Ever since I was a very young child, I have loved bananas above any other fruit. Because my mom usually bought one bunch of bananas per week for our big family, I never got more than one per week. At some point, I remember making a firm pledge to myself that I would eat at least one banana a day when I was old enough to buy my own food. And I have kept that promise. This week, I’d like to talk about why you might want to consider eating or not eating bananas.
Bananas are the fruit (considered a botanical berry) of Musa acuminata. Acuminata means long-pointed or tapering, not referring to the fruit, but to the flowers giving birth to the fruit. The original banana has been cultivated and used since ancient times, even pre-dating the cultivation of rice. While the banana thrived in Africa, its origins are said to be in Southeast Asia and Oceania.
Antonius Musa was the personal physician to Roman emperor Octavius Augustus, and it was he who was credited for promoting the cultivation of the exotic African fruit in the Roman world from 63 to 14 B.C. Portuguese sailors brought bananas to Europe from West Africa in the early fifteenth century. The banana was carried by sailors to the Canary Islands and the West Indies, finally making it to North America with Spanish missionary Friar Tomas de Berlanga. The Spanish tried to grow bananas in Florida but found that the winter temperatures and frosts made it unprofitable. Further south, however, the banana plantations flourished.
These historical bananas were not the sweet yellow banana we know today, but the red and green cooking variety, now usually referred to as plantains to distinguish them from the sweet type. The yellow sweet banana is a mutant strain of the cooking banana, discovered in 1836 by Jamaican Jean Francois Poujot, who found one of the banana trees on his plantation was bearing yellow fruit rather than green or red. Upon tasting the new discovery, he found it to be sweet in its raw state, without the need for cooking. He quickly began cultivating this sweet variety. Soon they were being imported from the Caribbean to New Orleans, Boston, and New York, and were considered such a unique treat that they were eaten on a plate using a knife and fork. Sweet bananas were all the rage at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, selling for a hefty ten cents each.
In 1904, an apprentice pharmacist at Tassel Pharmacy in Latrobe, PA named David Evans Strickler invented what would come to be known as the banana split. He loved making ice cream sundaes and decided to place three scoops of ice cream on top of a banana that was split down the middle.
The banana variety that gave rise to a huge worldwide market, the Gros Michel, was basically wiped out due to disease by the mid-20th century. Its main commercial replacement, the Cavendish (pictured above), is a bit less sweet and has a thinner skin. Those readers who are older may remember a different banana from your youth – it is not your imagination. And the demand for bananas has significantly affected the course of history – especially for Latin America – in the last two centuries. Look up the origin of terms such as “banana boat”, “banana republic”, and “banana wars”. Click on these links for a deeper dive into banana history and current status
Today, the banana is the world’s fourth most consumed food – behind rice, wheat, and milk or corn (I’ve heard/read both). Bananas can be eaten raw or cooked, are easy to prepare, are deliciously sweet, and do not require chewing.
ARE BANANAS NUTRITIOUS?
Many health professionals, nutritionists, and health coaches recommend that we should eat a banana a day! As with any general advice, it may not be best for everyone (more on that below), but these are a few of the reasons that bananas are on so many shopping lists:
Lower blood pressure: The significant amounts of potassium and magnesium in bananas can help decrease high blood pressure. Bananas are an excellent support for many who suffer from high blood pressure. Increased potassium intake is highly recommended for those with hypertension. Doctors who prescribe special diets for patients with high blood pressure normally recommend consumption of increased potassium, calcium, and magnesium and decreased intake of sodium. Since bananas are high in potassium (among the highest of all food sources) and very low in sodium, they can be a delicious support.
A healthier heart: Bananas are high in anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is one of the biggest causes of both heart disease and high blood pressure, so eating bananas can be an ideal option for improving overall cardiovascular health.
CAUTION: The blood pressure-lowering effects of bananas reduce the risk of heart disease only for certain blood types. Bananas are also very supportive for individuals with those same blood types who have a history of heart disease in their family, or who have suffered a heart attack or stroke.
Bananas are also high in fiber. Fiber is a well-known support for heart health.
Stronger bones and Muscle support: Let’s start with what the banana is best known for: the electrolyte potassium. Potassium has been found to protect against osteoporosis, and magnesium plays a part in bone formation. Potassium is also crucial for sending nerve signals around the body. We lose potassium when we perspire, and this is what can lead to cramping and muscle tightness and locking up.
Bananas can be a superfood for runners and can be ideal for combating cramps over long distances. While I don’t recommend eating anything less than three hours before going to bed, some people find bananas helpful for eating just before bed to minimize waking during the night with foot or leg cramps.
Better digestion: Bananas provide about 12% of your daily fiber needs, promoting regularity and contributing to numerous other ositive effects on the body. Fiber is food that doesn’t get broken down when it is digested, and soluble fiber is the kind that makes its way into the blood stream. When you eat this kind of fiber, it helps to sweep through your blood vessels and thereby prevent the build-up of fatty deposits. At the same time, it will also head through your bowels and help to remove clogged channels – thereby improving your bowel movements.
Bananas are also naturally alkaline. They are, therefore, a good choice for neutralizing the negative effects of very acidic foods or of acid caused by your stomach’s own juices.
CAUTION: If your blood type is not friendly to bananas, you may experience constipation and other digestive upset when you eat bananas.
Decrease inflammation and Support mental sharpness: Inflammation is something we often associate with either an injury or an inflammatory condition such as arthritis. In fact, inflammation can affect us even though we may not be aware of any physical change. That’s because pro-inflammatory cytokines can travel around the body and cause damage. Very recent studies suggest that these are somewhat responsible for both feelings of brain fog (making us groggy and slow) as well as feelings of depression. Inflammation is one of the biggest causes of heart disease and one of the biggest causes of high blood pressure.
Bananas can boost brain function and help you to be more alert, awake, and creative. This is partly due to the B6-carbohydrate combination. The Vitamin B6 in bananas may help prevent cognitive decline and reduce mood-related symptoms of PMS. Cognitive decline may be driven in large part by metabolic processes (research into the relationship between metabolism and cognition is very much a developing field in current science). Because Vitamin B6 and carbohydrates both give you more energy, you may benefit from cognitive metabolic enhancement and thereby have more brain power because of increased blood flow to the brain. Vitamin B6 – together with several other minerals contained in bananas – is also used by the body to make key neurotransmitters which carry chemical messages throughout the body.
CAUTION: If your blood type is not friendly to bananas, eating them triggers inflammation.
Elevate mood and Increase antioxidants: There are other ways that bananas elevate mood. For one, eating a banana will help to release tryptophan in the body. Tryptophan can cross the blood-brain barrier, where it is turned into hydroxy tryptophan and then serotonin. Serotonin is the ‘feel good’ hormone that can help to boost your mood and even to combat pain.
The high Vitamin C content in bananas also helps to elevate mood by converting tryptophan and thereby increasing serotonin production. Put these things together and add the mood boost you get from consuming any carbohydrate, and you have a great way to pick up your mood. Vitamin C is one of the most potent antioxidants available and well known for strengthening the immune system in general.
Boost energy: Bananas are one of the most convenient and healthy forms of carbohydrates available. Eating a banana can give you a boost of both energy and mood. This makes them especially great for runners and as a snack for those seeking to avoid a mid-afternoon “slump”. I include one in my smoothie almost every morning to jump start my day.
As noted above, bananas also contain vitamin B6 – this is a vitamin that helps the body make more efficient use of energy from the carbohydrates you eat. So, bananas give you the carbs and the means to use them more effectively!
Diabetes management: Bananas help with diabetes management in two ways: they have been shown to help improve insulin sensitivity, and their vitamin B6 content supports better utilization (and, therefore, less likelihood of build-up) of blood sugar. At the same time, bananas also offer a convenient, measured, and healthy dose of unrefined sugar that can help you to manage low blood sugar if you have had too much insulin.
Bonus protein: Bananas do contain a small amount of protein. This gets broken down into amino acids, and these used by your body to create muscle tissue, flesh, connective tissue and more.
Weight management: Bananas have about 110 calories per each 30-gram serving. More importantly, they are beneficial to gut microbiome diversity in some individuals. They contain no fat and no salt. Also, they are convenient, easy to carry, and don’t require refrigeration – all great considerations for those who are busy but still want to eat a healthy diet.
CAUTION: If bananas are an avoid for your blood type, however, the calorie benefit will be overcome by the inflammatory response.
BANANAS AND BLOOD TYPE
I really could have written a cautionary note after every single point above because bananas are NOT recommended for all blood types. That is because bananas have proteins called lectins that cause inflammation in certain individuals with certain blood types. Here are the general guidelines:
Beneficial: Bananas are beneficial for type B Secretors and all type O (Secretors and Non-Secretors). In fact, B Secretors and O Secretors gained increased gut microbiome diversity when they eat bananas! For those following the GenoType Diet, bananas are beneficial for Hunters (only Os are Hunters).and some Gatherers, Explorers, and Nomads.
Neutral: Bananas are neutral for type A Non-Secretors and type B Non-Secretors.
Avoid: Bananas should be avoided by type A Secretors and all type AB (Secretors and Non-Secretors). For those following the GenoType Diet, bananas should be avoided by all Teachers and Warriors and by some Gatherers, Explorers, and Nomads.
If you would like to know more about blood types, secretor status, and genotypes, request the link to a free one-hour minicourse (audio) in the Comments section of this post. Above all, pay attention to your body and how it reacts when you eat a banana. I am a B Secretor with a strong tendency to do well with O foods. Bananas are a home run for me. My husband is an A Secretor and has immediate digestive problems if he even eats a few bites of a banana. I would be delighted to introduce you to the world of lectins so that you can get the very best nutritional value from everything you eat.
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