Should You Go Bananas for Bananas?
Some of you have asked about the relative merits of eating bananas. Concern has been expressed, especially on the Internet, that bananas contribute to belly fat. That’s probably rooted in the fact that bananas are heavy on carbohydrates. One medium banana supplies about 105 calories, and 27 g of carbohydrates, or about 9% of an adult’s daily value for carbs. But it also supplies a hefty 3 g of fiber, which equals about 12% of an adult’s daily value for this important nutrient. The bottom line is this: There’s no good reason to avoid bananas, unless you’re diabetic and have been warned to steer clear. Like most things, bananas in moderation are perfectly harmless. And even good for you.
For instance, bananas are a rich source of potassium. Greater intake of this essential mineral is linked to lower blood pressure and better cardiovascular health. Bananas also contain substances called fructooligosaccharides. These compounds are important prebiotics. They’re converted by gut bacteria into other beneficial substances, some of which enhance the absorption of calcium by the body. And that helps keep bones strong. Bananas are rich in dietary fiber, so they help facilitate digestion and elimination. They’re excellent for babies starting on solid food, and equally good eaten out of hand or added to smoothies to add rich creaminess.
The bananas sold in modern supermarkets are all alike. Literally. They’re clones of a Southeast Asian variety; each banana is a genetic replica of its neighbor. This ensures uniform quality, but makes these highly popular fruits (fun fact: technically they’re berries) highly vulnerable to disease. Experts speculate that it’s only a matter of time before entire plantations are wiped out by disease. With no genetic diversity, they’ll be unable to bounce back from such an event.
Speaking of bananas, there really are other varieties. The smaller, red-skinned kind sold in some well-stocked groceries are somewhat sweeter, and have better shelf life. Give them a try. And how about plantains? Have you ever tried one of these? They grow wild in South America, and they’re a staple of Latin American cooking. They’re not sweet until the skin has turned thoroughly black, though. They’re typically treated more like potatoes. When the skin’s still green, score with a knife, peel away the tough skin, and cook as you would a potato. They can be baked, fried, or stewed. Just don’t try to eat a green plantain out of hand; it will be hard and bitter. They’re delicious in both savory and sweet dishes when cooked.