The benefits of bananas are endless. Delicious and generally cheap, bananas are full of calories and have great nutritional value due to their high amounts of potassium, magnesium and other nutritional values. As an antioxidant, banana is said to prevent the onset of many diseases. In addition, the sugars it contains are said to help maintain good gastrointestinal health. From a culinary point of view, there are 2 types of bananas: the dessert bananas, the ones we eat for breakfast, and cooking bananas, known as plantains.
Bananas have been found to have a protective effects against the following illnesses:
A prospective study, carried out on 61,000 Swiss women, showed a link between a high consumption of fruit and the reduced risk of suffering from kidney cancer. Of all the fruits studied, the researchers found the strongest relationship for bananas. Bananas are said to have the same beneficial effect on the risk of colorectal cancer, in both women and men.
Some in vitro and animal studies have shown that bananas in extract form (especially plantains, but also the dessert variety) may protect the stomach lining against ulcers. A study has shown that the extract of 2 varieties of bananas grown in Thailand (Palo and Hom) has gastroprotective potential in rats. However, only the Hom variety is thought to have an effect on healing ulcers. This type of banana is said to be similar to Cavendish, the most common variety in the world. However, current research is insufficient to recommend the consumption of bananas for the prevention or treatment of gastric ulcers.
A few studies in Bangladesh have shown that eating bananas can decrease symptoms of chronic diarrhea in children. In some cases, a mixture of rice and cooked plantains or a mixture of rice and pectin may decrease the number and weight of stools, as well as the duration of diarrhea in babies. In other cases, consuming unripe bananas (½ to 3 bananas per day, depending on the age of the children) hastened recovery from both acute and chronic diarrhea. Another study carried out in Venezuela demonstrated that a diet comprising a cooked plantain-based preparation reduced the number and weight of stools, the duration of diarrhea and promoted weight gain, compared to a traditional preparation based on yogurt.
One study found that consuming bananas with a meal (400g, or more than 3 bananas) reduced free radicals in the body 2 hours after the meal. This diet reduced the oxidation of LDL-cholesterol (bad cholesterol), a process implicated in the development of cardiovascular diseases. However, more studies are needed to target the effects of bananas in the longer term and with more moderate doses.
Type 2 diabetes
Resistant starch (a type of sugar) from unripe bananas is believed to aid weight loss in individuals with type 2 diabetes, as well as improve the sensitivity of cells to insulin. Furthermore, the resistant starch extract from unripe bananas is also believed to decrease insulin secretion and lower blood sugar levels in both healthy individuals and those with type 2 diabetes.
Anemia is an abnormal drop in the level of hemoglobin in the blood, often due to iron deficiency. Bananas are highly concentrated in iron, which helps boost the production of hemoglobin in the blood.
According to a survey of people prone to depression, many respondents say they feel better after eating a banana. The dopamine in bananas is undoubtedly no stranger to this phenomenon, which is however also explained by the presence of tryptophan, a substance that the body converts into serotonin, the chemical messenger in the brain known for its relaxing effect and which causes a general well-being.
This good mood effect is enhanced by the presence of good amounts of vitamin B6 (0.5 mg per 100 g, or a quarter of the recommended daily intake). Also called pyridoxine, this vitamin is, among other things, useful for the production of various neurotransmitters associated with mood, including serotonin and dopamine. Some studies have shown that, when consumed in high doses, it alleviates depression associated with premenstrual syndrome.
A study also showed that a diet rich in tryptophan, together with an adequate intake of vitamin B6, promoted the production of serotonin and reduced the symptoms of depression.
Bananas are a fruit rich in potassium with a content of approximately 360 mg per 100 g. Knowing that a banana weighs around 150 g, eating one is like consuming around 540 mg of potassium.
Many studies have linked low potassium intake to increased blood pressure. And conversely, a sufficient potassium intake (between 4 and 5 g / day), prevents and fights against hypertension. This helps limit the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as myocardial infarction and stroke.
A meta-analysis carried out by researchers from the WHO has also confirmed previous studies: a high consumption of potassium lowers blood pressure in people suffering from hypertension, which makes it possible to reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
What do bananas and plantains contain?
Although bananas are not among the fruits that contain the most antioxidants, they still have a high antioxidant capacity, which may possibly help prevent the onset of certain cancers, cardiovascular diseases and various chronic diseases. The very popular Cavendish banana is said to contain dopamine, a molecule from the catecholamine family. Dopamine has been shown to have antioxidant activity similar to that of vitamin C, the most potent water-soluble antioxidant.
As the banana contains both dopamine and vitamin C, this could explain its high antioxidant capacity. Plantains are also believed to be an important source of several phenolic compounds that are well absorbed by the body, thus optimizing their antioxidant potential.
An antioxidant from the flavonoid family, leukocyanidin, has also been extracted from unripe plantains. This active compound has been shown to protect against erosion of the stomach lining after taking aspirin.
Beta-carotenes and alpha-carotenes
Plantains contain beta and alpha-carotene, 2 carotenoids that can be converted into vitamin A in the body. Of all the carotenoids, beta-carotene is the most efficient at converting to vitamin A. The latter promotes the growth of bones and teeth, maintains the skin healthy and protects against infections.
Unripe bananas contain resistant starch, a type of sugar that resists the action of digestive enzymes (similar to dietary fiber) and leaves the colon intact. Under the action of the intestinal flora, the undigested starch then undergoes fermentation, which transforms it into short-chain fatty acids (eg butyric acid). These stimulate the absorption of fluids and salt in the colon, thus reducing the loss of water in the stool. Short-chain fatty acids are also thought to indirectly improve the permeability of the small intestine, a phenomenon that helps alleviate symptoms of diarrhea.
Researchers have observed that resistant starch decreases the absorption of sugars consumed at the same time, which leads to a decrease in blood sugar levels. In addition, regular consumption of resistant starch would lead to a greater increase in ghrelin during meals, a hormone that has been associated with improved insulin sensitivity.
Plantains contain more resistant starch than sweet bananas. In addition, as the banana ripens, the amount of resistant starch decreases to such an extent that only bananas which have not reached their optimum ripening stage would contain resistant starch in significant amounts.
Bananas are a food implicated in oral allergy syndrome. This syndrome is an allergic reaction to certain proteins found in a range of fruits, vegetables and nuts. It affects some people with allergies to environmental pollen and is almost always preceded by hay fever.
So when some people with ragweed allergies consume a raw banana (cooking usually breaks down the allergenic proteins), an immunological reaction may occur. These people experience itching and burning sensations in the mouth, lips and throat. Symptoms can appear and then disappear, usually within minutes of eating or touching the offending food. If there are no other symptoms, this reaction is not serious and banana consumption should not be avoided systematically. However, it is recommended to consult an allergist to determine the cause of the reactions to plant foods. The latter will be able to assess whether special precautions should be taken.
People allergic to latex may be hypersensitive to bananas as well as to other foods such as kiwi and avocado. The reactions are diverse, ranging from hives to anaphylactic reactions. Due to the potential severity of the reactions, extra care should be taken when consuming these foods in people who know they are allergic to latex. Once again, it is recommended that you consult an allergist to determine the cause of the reactions to certain foods as well as the precautions to be taken.