar to fiber.
Resistant starch has some potential benefits. These include the potential to:
- Decrease postprandial rise in blood glucose
- Lower plasma triglyceride levels
- Improve insulin sensitivity
- Increase satiety
A Powerful Sports Performance Fruit
It’s no wonder athletes love this fruit. They are packed full of the good stuff active people need. For one, they offer a combination of carbohydrates – both glucose and fructose – a big benefit to endurance athletes who need multiple transport carbohydrates. They are also a rich source of the electrolyte potassium. One study found that bananas might be better fuel during endurance exercise than a traditional sports drinks. They also provide a variety of vitamins and minerals. Ripe bananas are an ideal source of easily digestible carbohydrates.
The following is some nutrition found in one medium banana (7” to 7-7/8” long):
|Fiber (gm)||~ 3|
|Potassium (mg)||> 10% Daily Value|
|Vitamin C (mg)||> 10% Daily Value|
|Vitamin B6 (mg)||> 25% Daily Value|
Selecting and Storing Bananas
Bananas ripen post-harvest, and their color depicts their ripeness. The unripe fruit have green peels, are hard and are less sweet. They become yellow as they ripen, with the yellow peel becoming increasingly brown. At that stage, they are sweeter and creamier.
If you want your bananas to ripen quickly, you can speed the process by place them in a closed bag. They produce ethylene gas, which speeds ripening. Or, if you want to save already-ripe bananas, place them in the refrigerator. The peel will continue to brown, but the inside will remain ideal for eating.
Ways to Enjoy Bananas
- Grilled or broiled – the natural sugars will caramelize
- Peel, coat in dark chocolate, and freeze – yum!
- Peel and eat – they make a great portable snack
- Dice ½ a banana and add to cereal, yogurt, waffles or pancakes.
- Spread 1 Tbsp peanut butter on 1 side of a banana and roll in crushed walnuts for a crunchy sweet snack.
- Make “ice cream” – Freeze bananas, place in a blender, and blend until creamy
- Make a smoothie. Check out this pineapple banana protein smoothie recipe.
- Bake! Pureed/mashed bananas are a great substitute for fat in baked goods
Do you have a favorite way to eat bananas? Share in the comments below.