Bananas: Nature’s best snack

Bananas are big on health benefits, and are a great alternative to processed snack bars, says dietitian Olivia Bates.

Bananas are one of the most popular fruits worldwide, which isn’t surprising given their taste and convenience. But they’re also one of the healthiest snacks you can eat every day. These are some of their key benefits.

Exercise buddy

When it comes to exercise, bananas may just be your best friend. Not only are they a convenient on-the-go snack, they’re a good source of easily digestible carbohydrates to fuel your training, and contain about 8% of your daily dose of magnesium, which is vital for a great workout.   

When you’re exercising, magnesium gives your muscles blood sugar for fuel while removing lactic acid, preventing fatigue and pain. When you’re working hard, you’ll need 10-20% more magnesium in your diet for peak performance due to the loss of electrolytes in your sweat.

And that’s not all — magnesium also plays an important part in your recovery. It can relax your muscles, improve your blood pressure, prevent cramping and improve sleep quality, making sure your body gets the rest it needs to get stronger.

Heart healthy

As they’re high in potassium and low in salt, bananas are a great food for your heart.
One medium banana offers around 9% of your daily dose of potassium, which helps your cells function properly, produce energy and fire up muscle contractions — for both your heart and your biceps.

Immune boosting

Like most fruit and vegetables, bananas are a rich source of immunity-boosting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Specifically, they contain around 15% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C, which helps your immune system by mopping up free radicals in the body to protect against many diseases, including heart disease and some types of cancer. Vitamin C also protects your skin by producing collagen, slowing the visible signs of ageing.

Two more antioxidants found in bananas, dopamine and catechins, protect your cells against oxidation and disease. Catechins are even recognised for their role in promoting heart health and their potential to reduce the risk of some cancers.

Digestion and weight loss

Bananas provide nearly 10% of your daily fibre in the form of soluble fibre, insoluble fibre and resistant starch. Soluble fibre in bananas slows down digestion, increasing feelings of fullness and preventing sugar highs. The insoluble fibre feeds your good gut bacteria and helps keep you regular. Finally, the high levels of resistant starch in greener bananas can assist weight loss by speeding up fat metabolism and slowing digestion and sugar absorption.

What about all that sugar?

We can’t deny that bananas, like most fruit, have sugar. A medium banana has about 27g of carbohydrates and 14g of sugar. But before you cast it aside, remember that it’s not only the sugar that should be considered.

Unlike high-energy, nutrient-poor snack foods, bananas contain many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B6, manganese, magnesium, vitamin C, potassium and copper, as well as dietary fibre and antioxidants, making them well worth eating.

If you still aren’t sure, try eating your bananas a little greener. Green bananas, although they may not be the most appetising, are very high in resistant starch — about 40-80% of the banana — which converts to sugar as it ripens.

As a banana ripens, it also changes from low GI to moderate GI — both of which are better than a snack bar. Low to moderate GI means that the sugar from bananas is released gradually into your bloodstream, preventing a rapid spike in your blood sugar levels. And the GI of even the ripest banana can be lowered by adding fat or protein — for example, eat your banana with almond butter to slow digestion and sugar release.

But consider that there are times when you will require the sugar and energy from a banana quickly, such as when doing strenuous exercise. This is when a ripe banana is the perfect combo of easily digested carbs and electrolytes to keep you going.