The humble fruit—botanically, actually a berry!—is perhaps the least-heralded supermarket staple, a superfood more associated with kids, monkeys, and slapstick comedy than with steel-cut abs. But its powers are proven, and to investigate just how bananas can be, we consulted our team of nutritionists to determine exactly what eating one banana does to your body. (Pro tip: The riper the banana, the more nutrients it has!
Here are the top, most b-a-n-a-n-a-s health benefits of bananas.
Bananas help to build lean muscle.
If after a workout, you’ve felt like your muscles are sore—or not growing fast enough—you might not be getting enough magnesium in your diet. A good source of magnesium, bananas can help with muscle contraction and relaxation as well as protein synthesis — which, in turn, increases lean muscle mass. A bonus: magnesium intake helps boost lipolysis, a process by which your body releases fat from its stores. One fun way to get your magnesium: Make banana tea. Just boil some water, cut off both ends of a banana (still in its peel) and boil for 7-10 minutes. Then drain and drink before bed.
Bananas help your muscles recover faster.
We all know that bananas are a prime source of potassium. Because it’s an electrolyte, potassium helps your muscles recover from a workout, strengthens their development, and allows you to work out more.
Bananas support a good mood.
Bananas don’t just look like smiles; they promote them because they contain 6% of your daily value of vitamin B9, (also known as folate), a nutrient that may fight depression by boosting a substrate that has antidepressant properties, according to the NIH. In other words, it helps serotonin, the feel-good chemical, enter the brain faster. A study in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry asserts that patients with depression have blood folate levels that are, on average, 25 percent lower than healthy folks’ levels. Some doctors recommend increasing folate intake if you’re taking anti-depressants, to boost their effects.
And may lower feelings of anxiety and stress.
Besides the mood-boosting B9, bananas also have tryptophan, “a precursor for serotonin,” says Cassie Bjork, RD, LD of Healthy Simple Life, “and serotonin may be the most important brain chemical because is a natural anti-depressant and can treat, anxiety and insomnia, as well as other mood issues such as fatigue, irritability, agitation, anger, and aggression. Bananas also have norepinephrine, which regulates our “‘fight or flight response,’ which helps to regulate stress. They’re an optimal, natural, real-food way to promote positive moods and help to prevent depression,” she continues. “Good thing we don’t need a prescription!” (Try mashing on into detox water and drink your way calm.)
Eat a banana before bed and you may sleep better.
This is also because of the tryptophan, says Bjork. “It’s a precursor for melatonin, which promotes relaxation and helps to regulate sleep.” Peel one before bed.
Bananas may help regulate blood pressure levels.
According to the FDA, “the combination of a low-sodium, high potassium intake is associated with the lowest blood pressure levels and lowest frequency of stroke in individuals and populations.” Well, guess what? Bananas are high in potassium and low in sodium, the fruit is officially recognized by the FDA as being able to lower blood pressure and protect against heart attack and stroke.
Bananas can help you look less bloated.
Belly bloat makes even the most toned six-packer look like they just downed a six-pack of Coors. Fight back against the gas and water retention with bananas. One recent study found that women who ate a banana twice daily as a pre-meal snack for 60 days reduced their belly-bloat by 50 percent! Why? The fruit increases bloat-fighting bacteria in the stomach, and it’s also a legendarily good source of potassium, which can help diminish retention of fluids. (And if you’re looking for more helpful tips, sign up for our newsletter to get daily recipes and food news in your inbox!
And you’ll feel fuller.
Prior to ripening, bananas are rich in something called resistant starch, which, as the name suggests, literally resists the digestion process. This feeds healthy gut bacteria, which suppresses the appetite and leads to more efficient fat oxidation. In fact, one study found that replacing just 5 percent of the day’s carbohydrates with a source of resistant starch can boost post-meal fat burn by up to 30 percent! Since underripe bananas are a bit bitter, we suggest adding them into weight loss smoothies with other fruits and veggies to mask the taste.
Bananas may reduce bad cholesterol levels.
If you’ve recently eaten at BK or other fast-food chains, you’ve likely consumed trans fats—the kind of fat that raises your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. Before you reach for the Lipitor, grab a banana. They contain phytosterols, which are compounds that have LDL cholesterol-lowering effects according to a study in The Journal of Nutrition. Additionally, “Bananas contain Vitamin B6 which is important for nearly everything—heart health, immune health, digestive health, and nervous system function,” says Bjork.
You’ll support a healthier digestive system.
Do you constantly feel…not right after eating? Of find yourself blaming the dog? Bananas can help your poor digestion. They’re an excellent source of prebiotics, nondigestible carbohydrates that act as food for good gut bacteria (probiotics) and improve digestion—because they contain (say it with us, now) fructooligosaccharides, a cluster of fructose molecules that lead to better gastrointestinal health.
The fruit may support regular bowel movements.
If you have kids, you likely already know this trick: The high fiber in bananas can help normalize bowel motility. With 3 grams of insoluble fiber, they help you push out waste better by making stools easier to pass. Bonus—they also help when things are loosey goosey: “Bananas are binding for anyone with diarrhea, and they also contain probiotics that are essentially ‘food’ for the healthy microbes (probiotics) that live in our guts,” says Isabel Smith, MS RD CDN, founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition. If you suffered from any sort of bowel trouble, you might have IBS.
Bananas support good bone health.
Although bananas don’t contain a high amount of calcium—less that 1% of your daily recommended intake—they can help promote calcium uptake with the help of those prebiotic fructooligosaccharides. As fructooligosaccharides ferment in the digestive tract, they enhance the body’s ability to absorb calcium according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The sugar in bananas is a good source of energy.
There’s a reason marathoners grab a banana before (and during, and after) the race: Bananas are rich in glucose, the most easily digestible source of sugar that will provide optimal energy for your run, power lift or Soul Cycle class. Eating one post workout helps to quickly replenish energy stores that are depleted during a tough sweat session.
Bananas can help to fend off diseases.
Even though bananas have no vitamin A, they can still help alleviate vitamin A deficiency. How? They’re rich in three different types of carotenoids (provitamin A carotenoids, beta-carotene, and alpha-carotene) that the body actually converts into vitamin A. Cool, right? And according to an article in the Food and Nutrition Bulletin, foods containing high levels of carotenoids have been shown to protect against chronic disease, including certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
Bananas support healthy eyes and vision.
Bananas contain vitamins A (1% DV) and C (17% DV), and “both are antioxidants and are eye and skin-healthy nutrients,” says Smith. “They also have beta carotene, an antioxidant that can help to protect cells and repair damage at the cellular level. Bananas also contain other nutrients like vitamin E (120 micrograms per small banana) and lutein (26 micrograms per medium banana)—both which are eye-healthy. Lutein is a nutrient that may help to reduce risk for macular degeneration.”
Bananas can help your body burn fat.
Bananas have 12 mg of choline (3% DV), a fat-blasting B vitamin that acts directly on the genes that cause fat storage in the abdomen. (One reason heavy drinkers have bloated bellies is that alcohol depletes choline, causing weight gain around the liver.) You can also find it in lean meats, seafood, and collard greens.
The pectin in bananas can help detoxify your body.
Rich in pectin, bananas are an all-natural detox. This gelatin-like fiber sticks to toxic compounds in the blood and flushes them out of the body through the urine. In fact, citrus pectin has been proven to increase mercury excretion in urine by 150 percent within 24 hours of supplementation, according to a study in Forsch Komplementärmed. As a rapid weight loss bonus, research shows pectin can limit the amount of fat your cells can absorb! Pectin also can help you regulate blood sugar. To reap the benefits, pick ripe bananas over green bananas, as the proportion of water-soluble pectin increases as bananas yellow, according to a Food Chemistry study.
Bjork offers a tip to make sure your blood sugar levels stay even-keeled while eating a sugar-rich fruit like a banana: “I encourage consuming protein and healthy fat with the banana to slow down the absorption of the sugar from the banana into your bloodstream. This is the most effective strategy for keeping blood sugar levels stable, which means consistent energy levels and weight loss (since stable blood sugar levels allow the pancreas to secrete glucagon, the fat-burning hormone!).”