Whether you buried yourself in banana bread during quarantine or you throw them in your a.m. smoothies, you're probably pretty familiar with bananas. They're an easy staple fruit to keep on your countertop (right next to apples and oranges, of course), and they taste great whether you're eating them alone or adding them to your favorite recipes, like those breakfast yogurt bowls.
But shopping for the perfect bunch can create a headache. How do you choose the ripest ones? Some people prefer to buy them when they're green and let them ripen at home, while others go straight for the already-speckled ones.
"If it is something that you want to eat right away, definitely get something that is perfectly yellow," clarifies Rebecca Boova, MS, RD, LDN. But, she adds that there's no harm in choosing a bunch that lean slightly green or slightly brown—it's all about how you prefer to eat them.
Green bananas have a higher starch content. As they turn brown, those starches convert to sugar, Boova explains. So the browner they are, the sweeter they'll be. No matter how you prefer them, they all pack a nutritional punch.
You already know they're filled with potassium, but there are a dozen (literally!) reasons why cracking that yellow peel is a great idea. Here are all the surprising health benefits of bananas, and the research behind them, per a registered dietitian.
How does a banana's nutrition stack up?
- Calories: 105
- Fat: 0.39 g
- Saturated fat: 0.04 g
- Carbohydrates: 27 g
- Sodium: 1 mg
- Sugar: 14 g
- Fiber: 3 g
- Protein: 1 g
So, what are the health benefits of bananas?
You already know that fruits like bananas are great to add into a healthy diet. But there are more than a few reasons why bananas are a cut above the rest:
1. Their potassium can lower the risk of stroke.
Most people need around 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day, says Valerie Agyeman, RD. One banana contains about 10 percent of that recommended daily intake, or around 470 milligrams. Potassium is a multifunctional mineral, but one of its superpowers is the ability to lower the risk of stroke, she adds. Potassium improves blood flow and makes arteries less stiff, which can reduce the risk of stroke by up to 20 percent in women who don't have high blood pressure, found a study in the Journal of Stroke after monitoring the potassium intake of over 90,000 women over 11 years.
2. Potassium can also help lower blood pressure.
The potassium in bananas can help keep your blood pressure numbers low, says Boova. It relaxes the walls of your blood vessels, which lowers your blood pressure (and that top, a.k.a. systolic, number), according to Harvard Medical School. As a reminder, your blood pressure reading includes two numbers. The systolic one measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats, and the diastolic one (bottom number) measures your artery pressure when your heart rests.
3. The fiber in bananas can help relieve constipation and diarrhea.
Bananas can help keep you regular. The fiber in the fruit, along with resistant starch (a type of carb), is known for its ability to remedy both constipation and diarrhea by making your stool firmer and moving it along your bowel.
4. Fiber also regulates your gut health.
Even if your bathroom habits are normal, the fiber in bananas is still great for your gut health, Boova says. A study review in the journal Cell Host & Microbe found that fiber replenishes your gut microbiome with all the microbes you need to maintain everything in working order—so peel away.
5. The prebiotics in bananas give your gut a boost, too.
You've heard of probiotics, but prebiotics are just as important. "It's like the food for the probiotics to help it thrive," Agyeman explains. Prebiotics feed the bacteria in your digestive system, while probiotics are a kind of those bacteria. It all adds up to a super healthy gut microbiome.
6. Their vitamin C can help fight off illness and improve skin health.
You can support immunity and pamper your skin when you break into a banana, Agyeman says. Your body needs vitamin C to generate collagen, which helps heal wounds and protects against aging, according to the National Institutes of Health. It's also a game-changer for your immune system, since vitamin C plays a role in keeping your white blood cells working effectively.
7. Their antioxidants and phytonutrients decrease your risk of contracting chronic diseases.
Luckily, bananas are packed with both. "They're going to promote wellness, help prevent you from getting sick, and also help decrease your risk of different chronic diseases, like heart conditions, kidney diseases, and diabetes," Boova says. Both prevent cellular damage, which can throw your body completely out of whack leading to illness.
8. Carbohydrates make bananas a good source of energy.
You need energy to function—and your body needs carbs to make energy. Their high carb content makes bananas are a great source of energy, even if you fry them, found a study in the Journal of Human Nutrition & Food Science. So if you're feeling sluggish, try snacking on a banana midday, and add a handful of nuts for a well-rounded snack, Agyeman recommends.
9. Their vitamin B6 content can help relieve stress and anxiety.
Bananas have plenty of vitamin B6, which can help regulate, or even boost, your mood. "It may help to increase those feel-good hormones," Agyeman says, like serotonin. The vitamin is actually involved in the creation of several neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine.
10. Their vitamin A content can aid skin health and other bodily processes.
Bananas are also packed with vitamin A, which is great for skin health. In case you didn't know vitamin A is also known as retinol, which you're probably familiar with from your skincare products. Vitamin A helps fight against sun damage, which can break down collagen. It's also involved in the creation of the lining of several mucous membranes, including your gastrointestinal tract, per the University of Rochester.
11. Bananas are rich in iron, which can combat anemia.
Research also shows that bananas contain a lot of iron. This makes them a great choice for anyone with low iron levels, including people with anemia, a mineral that your body needs to properly grow, develop, and produce hemoglobin that carries oxygen throughout the body.
12. And, they're the perfect post-workout snack.
Since they're so full of electrolytes, including potassium, Agyeman says bananas are an ideal post-workout nosh. "Enjoying it as a post-workout snack will contribute to recovery by restoring the body's muscle glycogen stores," she explains. "The potassium it provides will help replenish what was lost through sweating."
Basically, there's no reason not to throw a bunch into your cart next time you grocery shop.