Bananas are quite amazing, aren’t they? I suppose one might take a pause saying that in an LGBTQ publication. But fear not intrepid reader, we are going to discuss something far more interesting: the nutritional value of many people’s favorite fruit.
As with many trends and cycles in fitness and wellness, there is a tendency to go overboard with one nugget of information or another. I confess I bought into it, and I’m quite glad to cash out. You see, I too had heard that bananas are simply too high in fructose to be healthy. Frankly, I’m annoyed that I listened to that. I love bananas, and you can too. Just as with the supposed risk of eggs and cholesterol or protein and kidney failure, bananas have taken some hits lately. Let’s look at why we’re actually okay with eating them.
In the last entry for this column, I discussed the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load. While I was reading up on it, I noticed that bananas were not really all that bad. In fact, they were actually far from bad. I started buying bananas again on the same day. What a relief!
You see, the current attitude is that bananas are far too sweet to be good for maintaining lower body fat levels. But it turns out that logic simply doesn’t bear fruit (sorry, even without kids, I can’t resist telling dad jokes at this point in my life). Ripe bananas are sweeter because they contain more sugar, but when they are still slightly green or they have then turned brown, those levels are lower. While green, the sugars haven’t separated from the more complex starches (which is why bananas are firmer at this point), and once they go overripe those sugars break down.
Bananas have similar nutritional profiles to other fruits. A banana has around 27g of carbohydrates, but pears have 25g, and both pineapple and blueberries have 21g. Bananas do have a glycemic index around 50; however, anything below 55 is fine. That score puts them in the medium category, as opposed to low, but they are still in the safe spectrum. The glycemic load for bananas, especially when ripe, can get quite high, but that is why all fruit should be consumed in moderation. A single banana each day isn’t going to make you explode into full-blown diabetes. They’re far, far better for you than processed foods with lower numbers for carbohydrates, glycemic levels and glycemic loads.
Bananas are famous for being excellent sources of potassium. Potassium is one of the several electrolytes and is critical for a wide variety of processes in the body (most notably, muscle contraction). It would be much better to get that nutrient from a banana than from a science lab sports drink. Also, the fruit contains fiber, which mitigates the speed at which its sugars affect your insulin levels. It also contains water and Vitamin B6. Also known as pyridoxine, B6 is essential in the diet, because you cannot make it on your own. It factors in the metabolism of your food, the creation of red blood cells (the importance of which cannot be overstated), and are components of the nerve transmitters that allow your nervous system to send and receive information throughout the body.
B6 seems to help indirectly with maintaining mood and alleviating depression. It might help prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, and may also indirectly improve the risk for anemia. Evidence suggests it can protect your arteries from narrowing, thus improving heart health. Some studies have found connections between B6 deficiency and certain cancers, glaucoma and rheumatoid arthritis, so getting enough of the nutrient might also lower the risk of these problems.
All this from a banana. Not too shabby, right? So, all this together means that this popular, healthy food should not cause you consternation. If you like to eat a snack before working out, bananas can give you the energy you need to work harder. They replenish your glycogen levels afterward. I would suggest having fruit two hours before or after your session because fructose closer to your workout can inhibit the formation of muscle; however, this alone shouldn’t be a reason to avoid bananas either. Carbohydrates do play a role in muscle formation, and if being a competitive bodybuilder isn’t your goal, then this timing issue is likely not so important for you.
In closing, I am not suggesting that you should eat multiple bananas a day. I am also not suggesting you have no bananas at all. I’m saying that balance should always be your ideal and that a banana each day is very good for you (assuming you aren’t allergic or grossed out by them). The guidance I offer clients is this: Get six or more servings of fruit and vegetables each day. Four or more of those should be vegetables, and two or fewer should be fruits (assuming your goal is to minimize body fat). A banana counts as one of those servings.
Jack Kirven completed the MFA in Dance at UCLA, and earned certification as a personal trainer through NASM. His wellness philosophy is founded upon integrated lifestyles as opposed to isolated workouts. Visit him at jackkirven.com and INTEGRE8Twellness.com.