And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of reasons to add a ripe bunch to your next grocery list, no matter the season. Experts break down the specific health benefits of bananas below.
1. They’re a Great Post-Workout Snack
Bananas have long been a staple food of athletes, and with good reason. They contain potassium, a key electrolyte that helps balance hydration levels and improve muscle function that is depleted when you sweat, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Working out also uses up muscles’ glycogen stores, the body’s main storage of glucose (aka energy), per research. A medium banana offers a two-for-one punch in replenishing sugar and potassium levels for fuel and muscle function, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In one small study of 20 cyclists, researchers compared bananas with sports drinks as a post-run recovery snack, and found that the fruit had equal to greater anti-inflammatory effects.
2. They Can Help Soothe a Hangover
Drinking can disrupt the balance of electrolytes like potassium in the body, research shows, and bananas have about 9 percent of the daily value (DV) of this mineral, so eating one helps replace what you’ve lost. Alcohol is also a diuretic, meaning it can cause mild dehydration, which can contributes to hangover symptoms such as thirst, fatigue, and headache, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Bananas are around 75 percent water, according to USDA data, making them the perfect morning-after snack to kick-start your recovery.
3. Unripe Bananas Contain Blood Sugar–Friendly Resistant Starch
When bananas are underripe, they’re mostly starch, much of which is resistant starch, a type of fiber that goes undigested by the small intestine and is therefore digested more slowly, explains Lauren Harris-Pincus, RDN, author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook. Resistant starch may moderate the effects of food on blood glucose, according to a meta-analysis published in September 2020 in the British Journal of Nutrition. This makes resistant starch a helpful tool in controlling blood sugar, as it can keep it from spiking as soon as the fruit hits your bloodstream. As a banana ripens, it loses those starches, though, so it’s worth buying a bunch before they’re “ready” to take advantage of this perk.
4. These Fruits Are a Source of Fiber and Gut-Loving Prebiotics
Bananas are what is known as a prebiotic, a study shows, meaning they contain fibers like inulin and pectin that feed the probiotics (good bacteria) in your gut, per research, creating a flourishing, balanced microbiome that supports gut health and digestion, among other functions. When prebiotics are broken down in the digestive tract, one of the byproducts are short-chain fatty acids, according to Harvard Health. It is believed that these fats change the pH inside the colon, making it less hospitable to some types of unhealthy microorganisms. In laboratory studies, prebiotics found in bananas have also been found to support the growth of new probiotics, although additional research in human beings is needed.
5. Bananas May Support Heart Health
Potassium was identified as a shortfall nutrient in the American diet, according to the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, meaning it’s one most of us don’t get enough of in our diets. And that’s too bad, because there is strong evidence that potassium supports cardiovascular health. One of the roles of this mineral is to help blood pressure regulation by relaxing blood vessel walls, making it easier for your heart to pump blood through your body, according to Harvard Medical School. A study in mice also suggests that potassium may lower the risk of heart disease. A medium banana delivers 9 percent of the DV of this heart-healthy nutrient, per USDA data.
6. They’re Full of Antioxidants That Could Help Prevent Chronic Disease
People tend to think about oranges and citrus fruit when it comes to vitamin C, but believe it or not, bananas are another tropical fruit that is full of this potent antioxidant. One medium banana contains about 11 percent of your DV of vitamin C, a nutrient that has been studied for its role in disease prevention and immunity, according to the NIH.
Bananas are also rich in a number of other phytochemicals known to fight free radicals, the molecules that contribute to disease and aging, and may have anticancer properties. A study published in Food Science and Nutrition in January 2022 concluded that banana flesh can be used as a dietary supplement to protect against certain cancers, including pancreatic and breast cancers.
7. Bananas May Help You Sleep
Forget warm milk — bananas may be the newest sleep aid. The idea that eating one before bed can help you doze off was popularized on TikTok, where one video on the topic has racked up more than 355,000 likes and 4.5 million plays.
Turns out, there may be some truth to this hack. Bananas contain tryptophan, the same amino acid famously found in turkey, which is supposedly responsible for the sedative-like effects of Thanksgiving meal, according to MedlinePlus. The effect is due to the fact that tryptophan is a precursor to melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle; and serotonin, per a review, a neurotransmitter that is linked to mood, sleep, and memory. A systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression published in Nutrition Reviews in February 2022 found that tryptophan supplementation can improve sleep quality.
What’s more, bananas also contain magnesium. There is some research showing that this mineral may improve sleep.
8. Eating Bananas Can Ease Digestive Issues
It’s no mistake that the first food in the so-called BRAT diet — which stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast and is recommended to relieve both diarrhea and constipation — is this yellow fruit. Bananas are high in soluble fiber, a kind that can act as a stool softener and help relieve constipation, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Foods containing potassium, including bananas, are recommended to treat diarrhea, according to MedlinePlus.
9. Bananas May Help Alleviate PMS
Research found that consumption of fruit in general was associated with lower rates of bad mood due to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in female college students, and bananas in particular have several things going for them. They contain calcium and magnesium, which have been shown to reduce other PMS symptoms such as pain and bloating. Bananas are also an excellent source of vitamin B6, with a quarter of the amount recommended daily. High doses of B6 have been shown to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, according to research published in Annals of Medicine and Surgery in October 2022. And one past study of 34 healthy women found that those who ate two bananas daily for 60 days reported significantly less bloating compared with a control group.
This content was originally published here.