This nifty yellow fruit is touted as the first "superfood." It's packed with fiber to make you feel full and vitamins that do your body good. Americans go bananas for them. They eat more than 27 pounds a year -- about 90 bananas. That’s more than oranges and apples combined.
Good as Gold?
One large banana is about 8- to 9-inches long and equal to one serving of fruit. It has about 120 calories and 490 milligrams of potassium. That's 19% of a woman’s daily potassium needs and 15% of a man’s. This nutrient can remove sodium from your body and relax blood vessel walls, which helps manage blood pressure. The golden fruit is also a good source of vitamin B6, which is essential for your immune system, nervous system, and brain.
Bananas put the B in the easy-to-digest BRAT diet. Doctors often recommend eating bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast when you're fighting diarrhea or a tummy ache. Bananas kick-start mucus production in your gut. This helps protect the stomach lining from the acid that may be triggering the heartburn, nausea, or whatever else may be causing the upset
In one small study, cyclists who ate a banana before a 46-mile ride performed as well as the ones who drank a sports drink before they took off. After the ride, blood tests showed that signs of inflammation, cellular damage, and immune function were the same in those who ate the tropical fruit as in those who drank an electrolyte-replacing drink.
Bananas are a breakfast superstar. Peanut butter and banana toast is a favorite morning dish. Their natural sweetness can also help cut the tartness in yogurt or pep up a bowl of hot oatmeal. Folks love to slice them over their cereal too. Bananas add just the right creamy texture to a smoothie. And, this portable, handheld fruit on its own makes a great breakfast on the go.
Banana or Plantain?
They look very similar, but they don't taste the same. Your typical supermarket banana, also called a "dessert banana," is sweet like its alternate name suggests. Plantains, a staple in the diets of many tropical regions, aren't so sweet. This starchy fruit is too firm to eat raw. In cultures that rely on them, people steam, boil, or fry plantains and serve them more like potatoes.
You may say you're going to pick up "a bunch of bananas" at the store. But, that's not exactly right. A single banana is called a finger. These fingers grow together in a group called a hand. Many hands grow together to form a bunch or stalk. A bunch may include as many as 20 hands, far more than you buy at once in the produce section.
They Don't Grow on Trees (and Other Myths)
The banana plant is actually a giant herb. The yellow fruit it produces is a berry. You may think they are all curved. But, some bananas are long and straight. Others take the shape of a ball. You'll find many bananas in Ecuador -- the leading grower in the world. The Philippines comes in second. Hawaii is the only U.S. state that grows these yellow berries commercially.
Not as healthy as a banana alone, the classic banana split is a soda-fountain favorite. The original recipe calls for a scoop of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate, pineapple, and strawberry sauce. The banana cut lengthwise is the star of the dish. But even the banana split isn't spared controversy. Two towns, Wilmington, OH, and Latrobe, PA, both claim to be the birthplace of the decadent dessert.
The Latex-Banana Link
If you have a latex allergy, you could have a reaction to bananas too. That's because bananas and latex have similar proteins. Symptoms can be mild like an itchy mouth or more severe with hives, wheezing, or even a collapsed throat. You will likely feel symptoms seconds to minutes after eating a banana. If you have had a reaction to bananas in the past, you should avoid the fruit and be careful to make sure they aren't in salads or baked goods.
Banana peels have protective chemicals in them called antioxidants. Some people use the skins in home remedies for skin irritations or to reduce swelling. Folk remedies use the peels to treat bug bites, minor burns, and sunburns. You're supposed to hold the inside of the peel onto your skin for a few minutes to get relief.
Dos and Don'ts of Storage
Keep your bananas in a cool dry place. They won't ripen inside the fridge. Use pineapple or lemon juice to keep them fresh after you've sliced them. Otherwise, they'll turn brown quickly. Don't store them close to other fruits like apples because they will ripen too fast. Don't put them in plastic bags either. Your bananas will rot fast and you'll have to toss them in the trash.