Some have called bananas “nature’s perfect snack,” and it’s easy to see why. The curvy yellow fruits come conveniently packaged, travel well in a lunch bag or purse and are incredibly versatile. They make a great smoothie mixer or a tasty topper on cereal or oatmeal and even have their very own category of (delicious!) muffins and bread.
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Are bananas healthy?
“Absolutely,” says registered dietitian Elyse Homan, RD, LD. “They’re full of nutrients and easy on the gut. Very few people have problems digesting bananas.”
So, what are you eating when you peel and enjoy? A medium-sized ripe banana contains:
- 105 calories.
- 1 gram of protein.
- 28 grams of carbohydrates.
- 15 grams of (natural) sugar.
- 3 grams of fiber.
- Less than 1 gram of fat.
Health benefits of eating bananas
From vitamins to minerals to fiber, bananas are good for you, with lots of nutrition to offer. Plus, they’re easy to digest, reiterates Homan. Here’s a breakdown of banana’s most notable nutritional benefits:
1. Fiber for improved digestion and disease prevention
With 3 grams (g) of fiber, a banana supplies nearly 10% of what you need in a day, based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines.
You hear “fiber” and probably automatically think of digestion. It’s true — fiber is great for your gut. It helps keep things moving in your intestines, and most of us probably need to eat more.
But fiber also impacts your health in other ways. Researchers who looked at data from nearly 200 studies found that people who ate 25 to 29 g of fiber a day had up to a 30% decreased risk of:
- Colorectal cancer.
- Heart disease.
- High blood pressure.
- High cholesterol.
- Type 2 diabetes.
2. Vitamin C for better immune health
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a nutrient that helps your body absorb iron and boosts your immune system’s ability to fight illness. Adults need 75 to 90 milligrams (mg) per day. A banana delivers about 10 mg of vitamin C.
Vitamin C is one of many antioxidants you can get from food. Antioxidants are important because they cancel out free radicals in your body. Free radicals can build up and damage your cells, leading to disease. But antioxidants like vitamin C keep free radicals in check.
3. Vitamin B6 for improved metabolism and more
Your body needs vitamin B6 for:
- Appetite regulation.
- Immune system functions.
- Metabolic processes.
- Nervous system health.
- Sleep regulation.
“One banana will give you one-quarter to one-third of the vitamin B6 you need in a day,” says Homan.
4. Potassium for organ health and lower blood pressure
The USDA recommended daily intake of potassium for adults is 4,700 to 5,000 mg. A banana supplies you with about 422 mg, or a little less than 10% of what you need per day.
Potassium, a mineral, does a lot for your body. It’s essential for the proper function of your:
Getting enough potassium also keeps your blood pressure in a healthy range. Potassium, which lowers blood pressure, balances out sodium, which raises blood pressure.
Homan says potassium also benefits your vascular system — the network of blood vessels and lymph vessels that run through your body’s tissues and organs — and reduces your risk of:
- Heart disease.
- Kidney failure.
5. Magnesium for improved blood pressure, blood sugar and more
A single medium-sized banana offers about 32 mg of the mineral magnesium, which fulfills around 8% to 10% of your daily magnesium requirement.
Magnesium is involved in many processes in your body, including:
- Blood pressure.
- Blood sugar levels.
- Building proteins.
- Maintaining bone.
- Muscle function.
- Nerve function.
Bananas and resistant starch
Green, or unripe, bananas are high in resistant starch. “Your body can’t digest resistant starch,” notes Homan. “Instead, it’s a prebiotic that promotes the growth of good bacteria in your colon.” Prebiotics improve digestive health and can be helpful if you’re experiencing diarrhea.
“I often hear patients say they avoid bananas since they’ve heard the fruit is too high in sugar,” says Homan. As bananas ripen, much of the resistant starch changes to sugar. But the health benefits of antioxidants and fiber outweigh the naturally occurring sugar. For those worried about blood sugar levels, pair bananas with a protein source such as peanut butter or a cheese stick for better control.
A small word of warning about unripe bananas: “If you’re not used to eating resistant starch, start slowly to let your body get used to it. Some people can experience constipation, gas and bloating at first,” adds Homan.
Another plus of this fruit? In addition to all the health benefits of bananas, they’re less expensive than many other fruits.