Fruits have long been used to remedy ailments and that is a healthy tip. Bananas for gut health may sound a bit far-fetched but you would be surprised to know that they actually do help replenish the gut microbiome. Research backs that claim. If good gut health is what brought you here, read on.
The Gut Dilemma
Considering the amount of focus the gut and its health are receiving today, you can quite understand how everyone is looking for the next best thing for gut health. The goal is to keep the good gut bacteria healthy and to show the bad bacteria the exit. The new food fads for gut health range from diets based on psychology to eating fermented grains. The gut is central to a lot of your general health questions. If you are facing some health-related distress chances are your gut is involved in some way. You are what you eat – as the saying goes and this rings true for the gut. So, what does a banana do for you and your gut?
A Banana History
Bananas are originally Asian. They originated in Asia Minor, India specifically, and then were taken west by Arab traders and conquerors in roughly 327B.C. Then it moved to Africa and was finally taken to the New World by the first explorers and missionaries to the Caribbean. Mass production of bananas began in 1834 and took off in the 1880s when it replaced the sugar crop.
Alexander the Great first tasted the fruit when he tried to invade the Indian valleys. After he tasted the unusual fruit, he took them with him to the west from where they became a global phenomenon.
The Super Banana
As per the USDA, the average banana has the following nutritional value:
|Amount per 100 grams|
The banana is convenient, easily available, and nutritious. That is probably why it is a go-to food for a lot of people who wish to eat healthily. Since they are now native to warm climates, they are inexpensive too – accessible for everyone. The fruit is a powerhouse of essential nutrients as seen above and can stimulate your body in several ways.
Depending on a variety of bananas, you get somewhere from 358 to 435 milligrams of potassium from the fruit which is about 13% of your daily requirement. Potassium is a mineral that is responsible for several physiological functions.
- It is accountable for keeping your blood pressure in check as it relaxes the walls of blood vessels.
- BP is also controlled by potassium as discards of extra sodium through urine.
- It helps keep your bones strong and aids muscle function.
- Potassium also prevents kidney stones and stroke.
- Moreover, potassium is vital for the synthesizing of protein and metabolizing carbohydrates.
You can also find potassium in dried fruits, dairy, starchy vegetables, and leafy greens.
Fiber is what keeps your body in good working order. Bananas give you 10% of your daily requirement of fiber.
- Bananas have soluble fiber that keeps cholesterol and blood pressure in check.
- It also facilitates the curbing of inflammation.
- Unripe bananas are a source of insoluble fiber that keeps your bowels’ movements moving.
- It also keeps you feeling full for longer so it can even stop you from feeling hungry quicker.
- Fiber is associated with heart health and helps lower the risk of stroke, bowel cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
You can also get fiber from beans, avocados, apples, broccoli, and whole grains.
A study revealed that cyclists who had a banana before pedaling went quicker and burned out slower than those who only had water.
- It has been proven that bananas can help you recover faster post a strenuous workout session.
- This is probably because bananas are a rich source of Vitamin C that rids the body of free radicals.
Banana for the Gut
A study conducted by gastroenterologists, dieticians, and nutritionists revealed that the Crohn’s Disease Exclusion Diet- which removes red meat, dairy, and wheat from daily diet and includes higher fiber-based plant products, especially apples, potatoes, and bananas, could correct digestive system disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease and reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
The banana is a prebiotic food that provides your body with resistant starch that creates butyrate. This is one of the main fatty acids in the gut and healthy levels of butyrate are linked to improved digestion and reduced digestion-related discomforts. In 2016, a study associated butyrate with a lower risk of colon cancer.
Because the banana is prebiotic, it helps replenish the good bacteria in the gut and gives the gut bacteria a new lease on life helping it function better. Pectin found in bananas also softens stool and offers constipation relief.
Stage by Stage Benefits
Gut-wise there are a few foods out there but the banana is a clever one in that, its nutrition value varies on the basis of the level of ripeness. There are broadly 5 stages of ripeness and each stage provides the gastrointestinal tract with various health benefits. Let’s use the Cavendish cultivar variety to learn these benefits.
- Under Ripe Banana (dark green and firm, lasts 1 to 4 days)
The underripe banana is sometimes ignored as it is too hard to be consumed and nobody wants to wait to eat. But eating bananas at this stage will give you an incredible amount of fiber because of the presence of resistant starch.
- It helps improve diarrhea, and constipation and promotes a healthy gut microbiome.
- The starch also may aid weight loss.
- Insulin sensitivity is an included bonus.
- Barely Ripe Banana (light green and still firm, lasts 1 to 3 days)
A rich source of prebiotic fiber, these unripe bananas support the gut bacteria and increase the growth of the beneficial kind.
- The fiber also acts to slow down sugar absorption reducing sugar spikes after meals.
- The unripe bananas are low in sugar themselves and can be consumed if you are watching your carbs intake.
- Ripe Banana (yellow with little or no spotting, lasts 1 to 3 days)
Easily palatable at this stage, one banana daily added to your diet will give you nutrients like potassium, vitamins B6, and antioxidants.
- Potassium has its own benefits, while B6 is central to cognitive function and can reduce PMS symptoms and even lower cardiovascular risks improving heart health.
- Ripe bananas also improve digestion and benefit the body’s fluid balance.
- Very Ripe Banana (yellow mushy with spotting, last 1 to 3 days)
These bananas have higher sugar content but are still a treat. At this stage, they are rich in antioxidants which influence the immune system.
- Since bananas are softer they are easier to digest than other foods which can ease an upset stomach.
- This popular fruit can be used as a sweetening agent for yogurt or oats making it a perfect alternative to artificial sweeteners – which are bad for the gut.
- Over Ripe Banana (mostly brown and mushy, last 2 to 2 days)
Ideal for sweetening a treat for the kids, hence a mushy banana can be used as an alternative to sugar and butter, making your baked goods healthier. Benefits for the intestines as the lesser butter you consume – the easier the work.
Mixing bananas with other foods is an ideal way to consume them, even if it’s just to break the monotony. Some healthy banana recipes can be found at https://youtu.be/OIXkltwozoc.
- A test-tube study published cited that the pectin in bananas can effectually reduce the risk of colon cancer.
- Apart from this, there are several studies that highlight the benefits one can reap from the fruit. Research conducted on kidney health showed that the potassium in bananas can arrest the progression of chronic kidney disease.
- In 2021, Australian researchers reviewed 50 other studies to understand the effect of the gut on overall health. They too suggested that bananas be added as a staple to diets.
However, there is such a thing as over-consuming a good thing. Eating too many bananas can sometimes wreak havoc on the system.
- Eating too much of the fruit can lead to weight gain.
- The higher amount of sugar in ripe bananas can increase blood sugar levels which is bad news for diabetics.
- Because of its high potassium content, there is a chance that you develop hyperkalemia – a condition that impairs muscle and nerve function.
- The beneficial fiber in an unripe banana can cause harm as well. When eaten in excess the fiber can cause constipation and gas, damaging the GI tract and that gives way to several diseases.
Banana vs. Supplements
Bananas are the best food for the stomach as the carbohydrates found here are easily broken down and they contain prebiotic fibers that nourish the gut microbiota. Ideal for gut health, they promote a stable immune system and are a great source of nutritional benefits.
Probiotics are also required by the body to keep the gut healthy. Bananas are not a source of probiotics. They can only nourish the existing microbes in the gut but cannot provide any new strains of bacteria. Only foods like probiotic vegetables or probiotic supplements like Probiology Gut+ can do that.
If you already enjoy good gut health then eating bananas are a good way of keeping gut-related disease at bay. However, if that is not the case, eating bananas alone will not help you. There is an increased risk of making the condition worse. Choose supplements then. Bananas can maintain good GI health but cannot restore it.
Tim Koping (Medical M.Sc Physiology, Founder of Original Eating, and a Professor at a Leading Health Institute in the US): I am a medical M.Sc physiology graduate and the founder of Original Eating, an online resource that provides information and advice about healthy eating. I have a strong interest in health and nutrition, and I am passionate about helping people to eat well and live healthily. I have over 15 years of experience working in the health and nutrition industry, and I am dedicated to providing accurate, reliable information that can help people to make healthy choices for themselves. My work with Original Eating has been featured in publications such as Men’s Health and more, and I am frequently consulted by journalists for expert commentary on dietary issues. However, in my spare time, I also enjoy reading, hiking, and playing the guitar.