Going Bananas

Satya Mohapatra

Today, I tried to buy a few bananas at a convenience store. The cashier wouldn’t let me pay for the bananas as they were heavily spotted, and he explained that when they get that brown, it’s store policy to just give them away. He then chuckled and said it was somewhat ironic, considering “a brown banana is the healthiest banana.” I looked at him in surprise and knew he was talking sense.

The little yellow fruit actually originated in Southeast Asia thousands of years ago. It’s widely believed that the banana first grew in an area that now incorporates the modern-day states of Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and their neighbouring countries. Subsequently, explorers spread the fruit to Africa, where the stardom took off. The regions most associated with bananas these days are perhaps Latin America and the Caribbean. According to the United Nations, Ecuador is now the planet’s primary exporter of the fruit. The initial variety was from the family of Gros Michel. Somehow these variants were prone to diseases and later a better variant which was immune to diseases was developed – Cavendish type and it bifurcated into many hybrids and this is what we get in our fruit bowl.

As a nutritionist I have observed my clients’ dietary preferences have less to do with actual nutrition, and more to do with contrived aesthetic preferences. For a banana to pass the grade, it needs to be a special shade of yellow, firm but not too firm and ideally not covered in too many of those pesky white strings.

Bananas are healthy no matter what stage of ripeness you eat them at. It is a nutritional powerhouse; bananas are rich in potassium, fiber, magnesium, vitamins A, B6 and C. It helps reduce the risk of stroke, keep muscles and bones in good shape, lowers inflammation levels, eases irritable bowel syndrome, and prevents kidney stones. It prevents stiffening of arteries; the potassium found in bananas helps prevent it. Due to the high levels of tryptophan, which the body converts to serotonin, the mood-elevating brain neurotransmitter and the tryptophan with vitamin B6 found in bananas aids in sound sleep. A good night’s sleep is important when it comes to mental health. Bananas contain magnesium, which is known to assist with the loosening of muscles. And this in turn results in better sleep. So, as part of a balanced diet, bananas are great for your heart and your head.

Bananas are great for inducing proper rest, and also replenish energy better than sports drinks. Tryptophan in bananas helps in overall performance by increasing the antioxidant levels of the athletes especially who take part in long distance sports events. When tuning into a professional tennis match, for example, the sight of a player munching on a banana between games is a familiar one.

Bananas have high levels of fiber which aids in regular, healthy bowel movements. In fact, a single banana may contain as much as one-tenth of the recommended daily intake of fiber. The levels of B6 vitamins in bananas also assist in losing weight, as well as helping stave off type 2 diabetes. Starch that’s present in bananas works to create increased amounts of short chain fatty acids. And these acids are important for maintaining the condition of our guts. The banana, it appears, is the fruit that just keeps us going.

Bananas are really great for those hoping to lose or regulate weight, because they’re a sweet treat that will also make us feel full. The result is that you should be less hungry, especially if you tuck into a banana between meals instead of going for something a little more laden with sugar or fat. Fructooligosaccharides, a carbohydrate present in bananas, helps the body to process that all-important calcium. Hence, bananas are good for better bone health. Last but not the least bananas assist in staving off diabetes in pregnant women. Magnesium and tryptophan in the fruit helps to a good night’s rest, which is important for averting this particular form of diabetes.

That’s all to say — but you get a lot while peeling any old (or new) banana. Irrespective of how long it’s been in the fruit bowl, it’s going to give you the best nutritional benefits to your body. A major argument arises on the different coloured bananas and what benefits does it share in terms of dietary interest or deficiency. Do we prioritise yellow ones or the greenest of the bunch which rarely has too many takers. But do go for it when lured by your vegetable seller though it has a thick, little bitter, with a waxy taste when cooked. But they’re also rich in resistant starch, which means they contain a minimal amount of sugar — a green banana’s raw granules actually can’t be digested by the small intestine, because they don’t release any glucose. For those who live with type-2, diabetes or are at risk of developing it then this green banana is your saviour.

For the road: when prodded the cashier shared that he is from Puri district where the Champa and Patkopora variety are very popular – but at any stage he shared bananas are great source of nutrition till it turns out to be gooey as it putrefies. Thus banana a day makes a healthier option.

Satya Mohapatra

Nutritionist & Food Safety Consultant

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