Grab a na-na and you’ll not only hit the sweet spot, you’ll also be doing your mind and body a huge favour. In fact, there’s a whole bunch of health benefits of bananas that we don’t even know about.
But Dietitian Glenn Cardwell does – and he’s happy to share them! With over 35 years in clinical and public health nutrition experience, including 10 years as consultant dietitian to the National Heart Foundation, five years at the Children’s Hospital in Sydney, and as major player in establishing the WA School Canteen Association in 1994, Glenn reckons it’s time to reveal this little yellow fruit’s superpowers and give it the credit it deserves.
Here they are – and a few bananrama tips you’ll go monkey’s for …
1. Muscle power
Ever noticed how cyclists, tennis players, triathletes and just about anybody involved in sport love to eat bananas before, during or straight after training? There’s a reason for that.
“Research shows that having two bananas an hour (with water) works just as well as sports drinks on a 75km bike ride,” explains Glenn. “The banana breaks down in digestion to give natural sugars that fuel the muscles, making it the perfect sports snack.”
Make like a banana and split! Speed up the ripening process by placing bananas in a fruit bowl or paper bag with other ripe fruit. The natural ethylene gas produced by the other fruit and the banana will circulate in the bag and speed up ripening.
2. Memory & mood boost
If you’ve ever suffered from the mushy mid arvo’ slump, bananas could be your solution. “Carbohydrate snacks are very useful for bringing low blood glucose levels back to normal and help avoid the mid-afternoon slump often experienced at work,” suggests Glenn. “Healthy blood glucose control is helped by snacking on carbohydrate foods every 2-4 hours to keep levels steady. Wholesome carbohydrate snacks are very useful for clear thinking, improved memory and mood. Bananas are ideal, because of their low Glycemic Index and zero fat level.”
3. Low glycaemic index
Bananas are the perfect go-to fruit for a sweet fix minus the sugar and blood rollercoaster. “The average Glycemic Index of bananas is 52, even less for under-ripe bananas as they have a higher starch content and a lower sugar content,” he explains. “A GI of 52 is classified as low, meaning that it doesn’t cause high blood sugar levels. That makes the banana a particularly good fruit choice for people with diabetes.”
4. Antioxidant armour
They may have a squishy outer layer, but bananas put up a ripper fight, protecting you against free radicals. “Antioxidants are well known to play a role in reducing the risk of early disease,” explains Glenn. “Scientific research confirms that bananas have significant antioxidant power helping to protect the body from future disease via their positive effect on blood and nerves. Bananas have antioxidant compounds such as vitamin C and phenols.”
A-peeling tip: If the ‘pull tab’ is quite thick and tricky to snap, squeeze the other end, which may be softer. It will split with ease then you can peel as you would normally.
5. Vitamin vitality
Move over B1 and B2, it’s time to give B6 his moment of stardom. “Australian Bananas are the best fruit source of vitamin B6,” says Glenn. “One banana provides about 15 per cent of your daily needs. Vitamin B6 helps with the production of neurotransmitters including serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The older you get, the more B6 your body needs. The banana is also a wonderful source of vitamin C, along with modest amounts of the B group vitamins niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid.”
6. Size matters
Whether you’re a mini monkey who eats peanuts or have a gorilla’s appetite, there’s a ‘narnee size for you. “In addition to the medium-sized bananas, many retailers now stock the smaller ‘lunchbox’ banana which is perfect for school kids who prefer smaller. In fact, anyone with a small appetite or those who just like frequent snacks can dine on the convenient lunchbox banana.”
7. Blood pressure stabiliser
These little yellow guns will also protect you against chronic disease. “This unique tropical fruit is extremely high in potassium and salt-free, making it perfect for a healthy blood pressure,” says Glenn. “Australian and international research show that a diet high in potassium and low in salt helps to keep blood pressure normal. Less than one in 10 people get enough potassium to reduce their risk of chronic disease, like stroke. That leaves a lot of room for high potassium foods like the banana.”
Fast fact: Australian Bananas are grown in the tropical areas of Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia and northern New South Wales. Elsewhere is just a bit too chilly for them.
8. Happy bowels
Spending too much time on the loo? Relieve the pressure with a banana (not figuartively speaking, of course!). “We all know that high fibre foods help keep you regular and prevent constipation,” says Glenn. “The fibre in bananas can go a long way in helping restore normal bowel action, without resorting to laxatives. A medium banana will provide about 10% of your fibre needs for a day. The banana is also the best fruit source of resistant starch, a type of starch known to help protect you against bowel cancer.”
9. Appetite control
If you devour food only to crave more, switch your snack. “Bananas are high satiety meaning they are very filling for the amount of kilojoules they provide,” Glenn says. “If you are trying to maintain a healthy weight then eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and go easy on the fatty foods.”
Pick of the bunch tip: Delay ripening bananas by placing them in the vegetable crisper of the fridge. You may get some browning of the skin, but the banana inside will still be delicious.
10. Slim pickings
Weight watchers can have their cake, err, banana, and eat it too. “One medium banana has only one third of the calories you find in a small pack of crisps or corn chips, and fewer calories than in a single chocolate biscuit, says Glenn. “Choose your snacks wisely; the banana is a great choice.”
11. Pregnancy boost
Show your cheeky monkey the benefits of bananas inutero with a folate fix to boost development. “Folate is vital in the development of a baby’s spinal cord in the womb,” Glenn explains. “It is so critical that the vitamin is often recommended as a supplement to women considering pregnancy. An overwhelming body of evidence has linked adequate folate in early pregnancy to a lower risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida in infants. One banana will provide over 10 per cent of your folate needs each day.”
For the latest news, great recipes and more info’, make like a banana and split to Australian Bananas.