Bananas: Important Facts, Health Benefits, and Recipes

Alli is a Certified Nutritionist and yoga instructor. She has loved food and nutrition since taking her first health class in the fourth grade. She got her Master of Science in Nutrition and worked in nutrition research at the University of Washington Medical Center for over 8 years.

Explore the health benefits, nutritional information, and various types of bananas, along with storage tips and delicious recipes featuring this versatile fruit.

What is a Banana?

  • A banana is an elongated, edible fruit produced by several kinds of large flowering plants
  • They are botanically considered a berry , and have been described as a ‘leathery berry’ with a protective outer layer (the peel or skin) with many long thin strings that run lengthwise between the skin and the edible inner portion.
  • In some areas of the world, bananas used for cooking are called ‘ plantains
  • The fruit varies in size, color, and firmness and the peel is green, yellow, red, purple, or brown when ripe.
  • ​​The fruits grow upward in clusters near the top of the plant

Are Bananas Good For You?

Most research suggests that yes, bananas are good for you. They provide many health benefits.

4 Health Benefits Of Bananas

  1. Bananas are a good source of soluble fiber.
    1. One banana has 3 grams fiber.
    2. Unripe ( green ) bananas are high in resistant starch , which has prebiotic effects. Prebiotics help feed probiotics, which help with digestion and having a healthy gut.
    3. The fiber may help keep us feeling fuller longer
    4. High fiber diets can help with cholesterol
  2. Bananas may be good for heart health
    1. The potassium in bananas may help keep blood pressure at healthy levels
  3. Bananas may help with recovery after exercise
    1. We lose electrolytes through your sweat during vigorous exercise. Potassium and magnesium are important to replenish after sweating.
    2. Bananas may reduce exercise-related muscle cramps and soreness because of the potassium
  4. Bananas fit into almost every diet and lifestyle
    1. Diets/lifetstyles that bananas fit in: vegetarian, vegan/plant-based, omnivorous, paleo, Whole30, gluten-free, diabetic in moderation (½ banana)
    2. Diets that they don’t fit into: keto, FODMAP (for IBS)

History and Background, and General Facts about Bananas

Bananas are native to tropical South and Southeast Asia (India, Malaysia) and Australia , and are likely to have been first domesticated in Papua New Guinea.  Bananas are thought to have been first domesticated in Southeast Asia , and are mentioned in early Greek, Latin, and Arab writings. Some say they were first cultivated in India and then spread throughout the world. Cultivation increased until bananas became a staple foodstuff in many regions, and in the 19th century they began to appear in the markets of the United States .

Worldwide, there is no real distinction between "bananas" and "plantains". Especially in the Americas and Europe, "banana" usually refers to soft, sweet, dessert bananas ( Cavendish ) which are the main exports from banana-growing countries. The firmer, starchier fruit are called "plantains".

Although Cavendish (aka dessert) bananas are by far the most-common variety imported by nontropical countries, plantain varieties account for about 85 percent of all banana cultivation worldwide.

Exported bananas are picked green, and ripen in special rooms upon arrival in the destination country. These rooms are air-tight and filled with ethylene gas to induce ripening. The vivid yellow color we normally associate with supermarket bananas is a result of the artificial ripening process.

What Are The Cuisines That Regularly Include Bananas?

  • Philippines - part of traditional dishes and desserts like maruya (bananas sliced, fanned, and deep fried), turón (sliced bananas, rolled in brown sugar, wrapped in egg roll wrapper and fried like lumpia)
  • South Asia/Southeast Asia - banana pancakes are popular with travelers. There is a Banana Pancake Trail that caters to travelers looking for banana pancakes
  • Laos and Thailand - sticky rice steamed in banana leaves (khao tom) can be savory or sweet (with pork or bananas)
  • India (Kerala) - steamed, added to curries, fried into chips, kofta, and halwa
  • Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia - battered and fried
  • UK - banana fritters
  • West Africa - banana fritters
  • East Africa (Uganda and Tanzania) - matoke (banana) and beans dish (garlic, ginger, onions, and chile flakes)
  • United States - banana pudding, banana split, banana chips, parfaits, banana pancakes, especially popular with paleo
  • Banana leaves are large, flexible, and waterproof. They are often used as eco-friendly food containers or as "plates" in South Asia and several Southeast Asian countries. Also used as a wrapper that you can steam food in.

What Is The Best Way To Store Bananas?

Store bananas at room temperature away from direct sunlight to keep them fresh for longer. If your bananas are becoming very ripe, peel them, break them into pieces, and store in a bag in the freezer to use for smoothies or banana bread.

What Are The Different Types Of Bananas?

The term " banana " is used as the common name for the plants that produce the fruit.

Cavendish: the most common banana available and the one with which we see the most. The wide availability of this banana variety is due to its long shelf life and resistance to disease.

Manzana: smaller and sweeter than Cavendish. They are sometimes called a dessert banana and are sometimes called apple bananas because they taste sort of like apples. They can be eaten raw or sautéed or baked into desserts as well.

Baby Bananas: These look like smaller versions of Cavendish. They are sweet and can be prepared the same way as Cavendish. The smaller size makes them ideal for a flambé dish.

Red Bananas: The outer skin is red , and the inner flesh is sweet with a hint of apple. The red banana goes by many names such as Jamaican Red, Cuban Red, or Indio. It’s eaten raw or blended into smoothies.

Burro Bananas: have a unique blocky shape. They are a bit shorter and bigger around than Cavendish.

Plantains: Plantains are related to bananas, but eaten in a different way. They are more starchy and less sweet; they are eaten cooked rather than raw; they have thicker skin, which may be green, yellow or black; and they can be used at any stage of ripeness.

Toxicity and Side Effects Of Bananas

If you take beta-blockers , ask your doctor how many bananas you can consume because of the potassium in the bananas. Beta-blockers raise potassium in the blood, which is fine. But too much potassium may be harmful to the kidneys.

Some people are allergic , so avoid them if you experience hives, difficulty breathing, etc.

Some people say bananas cause migraines. Talk to your doctor about this if you experience migraines.